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Hutchinson manufacturer takes Pride in business success

Jack Daggett remembers the day two years ago when he thought the coronavirus pandemic might be the end of Pride Solutions, the Hutchinson manufacturing company started by his father nearly two decades earlier.

“Once COVID hit, a lot of things went through my brain about … the economy is going to shut down, we’ll have to shut our doors. Layoffs, all that kind of stuff,” Daggett recalled of that frightening spring day in 2020.

Fears did not become reality.

Two years later, Pride Solutions is celebrating its 20th anniversary and in the midst of an expansion project that will add 20,000 square feet of manufacturing space to its Hutchinson campus. May Wes, the subsidiary that led to creation of Pride Solutions, also is celebrating an anniversary — 50 years, a lineage that goes back to its founding on Mavis and Wesley Bruns’ rural Gibbon farm in 1972.

It’s certainly a much brighter future than Daggett feared he and the company he now runs might be facing in the early days of the pandemic.

“COVID certainly had an effect on us negatively,” Daggett said. “But then, also positively.

“Quite honestly, the opposite happened,” Daggett said. “As soon as the governor said, you know, ‘Go home, shelter in place,’ I got 10 letters, like immediately, … saying, ‘You’re a supplier to us, that makes you critical. Figure out a way to keep the doors open.’ That was an interesting time.”

Rather than layoffs, the company has nearly doubled its workforce, from 25 employees to 42, with the company currently considering the addition of another three or four positions, Daggett said.

“Since I took over as president here, I’ve been working on a lot of different initiatives,” Daggett said by way of explaining the company’s growth. “On top of that, I have an excellent team here. We’ve worked very diligently to create an excellent culture, get the highest quality people in the right seats as we can. And we’re really seeing it pay out.”

There’s been no magic to the growth and success of Pride Solutions or May Wes, Daggett said. It has come about because of hard work by all members of the team.

“It wasn’t one thing,” he said. “It wasn’t, ‘Hey, we changed this, and it was phenomenal. No, it was a lot of hard work from a lot of people throughout the organization. And then it just kind of meshed.”

Hard work and innovation are the themes that carry throughout the history of the organization, which boasts customers throughout the world and a diverse product lineup that reaches into industries from agriculture to recreational vehicles.

Pride Solutions — the umbrella company that includes May Wes, C&A Pro, Pride Engineered Plastics and Pride Assembly — specializes in ultra high molecular weight polyethylene, or UHMW-PE products. According to company literature, UHMW-PE is one of the world’s most durable and slickest plastics. The company’s services include compression molding and overmolding, CNC routing and lathe, line bending and thermoforming, in-house CNC metal turning and engineering CAD/CAM design.

Pride Solutions divisions offer contract assembly for product and sub-assembly from prototypes to high volume, supply chain management, serializing and documentation, electromechanical assembly, mechanical assembly.

“Pride Solutions has come a long way in 20 years,” Daggett said. “We owe our continued success to our loyal customers and dedicated employees.”

It started on the farm

It’s a legacy that follows two tracks, one that began on a farm near Gibbon with a farmer looking to improve harvesting equipment, the other with a family manufacturing business in Hutchinson.

First, the farm.

May Wes Manufacturing was founded by Mavis and Wesley Bruns in 1972, taking the company name from a combination of their first names. The couple saw an opportunity to help farmers improve operations with aftermarket products that could increase efficiency and yields. Some of their first products included galvanized steel “Grain De-Viders” to guide grain into headers and “Gravity Flow Hoppers” that folded out for unloading.

After a few years in business, the Brunses discovered that grain headers moved across fields easier and lasted longer if they attached plastic shoes to their underside. That innovation — UHMW poly skid shoes — remains one of May Wes’s top-selling products.

But the product that brought even greater acclaim arrived almost a decade after the company’s founding when May Wes introduced the “Original Stalk Stomper” in 1983. The invention protects combine tires from damage that can be caused by genetically modified cornstalks. The Stalk Stomper continued to evolve with feedback and assistance from customers, and in 2018 May Wes introduced its G4 Stalk Stompers, which earned a Best Game-Changing B2C Product award at the Made in Minnesota Manufacturing Awards. The G4 Stalk Stompers are now the company’s top-selling product, available for corn heads, tractors and planters.

After Wesley Bruns died in 1995, his sons Mark and Steve took over the business, and by 1997 May Wes had outgrown its space on the family farm near Gibbon, so they relocated production to its present facility in Hutchinson. The company added compression molding capabilities in early-1990s when it began molding C&A Pro snowmobile skis for racing legend Dale Cormican. C&A Pro skis today are the choice for most professional snowmobile racers.

