Fat, happy WASP packs on another 200,000

By Jason Schock

A year ago, when we last checked in on Watkins Aircraft Support Products, aka WASP, and wished them a Happy 25th Birthday, Plant Manager Jerry “Ruben” Koopman wore a smile ear-to-ear.

“The future looks very good right now,” he said in May 2014. 

It certainly did. The company was cranking out some $450,000 in sales weekly, had dropped some $200,000 on a building expansion and were primed to spend another $300,000 on equipment upgrades. Locally, WASP was employing an all-time high 92 people, paying a starting wage of $14.16 per hour for welders, plus full health benefits, turnover was around three percent and stock ownership had climbed to $800 a share. No. 25 was a happy birthday, indeed, especially for the veterans who bought in for less than a hundred bucks a share in ‘97. 

WASP’s 25thwas hard to one-up, but that’s exactly what they’ve done. 

The world’s largest manufacturer of non-powered ground support equipment for the airline and air cargo industry and a leading manufacturer of conveyors for the parcel delivery industry, last week announced it’s merging with Minnesota company FAST Manufacturing, Inc., a fast-growing producer of sprayers and liquid fertilizer equipment for the agricultural industry. The partnership will diversify both companies for greater stability and growth while adding even more jobs locally. What was 92, is now 112, and will be 130 soon, Koopman said. 

When the clock struck midnight on Tuesday, May 19, 2015, WASP added 200,000 square feet of FAST facility space in both Windom and Mountain Lake, MN, along with Gilman, IL, resulting in more than 500,000 square feet of workspace spread across five facilities in Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois. The WASP workforce of employee-owners will hit 700 company-wide this year.

“You gotta make hay when the sun’s shining,” Koopman, a very large but amiable guy who has been at WASP since the beginning, said. “Things are working out very well.”

In the past year, including this acquisition, WASP invested more than $12 million in large-format metal manufacturing equipment to provide increased capacity and faster order turnaround times. Among the new production machines are flat sheet lasers, robotic welders, a tube laser, machining centers, heavy press brakes, and a continuous motion, state-of-the-art powder coat paint line. Those machines will enhance both companies’ services and products due to shared technologies and greater overall capacity to quickly meet customers’ needs.

 

 

Verlyn and Nancy Fast founded FAST in 1990 in Mountain Lake, Minnesota, to provide quality-engineered solutions backed by great customer service to farmers. Verlyn will continue to be involved with the company for the next few years, focusing on new product design and testing. 

 

“Choosing to partner with WASP will offer our FAST team the benefit of being part of an Employee Stock Ownership Plan, so they’ll own part of the company now,” Verlyn said. “That piece is a key reason why we chose to move forward with this merger. Plus, the diversification that comes with the partnership will provide long-term stability and ensure customers’ needs are always met.” 

 

WASP has been employee owned since 1997, and FAST will now be part of that. 

 

“We’re excited to partner with WASP and feel that both companies are ideally suited for each other,” Verlyn said. “Both manufacturers are headquartered in the heart of the United States’ Midwest and take pride in producing the best quality products in our respective industries. Together, we can be even better and stronger.”

 

With the merger and the addition of a night shift at FAST, for which applications are now being accepted, the combined companies will grow to nearly 700 employee-owners this year. The merger, which included 200,000 square feet of FAST facility space in both Windom and Mountain Lake, Minnesota, along with Gilman, Illinois, resulted in more than 500,000 square feet of workspace spread across five facilities in Minnesota, Nebraska and Illinois.

 

In the past year, including this acquisition, WASP invested more than $12 million in large-format metal manufacturing equipment to provide increased capacity and faster order turnaround times. Among the new production machines are flat sheet lasers, robotic welders, a tube laser, machining centers, heavy press brakes, and a continuous motion, state-of-the-art powder coat paint line. Those machines will enhance both companies’ services and products due to shared technologies and greater overall capacity to quickly meet customers’ needs.

 

“First and foremost, we see this as a way to strategically combine our two companies to better serve our customers across all the industries in which we work,” said Dane Anderson, WASP president and CEO. “The synergies that come with our combined production capabilities means we can meet customers’ needs for high-quality GSE, conveyors and agricultural equipment even faster, while continuing to provide our industry-leading levels of quality and service.” 

 

WASP was founded in 1979 and has grown to be the world’s largest manufacturer of non-powered ground support products as well as a leading manufacturer for package conveyors and military trailers. It is headquartered in Glenwood, Minnesota, and also has a manufacturing facility in Falls City, Nebraska. Its equipment can be found in more than 65 countries. 

 

FAST produces pull-type, front-mount and three-point sprayers; vertical- and side-fold liquid fertilizer applicators; tractor-mounted tanks; nurse trailers and pasture sprayers. For information on new positions being added at FAST, which will be eligible for as much as a $2,500 bonus, go to http://fast-mfg.com/careers/. 

 

About WASP Inc.

WASP is a 100 percent employee-owned organization that designs and manufactures standard and customized non-powered GSE with the lowest total cost of ownership for customers around the world. The company’s employee owners are a driving force behind the quality of its products, dedication to safety and commitment to creating reliable solutions. Its custom industrial design processes, ISO-controlled lean manufacturing practices and premier components ensure WASP equipment is easy to maintain and lasts for years. For more information: 20631 State Highway 55, Glenwood, MN 56334, 320-634-5885, info@waspinc.com, www.waspinc.com, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube.

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