RIVERTON, MINN. - Deep in the woods in north central Minnesota, executives of blow molder Crosby Manufacturing Inc. are looking to the south and beyond for acquisition candidates. Crosby, a $9.77 million company with 23 extrusion blow molding machines, wants to add a second location by 1998, said President Jorg Freyer. Based on the ``shipping air'' principle, Crosby might look at the Southwest, Southeast and lower Midwest, he said.
Employees drive on dirt roads to reach the existing plant, near tiny Riverton. In the winter some get to work by snowmobile - a mode of transportation that also supplies a big market, as fuel tanks, oil tanks and other large hollow parts go from Crosby machines to the Polaris Industries Inc. factory in Roseau. Minneapolis-based Polaris is a major maker of snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles. Crosby also supplies parts to personal watercraft companies.
Freyer is facing his first winter in the frigid North. He came from Baltimore, where he spent a career in engineering and manufacturing management at blow mold-er Owens-Illinois Inc., then to closure injection molding at Poly-Seal Corp.
When Poly-Seal bought the Baltimore-based Moldcraft division of Anchor Hocking Inc. in late 1990, Freyer was named general manager.
He took the top spot at Crosby Manufacturing this past July.
Crosby Manufacturing is actually in Riverton; the town of Crosby is just the post office box address. Both are small towns near Brainerd, at the southern edge of Minnesota's lake region. A view out the factory windows shows forest green. Behind woods out back flows the Mississippi River. Riverton has one stop sign and maybe 100 residents. On the other side of the intersection the road is marked ``dead end.'' You drive back near some old iron ore mines in the Cuyuna Range.
``This is beautiful country here. I'm looking forward to winter,'' he said with a nervous laugh.
Chuck Wayt, a 20-year veteran, said the blow molding factory building formerly housed an iron ore processing operation.
Blow molding began in the mid-1960s. In 1993, the current owner, metal stamper and phenolic compression molder, AcroTech Industries Inc., bought Crosby. Its parent, Acro Metal Management Corp. of Minneapolis, owns both companies and others. Last year, AMMC bought a custom injection molder, Posso Corp. in Kerrville, Texas.
As Crosby Manufacturing expands and adds locations, the Minnesota location may become a sales and engineering hub at which the company qualifies new jobs.
``We have a fabulous work force here and one of my biggest focuses is in developing people,'' Freyer said in an interview at the plant.
®02/7598/80¯With enough money, a company can purchase technology and farm out projects such as information systems, he said. But skills of employees must be developed.
Crosby Manufacturing processes about 2 million pounds of polyethylene and polypropylene a year. The company has about 120 union production workers and another 20 in administrative and sales. Sales nearly doubled in 1995, to $9.77 million. Freyer expects sales this year of nearly $11 million.
The company recently bought a new Cincinnati Milacron T-1100 large blow molder. Other brands at the plant include Kautex, Impco and Hartig.
Freyer said, ``Where Crosby has its expertise is being able to take some pretty complex shapes and blow mold them, so some things that I think probably have not been blow molded in the past, we are blow molding rather than having them rotomolded.''
Wayt, giving a tour, said Crosby designs some of the big hollow parts so they dovetail together, such as a fuel tank and oil tank. Workers trim parts and often do subassemblies, adding gauges and other parts.
Crosby also molds parts for medical/pharmaceutical, household and industrial chemical, toys, packaging, automotive parts, furniture and lawn and garden markets. A key product is the bear-shaped honey bottle.
Meanwhile, winter is coming. With it comes the return of an invigorating ride to work in subzero temperatures.
``It takes me about 20 minutes by car and 10 minutes by snowmobile,'' Wayt said.
Crosby Manufacturing Inc. uses a Cincinnati Milacron Eclipse machine to mold grab handles for personal watercraft vehicles two at a time.