Leadership transition

Growth brought financial challenges at May Wes, however, and at one point, the production facility closed.

Tom Daggett, the second generation to run the family metal fabrication business, Hutchinson Manufacturing Inc., agreed to a four-month position as a contracted manager at May Wes in 2002. He brought back much of the workforce who had lost their jobs in the closure, and eventually decided to purchase May Wes.

“(May Wes) shut the doors in July, which is a terrible time for an agricultural business focused on harvest products to be closed,” Jack Daggett said. “There was literally products sitting on the floor ready to ship when they shut the lights off.

“Dad ran it for a couple months, basically wanted to take a look at the business (and brought the employees back, as many as he could,” Jack Daggett added. “Then in November of that year, he ended up purchasing it.”

In short order, the third generation of the Daggett family became involved in the new company formed by his father as the umbrella over May Wes and other divisions to follow. Still in high school, Jack Daggett worked part-time doing a variety of jobs, from inventory to sweeping the floors.

Along with the owner’s son, several of the employees who came back to work at May Wes during those challenging months in 2002 remain on the team to this day — a fact Jack Daggett proudly highlights as part of the company’s success story.

The resurrection, accomplished as Tom Daggett implemented operational changes and invested in new manufacturing equipment, led to further expansion of the company’s product line and the creation of “four synergistic divisions” of Pride Solutions — May Wes, C&A Pro, Pride Engineeered Plastics and Pride Assembly.

And more than a decade after he started working on the production floor after attending college, and after serving three years as operations manager, Jack Daggett became president of Pride Solutions. Now, at 33 years old, he has moved into ownership, as well.

Along with good team members, Daggett credits the companies’ success to good planning. Under his leadership, Pride Solutions implemented the Entrepeneurial Operating System that he says put it on the path to growth. The company continues to invest in processes, adding its first robot-assisted CNC lathe and an additional CNC router for plastic fabrication.

Those additions and many others created the need for physical plant expansion, and Pride Solutions broke ground this year on the addition that will double the size of its current production facility and add compression molding capacity. The company currently rents about 9,000 square feet of warehouse space, which it will be able to bring onto its campus when the addition is complete.

“We’re running (supplies) a couple blocks over quite a few times a day,” Daggett said of the of offsite warehousing. “So to have everything underneath one roof will help with efficiencies. And then, obviously, we’ve got room to grow. It’s going to free up a lot of space in the existing building. It’ll be really nice. It’s a big, empty, open building right now, but we’re looking forward to filling it up.”


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Filming history on location

The Forest City Stockade draws thousands of visitors from around the area every August to walk through, observe and participate in reenactment of Minnesota pioneer life of the 1860s.

Sometime next year, the site could have an even larger audience in the scenes of a movie adaptation of a novel written by local author and state Rep. Dean Urdahl.

That’s because, beyond being a popular attraction as part of the Forest City Stockade Rendezvous the third weekend of August, it also works well as a movie set, according to Christopher Forbes, who is directing the film version of “Uprising,” the story of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.

Forbes, who has directed more than 40 movies, said he was impressed by what he first heard from Urdahl about the Forest City Stockade, and even more certain that he wanted to use it as a location for shooting parts of the film when he visited in person.

“(Urdahl) sent a number of photographs and whatnot, and I thought this place is wonderful,” Forbes said. “We came up and scouted two months ago. We looked around here and said, ‘yeah, let’s make this work.’

“This is a set. This is — I don’t mean just the stockade itself, but the whole village — is very well prepared interior and exterior,” Forbes added. “I couldn’t ask for better. I couldn’t build it better.”

Shooting on location in Minnesota, in the area where the conflict began, also means using local talent as actors in the film, which Forbes acknowledges is “low budget.”

MEET THE ACTORS

Local film participants include Civil War re-enactors, professional actors, community theater enthusiasts and the general public, most of whom were recruited through a general call through social media and contacts from Urdahl.

Ben Jenum who has been seen on stages in Hutchinson and Litchfield was approached by director Tim Nelson last summer during rehearsals for Litchfield Community Theatre’s production of “Cinderella.”

“He more or less told me he had a role in mind for me before I even knew what the project was about,” Jenum recalled. “I really enjoy Tim, so I naturally have a hard time saying no to him.”

Jenum was cast as Lt. Tom Gere.

“It turned out to be a great time and I have no regrets,” he said.

Sandy Tracy of Hutchinson credited her natural sense of curiosity for her involvement in moviemaking, as well as the overall topic of how Native Americans have been treated.

