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Progress: How it all began - a decade of progress

A decade ago, in the fall of 2006, the Dispatch put out its first Labor Day Salute. The salute focused on hidden gems in the community or best kept secrets. The five businesses profiled cut across a variety of industries. But they shared common t...

The front page for the first Progress Edition arrived with the paper on Labor Day a decade ago -- Sept. 3, 2006. Then called the Labor Day Salute, the freshman special section highlighted hidden gems in the community.
The front page for the first Progress Edition arrived with the paper on Labor Day a decade ago -- Sept. 3, 2006. Then called the Labor Day Salute, the freshman special section highlighted hidden gems in the community.

A decade ago, in the fall of 2006, the Dispatch put out its first Labor Day Salute.

The salute focused on hidden gems in the community or best kept secrets. The five businesses profiled cut across a variety of industries. But they shared common traits. Among those were modest beginnings, low profiles and, perhaps, surprising market reach-particularly to locals who may have passed their doors without ever realizing the global engines in their midst.

As the Dispatch noted in 2006, in some cases the businesses were off the beaten path toiling in relative obscurity in their own hometowns.

"In many cases, few-if any-area customers walk through the front door. Labor Day seems an appropriate time to take a look at some of those quiet companies in our midst," the Labor Day Salute in 2006 noted. "Their stories are likely to give fledgling entrepreneurs heart to pursue their own ventures. And the companies highlight a few prime manufacturing jobs with solid income potential right here. And we've just scratched the surface."

Labor Day seemed an appropriate time to recognize the people who put their talent and time into those enterprises. During the next 10 years, the Labor Day section became a mainstay for the Dispatch. It grew into multiple sections to include more companies, putting a spotlight on industries from tourism to manufacturing. It highlighted young entrepreneurs and startup ventures and recognized the hard work people put into their jobs every day. More recently it became known as the Progress edition, looking at the change a single year can make in a community.

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And we've still just scratched the surface.

The first companies highlighted for the launch of the Labor Day Salute were:

• Kampmann Sash & Door Inc. and Great River Door Co. continued a long tradition of craftsmanship in Brainerd. Great River Door continues to make works of art with its sand-carved doors and reclaimed wood doors. Great River Door was founded by Brent Manley and Mark Erickson.

Manley's carving work on a door was the first front page for the launch of the Labor Day Salute in 2006. A number of things have changed in a decade. After close to four decades inside the ivy-covered walls of the Kampmann building, Erickson sold the building, laden with character, about two years ago. He said he still misses it. Erickson's reduced his work hours but Manley notes without him they wouldn't have the door-making ability they do now and the capacity to do it all. Great River Door continues to have projects with Kampmann Sash & Door, but the joint venture Manley and Erickson started in Great River Door now continues under one roof with a showroom and work areas in its own striking building on a quiet section of Laurel Street, just east of the Brainerd's downtown shopping area.

The company, now 12 years old, has a map in the showroom dotted with push pins for places where its doors now grace offices and homes. A couple of doors, one with a bear carved on the front, recently left for Montana. This late summer, Great River Door shipped doors to Alaska, Canada, North Carolina, Washington, Wisconsin. While the West may seem a logical connection for the doors often featuring wildlife-and they have a definite following in those states, particularly Colorado-the Eastern Seaboard is heavily filled in by those push pins.

Brainerd has a door-making tradition. Manley said Great River found its niche in the carved doors, special size needs and now has expanded to the reclaimed-wood doors.

"We're still doing mainly the custom-carved doors-that's our main focus," Manley said, seating at a table just off the showroom. Nearby stood examples the carved doors and doors made from reclaimed and salvaged wood. Doors included etched glass, stained glass designs and hand-forged steel from regional artists such as Paula Jensen and Paul Jensen. Manley said there is so much talent in this area and so many collaborators from those artists to places like Big Wood Timber Frames in Brainerd.

For Great River, Manley said business has been steady.

