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Starting over : Crosslake's Cross-Tech Manufacturing rebounds from March fire

CROSSLAKE - It was a nightmare that plagues nearly every business owner at one time or another. Only for Scott Freiberg, the awful dream was reality. Flames and flashing fire truck lights illuminated his manufacturing center on March 6 as a blaze...

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A fire in March, fought by as many as 50 firefighters from six area departments, caused extensive damage to Cross-Tech Manufacturing in Crosslake. (Kelly Humphrey, Brainerd Dispatch)

CROSSLAKE - It was a nightmare that plagues nearly every business owner at one time or another. Only for Scott Freiberg, the awful dream was reality. Flames and flashing fire truck lights illuminated his manufacturing center on March 6 as a blaze destroyed part of the Cross-Tech Manufacturing plant.

Freiberg recalled this summer how he was playing pool with a volunteer firefighter the night of the blaze, when he received word of a fire alarm at the plant he co-owns with his uncle, Roger Roy.

Fire crews and equipment were called in from six area departments, Crosslake Fire Chief Chip Lohmiller told the Brainerd Dispatch shortly after the fire, with an estimated 40 to 50 firefighters on the scene at one point. An estimated 72,000 gallons of water were used to fight the fire that March night.

Fortunately, a fire door that separates the original plant on the east side (facing Gendreau Road), where the fire started was successfully closed. That helped save the 2012, 15,000-square foot addition to the west. With the addition Cross-Tech stretched across 27,000 square feet from its original entrance on Gendreau Road to Crow Wing County Highway 3, just south of Crosslake.

One firefighter was reported as injured and received a few stitches from sheet metal cut the night of the fire.

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The fact that the fire door did its job meant that only a portion of the Cross-Tech building was destroyed and that customers could be accommodated with only minor delays.

"Nobody got hurt," Freiberg said of his employees. "Everybody came back to work the following Monday.

"We shipped (products) a day after the fire," he said.

The biggest challenge, Freiberg said, was assuring customers their orders could be met. Cross-Tech has had an increased turnaround time between order placement and shipping. He said before the fire the plant could turn around a brush cutter in a day. Now it might take five days.

His customers stayed with him, Freiberg said, although Cross-Tech Manufacturing may have lost out on business from those customers who needed a quicker turnaround time.

"I don't know of any existing business that we lost," he said.

The section of the plant that was destroyed was the assembly and painting area. Since the fire, Cross-Tech has had to do its sandblasting and power-coating at a facility in Waite Park.

Shortly after the fire Freiberg and Roy estimated they lost about $1.75 million in building and equipment damage in the fire. The cause of the blaze was never determined.

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Freiberg and Roy were still working their way through insurance paperwork earlier this summer. The insurance settlement for the building has largely been settled, he said, but the "content claim" has not yet been settled. Freiberg said he would strongly recommend that any company that has extensive fire damage hire a loss consultant and appraiser who specializes in insurance claims. The consultants, he said, are paid on a percentage basis related to how much insurance money is recovered.

Cross-Tech's grounds have looked a little rough since unsettled insurance claims have played a role in delaying clean-up until recently.

"Our parking lot looks like "Sanford and Son," he said in early July in reference to the junkyard company of 1970s television fame.

Meanwhile, Cross-Tech Manufacturing - one of the Crosslake area's bigger employers with 23 employees - is recovering nicely.

Rebuilding plans are progressing in two phases, Freiberg explained. The fire presented an opportunity for the business owners to see how they might improve the flow of their manufacturing system.

Plans call for a new building on the east side of the property that will be used for structure assembly as well as shipping and receiving. On the south side of the property, fabrication work and engineering will be done in a connected but separate building that will be separated from other areas with a fire door. The latter project is expected to be started in 2015.

Roy and Freiberg purchased the business in 1999. The business, he said, virtually had to be established from scratch in those early days. He credits much of their success to a loyal work force.

"We've had very little turnover," he said. "We pay them well and treat them right."

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Cross-tech hires independent representatives to sell their products nationwide.

"We're doing good and we're growing" he said.

Cross-Tech Manufacturing makes hydraulic rotary brush cutters that are used to cut small and medium size trees. The Brush Wolf line is made by Cross-Tech. The brush cutters are designed to fit all skid steer type utility vehicles, mini-skids and excavators according to Cross-Tech's website. They are used for cutting snowmobile and ATV trails as well as for maintaining logging roads and fire breaks. The company offers a variety of metal works design and engineering services.

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