“The lack of an accurate history about Native American relationships with our government officials has been misleading,” she said. “At the informational meeting, Dean Urdahl said there are unhealed wounds from the uprising and he wants to get the story out there.”

Following the meeting, Tracy read Urdahl’s book for better background.

“I don’t portray a particular character, but I am simply an extra,” she said. “I was in a group scene of walking survivors who were being gathered for shelter. I walked behind a horse-drawn cart bringing others into the fort. I was also in a crowd scene that cheered loudly when an injured military official was brought in as a survivor.”

There was plenty of downtime as the actors waited for instructions and their turn to be filmed. Tracy enjoyed getting to know other volunteers who she said were eager to talk about why they volunteered, where they were from and what other filming experiences they had.

“Most were novices like me,” she said. “I was only involved for half a day but I enjoyed the opportunity to be involved in the moviemaking experience. After we did our celebratory cheer that was filmed, we received a compliment from the director that ‘our cheer was very good.’ That was appreciated, but was a surprise. I also enjoyed listening to the director yell ‘Action, Joe.’ He was the driver of the horse-drawn cart. ‘Quiet on the set’ was also heard many times.”

This is Kurt Schulz’s fifth film. The Glencoe native and professional actor was cast as Captain Marsh.

“I can’t tell you much about him,” he said. “My scenes were very brief, so I have to assume he was not an integral part of the story.”

Schulz said there’s a lot of difference between stage and film work.

“That being said, an actor’s job is always to know the material, be prepared, fill the space, and have an experience,” he said. “I don’t think a lot of films afford actors much rehearsal. You need to be prepared. We have all heard of a scene in some movie that is shot over and over until it’s right. That probably is an exception. When the camera is running, there is also the silent ring of ka-ching, ka-ching.

“The camera is like an eye into your soul,” Schulz continued, “but it is never there as far as the actor should be concerned. Facial expressions, especially in a close up, are far more subtle and subdued most of the time. Less is more. Never look into the camera, with the very rare exception of being directed to.”

Whether on stage or screen, Schulz said “it is absolutely vital to listen, always listen to your scene partner(s).”

Chris Schlueter, formerly of Hutchinson and now of Litchfield, read the book “Uprising” and wanted to be a part of this historical time and to see how a movie really comes to be. She also thought it would be interesting to be dressed in period costume and experience what pioneers might have been through and to think of all the parties involved.

“The impact on this nation at that time is still being felt today,” she said. “It is important to know the history of our area and the events that happened to change many people’s lives. There are several more books by Dean Urdahl that are also good stories, if you get a chance, take a look at them.”

Schlueter was cast as Gertrude Nelson, the wife of Oscar Nelson, Scandinavian immigrants.

“My character’s scene takes place in our cabin,” she said. “We are with a couple of other families who have made it to our cabin for safety as the Native Americans are coming. This cabin is the scene where Solomon Foot gets shot, is dragged into the cabin and the shooting starts between the Native Americans and the people in our cabin. I help get the children to safety up into the loft of our cabin. After the shooting ends Solomon is brought to the stockade, while the rest of the families are all on a wagon heading to the stockade.”

According to Schlueter, participating in the “back side” of a movie is very different from watching it as a viewer.

“Everything takes time and each scene and movement is planned by the director,” she said. “You may only do a few facial expressions or one stance and that is it. Actors learn their lines but most are done in fairly short sequences and then pieced together. There is a lot of work behind the scenes and the real making of a movie comes with the editing.”

Schlueter called the moviemaking experience “fun and a learning experience.”

“I really had no idea as to how things work and coordinate with each other,” she admitted. “It seems hard to believe that all of these scenes can be made into a full movie. It just seemed fragmented as there were different shootings that did not always get filmed as the sequence of the story. Somehow the editor who is also the director has to put all of the filming together along with music and sound to make it a movie that audiences will enjoy.”

Like many of the volunteers participating in “Uprising,” this is Schlueter’s first movie.

“Doing this project makes me admire the film industry and all the talent and work that goes into a movie for us to watch for two hours or so of entertainment,” she said. “Making movies costs lots of money but you can also have a lower budget film that entertains you just as much as a multi-million dollar budget movie.”

Lynn Lauer of Hutchinson credited her friend Schlueter, for telling her about Urdahl’s movie and his casting call for volunteers. Lauer stepped up because it was an important story to tell and she had never had the opportunity to be in a movie before. She was cast in a non-speaking role as an extra.

“It was a wonderful and fun experience,” she said. “It was interesting watching how the movie was filmed. All the people involved were so nice and just excited to be a part of the film. I would do it again in a heartbeat.”

ON-LOCATION SHOOTING

The stockade was built in 1976 as a replica of one built by early Meeker County settlers as defense against attack from Dakota warriors in 1862.

