MPI’S BRENT KNUTSON examines a part made for the AR 15 rifle.

Big Lakes' MFP Bursting at the Seams

Subhead: 
Staff Writer
Jennifer Edwards

 

This week is Manufacturer’s Week in Minnesota and the Central Minnesota Manufacturers Association is hosting a tour of Ferche Millwork Oct. 24 at 9 a.m. following a 7:15 a.m. annual meeting at Oak Hills Golf Course in Rice.
“Central Minnesota Manufacturers Association (CMMA) exists for the primary purpose of contributing to the growth and success of manufacturers,” says Tim Zipoy of Central Minnesota Jobs and Training Services.
Zipoy is the workforce development advisor. One of his main tasks is to help existing businesses recruit and train staff in a rapidly changing workforce.
“CMMA is a busy and dynamic group,” he said, noting opportunities exist in manufacturing which pay more than the average salary. 
Zipoy arranges training opportunities, speakers, tours of manufacturers, works with elected officials and educators to help develop manufacturing in the area.
“Anyone interested can come to our annual meeting Oct. 24 and join the tour,” Zipoy said. “Just go to the CMMA website at www.centralmnmanufacturing.com to register.”
Among those who registered and attended last year’s tour of manufacturers is Brent Knutson, sales and engineering manager of Manufacturing Partners Inc.(MPI), located on Co. Rd. 43 just north of Big Lake Lumber in Big Lake.
Knutson and his partner, Keith Kline, who lives in Big Lake, toured manufacturing facilities around the state last year.
“It’s always interesting to see what other people are doing and to benchmark ourselves against other industries,” Knutson said. 
Until the last year or so, MPI, which moved to Big Lake in 2009, had been a job lot precision machine shop, making parts for as many as 50 different companies, including Remmele Plant 40.
Now the focus of MPI is the firearms industry. They spend their time making precision parts for firearms and defense-based missiles.
“We make a lot of components that go into the AR15 rifle, like the carrier assembly,” Knutson said. “People use them for target practice and you can put a scope on them for deer hunting. They look cool, like you see on the movies.
Knutson, who grew up in Santiago, says he doesn’t personally own a gun but the vast majority of the company’s employees do.
“Guns are not banned on these premises.” he said. ”I grew up hunting and lots of my relatives like to hunt. I just prefer fishing. We have held a conceal and carry class here and an AR build class.”
“The AR 15 is very much a hobby thing,” Knutson said. “They are a high-end rifle. People like to take them apart and clean them and you can add upgrades.”
“Hunting and gun ownership is part of the culture here,” he said. “People who own these rifles are passionate about their sport.”
Since focusing all their attention on rifle parts, MPI has gone from doing work for 50 customers to doing work for half a dozen and turning out high volumes of parts rather than a few here and there.
“We realized that this is what we are good at,” he said. “Now we run 24 hours a day, six days per week.”
They have updated their equipment to be able to handle larger volumes of parts and MPI has added staff. They run four shifts and their 40 employees work three 12-hour shifts each week as the company continues to grow.
“We have outgrown our space here,” Knutson said. “We just need more room.”
That need will likely move the company out of the City of Big Lake because of the high cost of taxes, Knutson said.
“The property tax rates here are comparable to the Metro area,” he said. “We just can’t absorb that.”
“AT MPI, we would like to be known as the gun part manufacturer for the region,” Knutson said. “And we expect to continue to grow.”

photos


FRESH FLAME BURGER serves up fast food with its own flair on Hwy. 10 in Big Lake. Clara Henderson, Kari Luckey and Jamall Whitelaw ordered their food to go from restaurant owner Gus Afrooz. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).

SHERBURNE COUNTY 4-H’ers got some hands-on experience working at the 4-H foodstand at the fairgrounds Wednesday evening in preparation for the Sherburne County Fair, which starts Wednesday. About 60 kids from six different 4-H clubs learned how to grill burgers, cook fries and hot dogs and serve customers during the orientation event. Above are Big Lakers Katie Olson (left), Kirsten Olson and Taylor Muehlbauer cooking fries and Bailey Muehlbauer (right) getting hamburger buns ready. (Photo by Ken Francis.)

GRAND KNIGHT DENNIS NAGORSKI of the Knights of Columbus presented Big Lake Chief of Police Joel Scharf and Becker Chief of Police Brent Baloun with a donation of prescription drug drop-boxes for each city. Along with marijuana, prescription drugs are often abused because of easy access. Keeping them out of the water system is important to protect the environment. Now our residents have a safe way to dispose of their unwanted or out-dated medications. (Photo by Jennifer Edwards).