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It's notably unusual when people wander in the front door on Laurel Street. Manley said they are often surprised at what they find. Doors, Manley noted, are not one of those things on someone's impulse buy list. Eighty percent of their customers never come through their own front door. Others, from Missouri or Indiana, have made a special trip of it, vacationing and stopping in at various artisans along their route after researching who they wanted to see in person. Great River made the list.

"It's kind of fun when people find us," Manley said.

It's the kind of business where it can take years for someone to act on that wish for a custom door. Others come with images in hand from Pinterest or Facebook or Houzz they want to reproduce for their own first impression, whether it's at work or home.

"I think the nature of what we do is very personal, especially the carved doors," Manley said.

Working in cedar, pine, knotty alder, fir and others, it may take several months to complete an order. They work with local materials. A salvaged warehouse of enormous wine vats available from Duluth is an example of some of the materials they can come across.

The skill is still by hand. They don't use computers in production. Doors may cost $3,000-$5,000 or up to $10,000-$20,000 depending on what a customer is looking for in a single door or a larger design with sidelight accents and windows. Their organized work rooms have their own specialized look, including a ramp and sleeping area for two dogs so they can climb and look out the high workroom windows.

"It's just a great place," staff member Darren Ottem said. "The creativity of this staff is just amazing. That's what I really like about it-the creativing is amazing."

• Hali-Brite, a manufacturer of airfield equipment for countries all over the globe and working from its small-town base in Crosby. The company's patented designs and technology go into a performance it describes as being unsurpassed in the marketplace. Hali-Brite has been manufacturing airfield equipment since 1979 and continues to manufacture "rotating beacons for commercial and military airports and heliports." The company makes a line of beacon towers, wind cones, runway closure markers, runway and taxi lights and carries airfield equipment, lenses and replacement parts.

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• Water Wars from Pequot Lakes taking the art of the water balloon fight to an organized option that readily encourages players to line up to get wet, had games in 650 locations across the globe and on cruise ships. The company is still going strong. It has grown to include 15 models in 900 stationary locations in 31 countries. That doesn't include the portable units for rent, including inflatables.

• Cross-Tech Manufacturing of Crosslake, then just seven years old, was already one of the largest rotary brush cutter manufacturers in the U.S. Like everyone else, Cross-Tech hit a wall during the Great Recession. Bus business roared back in 2010 with double-digit growth. Then came a plant expansion as Cross-Tech more than doubled the plant to 27,000 square feet. Cross-Tech was a return entry for the Progress special section in 2014 as it recovered and persevered through extensive fire damage. Quick work by firefighters to close a fire door separating the original plant from the 15,000-square-foot expansion saved the addition. Crews from six departments battled the fire, using 72,000 gallons of water to thwart the blaze. The business recovered and continued to grow.

• Viking Label and Packaging Inc. in Nisswa was an example of a company with a wide reach most passersby never knew about even as its work product-detailed label data-was likely on food products in their kitchens. Viking Label celebrated its 50th anniversary last year. The company continues to operate its state-of-art prepress and production operation in Nisswa.

"We pride ourselves in the work ethic that our employees demonstrate and the quality of work that we produce," Viking Label states, noting it strives to build long-term relationships with customers.

Sheila Haverkamp, executive director of Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation, said Cross-Tech is undergoing another major expansion and probably the fastest growing company of those highlighted during the special section's freshman year.

"But all of them are still in our midst, still solid and still growing," Haverkamp said.

FACTBOX

Look Inside

Inside today's Dispatch is the annual Progress Edition for Labor Day, with stories in the special section on young entrepreneurs, established businesses and people who are behind them who may have gone unnoticed as they do business across the globe.

Look for the stories inside and go online at www.brainerddispatch.com for accompanying videos.

The front page for the first Progress Edition arrived with the paper on Labor Day a decade ago -- Sept. 3, 2006. Then called the Labor Day Salute, the freshman special section highlighted hidden gems in the community.
The front page for the first Progress Edition arrived with the paper on Labor Day a decade ago -- Sept. 3, 2006. Then called the Labor Day Salute, the freshman special section highlighted hidden gems in the community.

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