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Westmor employees (left to right) Matt Rinkenberger, Al Gustafson, Luke Allen and Matt Notsch add a decal to a fuel tank before it will be sent out of the shop.

Westmor celebrates 40 years in business

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Correction: This article originally stated that Westmor was founded in 1982. That was incorrect. The business that would eventually becoming Westmor Industries was founded in 1972. We apologize for the error.

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MORRIS - The business that would eventually become Westmor Industries began in 1972 when two brothers took over a locally-owned welding business and began to make their mark welding and repairing agricultural and petroleum equipment.

In the 40 years since, Westmor has changed owners, changed locations, and changed names but maintained a foothold in their core market manufacturing, selling and repairing equipment used in the agriculture and energy markets.

To celebrate their fortieth anniversary, Westmor will be hosting a day of education and outreach for customers on Thursday, June 21, followed by a community open house and celebration that evening.

"In our industry, we believe we have one of the premier facilities in the country," said Mike Hennen, general manager of Westmor's Truck and Trailer Division. "Getting our customers here has always been a priority. ... People don't get here by accident."

After a day spent doing customer training and showing off the facility, members of the greater Stevens County community are invited to Westmor from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for food and tours of the facility led by Westmor employees. When Westmor last opened their building to the public in 2007, more than 900 people stopped in.

The business that would eventually become Westmor began on February 15, 1972 when brothers Robert and Larry Kleespies took over Minnesota-based Olson Blacksmith and Welding to form Kleespie Brothers Welding.

Four years later, the company - which focused on welding and repair of agricultural and petroleum equipment - moved to a building at the intersection of U.S. Route 59 and Highway 28 in Morris. Throughout the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s, the company expanded its petroleum equipment projects while continuing to grow through an American economic recession; by 1984, the newly-named company, Kleespie Tank and Petroleum Equipment grew its business to $3 million in annual sales.

In 1990, the company moved its tank manufacturing factory to the City of Morris in the new industrial park, adding a new corporate office to the site in 1996 and a 140,000 square foot truck and trailer assembly plant in 2007.

In 2001, founder Bob Kleespie retired, selling the company to a group of local investors who reorganized under the name Westmor Industries. When those same investors looked to sell the company in 2008, Superior Industries stepped in and purchased Westmor, retaining the company name while operating as a subsidiary of Superior.

Superior CFO Tom Zosal, who served as Westmor's president and CFO at the time of the acquisition, said the purchase was designed to keep the company in Morris to support local jobs.

"There were a lot of synergies already," said Zosal. Although the companies did compete for workforce, they had also worked together on peer training. "We're two companies that got along well."

The purchase has helped both companies weather the ups and downs of economic challenges in their industry by shifting workers between facilities. During the economic recession of 2008, Westmor thrived because the company's markets - energy, transportation and agriculture - remained strong, said Hennen.

Superior, which relies on the commercial and residential construction and infrastructure markets to sell their equipment, "fully participated in the recession," said Zosal. By shifting employees to Westmor, both companies were able to maintain employment and weather the economic storm.

As Westmor looks forward to the next 40 years, employment and training remains an ongoing concern. The company's location in west central Minnesota is beneficial for many employees, but can present a challenge in bringing people to the community. As the companies grow, they've started to "tap out" the available employees in the area, said Hennen.

Westmor, Superior and Hancock Concrete now employ a total of 966 full-time employees, with about 750 of those employees working in Stevens County.

To develop and support local workers, Westmor and Superior operate a summer intern program, bringing around 30 local high school students in across the company - from the shop floor to engineering to marketing - to learn about local career opportunities.

"It's an opportunity for them to understand there are good jobs in Morris, if they want to stay," said Hennen. The companies also offer an in-house training system for students who want to start work right away and a tuition program that will help fund a student's education in exchange for working for the company for a set period of time.

"The people that we want to work for us are the people that want to live in Morris," said Zosal. "Those are the ones that stick."

On the commercial side, Westmor continues to make investments into alternative fuels and looking to what is coming next in the energy markets. Hennen said both liquid natural gas and compressed natural gas will be part of the company's future in moving, hauling and pumping those products.

The company has also started to expand its Field Service Division, adding construction management services to the department, which already does installation and repaid for installed fuel tanks across industries.

Thursday's open house will give Westmor employees the opportunity to highlight the work done at the facility and the company. When the facility was last opened to the public in 2007, Hennen said it was gratifying to see the pride employees had for their work.

"The one thing we noticed last time was the amount of pride from our employees when they were showing people around. It's nice to see, and I think we'll have a lot of that again," said Hennen.

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Kim Ukura is the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune. 

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