In addition to the Forest City Stockade, Forbes and his cameraman Will Adams, who also will act in the movie, are shooting on location near Flandreau, South Dakota, as well as in Georgia.

“Typically, we haven’t done this in a while,” Forbes said of the on-location shooting. “Minnesota is kind of remote, and we had to make sure everything was going to be right before I brought more folks up. I’m not bringing that many people up, because we have the resources to shoot here. By that I mean people. (Urdahl) has done a lot of work, and he’s found a lot of good people.”

For Urdahl, seeing the movie finally come together is gratifying, if a bit stressful.

Almost since “Uprising” was published, people have told him that it should be a movie. And he’s worked toward that goal, trying to make contacts within the industry to find someone interesting in bringing it to the big screen — or more likely in this case, to streaming services like Netflix.

In fact, that’s where he found Forbes. At his Acton Township home watching television this past December, Urdahl stumbled upon a lead.

“I’m streaming movies on my Roku channel, saw one called ‘The American Confederate,’ which, you know, I have a long-time interest in the Civil War,” he explained. “So I hit on that and watch for a while and thought, you know, it’s not bad.”

Though he could tell it was a low-budget film, it was a subject he had an interest in, Urdahl said, and thought perhaps the director might have an interest in his book.

“So, Dean contacted me and he said, ‘I see you have a lot of history films … and I’ve got this book,’” Forbes recalled. “I get these requests a lot and don’t really pay any attention. But his was different (from) the vast majority of stuff people send to me. It was captivating, the characters, he has a knack for dialogue. It really is a good book — sprawling book, 400-and-some pages.”

As they discussed the possibilities over the next several weeks, Urdahl also shared about the Forest City Stockade and his knowledge of the area, in addition to his contacts. The pieces began falling in place.

“The key issues making it worth it for me to come up here and spend the time and get this right,” Forbes said. “I didn’t know Dean, he sent me the book, I said this is great. It’s wonderful book, that’s the key.

“The second key was the set, which is here,” he continued. “He sent me some photographs and you can look online, but you can’t really tell the scope, you can’t tell the detail. It looks good, let’s see what we got. It’s beyond good. It’s as good as anything I’ve seen like this anywhere.”

Through his contacts in the industry, Forbes developed interest from a distributor, who also believed in “Uprising.”

“Back in the day, when we were just at Walmart and places like that, or Redbox, 75-100,000 people would see our films,” Forbes said. “Now we have, it’s in the vicinity of 2 to 3 million. You know, we get a lot of eyeballs on this.”

For Urdahl, that’s perhaps the most important thing. He wants people to see the story, not just his fictionalized version of history, but the actual story of the U.S.-Dakota War.

Though he initially had eyes on Hollywood, getting a $10 million or $15 million film made was unrealistic, he said. So he cast a wider net, and landed on Forbes, a choice he seems happy about, even if it means lining up filming locations, finding actors and costuming — basically serving in the role of a production assistant or producer.

“I’m not trying to get rich doing this, obviously,” Urdahl said. “The purpose for me is not making money, but to, I guess, push forward what I’ve been trying to do for years regarding the U.S.-Dakota War — educate people about it, as I did as a teacher and in the Legislature — and through that foster understanding and hopefully through understanding comes healing, because we still have open wounds from 1862, on both sides.”


Local
Candidate forum set for Wednesday, Oct. 12
  • Updated

Candidates in Hutchinson City Council and School Board races, as well as McLeod County Attorney will discuss issues during a forum Wednesday, Oct. 12, at Hutchinson City Center.

The Hutchinson Leader has invited all candidates in the three races to participate in the forum, which will be conducted in three sessions. City Council forum will begin at 6 p.m.; School Board will follow at approximately 6:45 p.m.; and county attorney at 7:45 p.m.

Hutchinson City Council has three seats up for election this fall, including mayor, City Council Seat 1 and Seat 2. Mayor Gary Forcier is running unchallenged. Meanwhile, Morgan Baum and Tim Burley are seeking the Seat 1 position, and Dave Sebesta and Christopher Olson are running for Seat 2.

Seven candidates are running for three seats on the Hutchinson Board of Education, including Dale Brandsoy, Samantha Casillas, JoEllen Kimball, Erin Knudtson, Garrett Luthens, Andrea Mitchell and Danny Olmstead.

McLeod County Attorney candidates are Amy Olson Wehseler and Ryan Hansch.

Candidates participating in each section of the forum will be given time for opening remarks, then will be asked to respond to a series of four or five questions in a round-robin format.

HCVN will televise the forum live.


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