Big Business Is Thriving in Owatonna, MN
With household names such as Jostens and Bosch based there, Owatonna, Minnesota, is home to a thriving business community.
Owatonna, Minnesota, is home to a variety of national and international companies in key industry sectors, including manufacturing, financial services and healthcare. Many of these companies have global visibility, including glass fabricator Viracon, Federated Insurance, Jostens, Wenger, Bosch, AmesburyTruth and Daikin Applied. You may not know what all of these companies do, but you likely know their products.
Owatonna is also known as a leader in climate-controlled agriculture systems, as the home to Revol Greens and Bushel Boy Farms, which is distributed in Walmart, Target and Whole Foods stores. In addition, companies like Life Fitness have deep-seated roots in the Owatonna community and distribute their products globally.
“We are the world’s largest producer of commercial fitness equipment. We have six manufacturing facilities across the globe. We are primarily located in the U.S. with facilities in Owatonna and Ramsey, Minnesota; Tulsa, Oklahoma and Belmont, Kentucky,” says John Champa, client manager of the Owatonna division of Life Fitness. “We’ve been making commercial fitness equipment in Owatonna since 1981. We started as Eagle Fitness. We were bought out by Cybex in 1983 and later acquired by Life Fitness in 2016.”
Owatonna isn’t short on support. The community is known for attracting people with its beautiful outdoor recreation, exceptional school system and overall livability. And Life Fitness knew the Owatonna community was an ideal location for its expansion.
“We faced a turning point in 2007. We were outgrowing our existing manufacturing plant and we had to decide how to increase our manufacturing. There were many solutions available that involved outsourcing parts of our process,” Champa says. “But we chose to build a manufacturing facility from scratch and decided to do it in Owatonna because of the workforce and technology that existed here. Additionally, Owatonna is business-friendly, and they’ve been a great partner to new business and industry over the years.”
Life Fitness isn’t the only large company that recognizes the advantages of doing business in Owatonna. Federated Insurance has been a part of the Owatonna community since the early 1900s.
“Federated Insurance was founded by an association of business owners seeking more affordable property insurance tailored to meet the needs of their industry. Our first chairman moved the company files and records in one suitcase from Minneapolis to Owatonna. Owatonna has been our corporate headquarters ever since,” says Jeff Fetters, chairman of the Federated Insurance Companies. “We love Owatonna and look less for the community to support us, but rather feel as a company that our employees and we should be strong stewards of the community. Federated employees across the nation generously give back to nonprofit organizations through time and talents.”
Success stories are not hard to find in Owatonna. Businesses often originate in a basement or a garage, grow into big companies and then get bought out by worldwide companies.
“Owatonna Tool Company started as a small company in a garage and grew to be a much larger company,” says Troy Klecker, community development director for the City of Owatonna. “They were bought out by Bosch, which is now one of our largest employers. Other companies like Jostens, Inc., and Viracon started as a small company and grew over the years. Collectively, these companies employ nearly 2,800 people here in Owatonna.”
Often, Owatonna entrepreneurs find themselves solving a problem, and the solution turns a profit. That was the case for Harry Wenger, a local music teacher who needed tools to teach his class. “Harry recognized the equipment he needed to teach music didn’t exist, so he created them and started a corporation,” Klecker says. “Now not only do they create music equipment, but the Wenger Corporation has also branched off into locker room design — they’ve done some of the locker rooms for major college and professional teams.”
Owatonna has nurtured big business because of the entrepreneurial spirit and because the organizations that support them are pro-business.
“We celebrate entrepreneurship here. We recognize those that have gone out on their own and started a business,” Klecker says. “In many cases, these businesses have employed many people in town, and as a result, the community supports them. As they grow, they employ more people, which only offers more support for our community.”
A supportive community seems to be ingrained in Owatonna. “The support seems to have always been there. The Owatonna Area Business Development Center has been in place for approximately 25 years,” Klecker says. “Having a home for these businesses to start up and grow is important. The community has embraced the fact that entrepreneurship has helped facilitate growth, and we try to encourage more entrepreneurs to create more businesses for Owatonna.”
Owatonna may face similar challenges as other growing and changing communities, but what sets them apart is the strong sense of community, family and connection.
“We are centrally located between larger cities in Minnesota, but with the convenience of a five-minute commute to work. It also affords our employees more flexibility to attend family and community events. The quality of life in Owatonna is key for drawing both businesses and future employees to the area,” Fetters says. “Over the last few decades, there have been several community improvements and challenges. It’s the Owatonna community that agrees on projects of relevance, prioritizes those projects, develops a means to work together, and ultimately addresses the challenge. Businesses like ours benefit when community members and organizations participate, lead and help the community to succeed.”
This article was sponsored by the Owatonna Partners for Economic Development.