European Connection


WILLMAR—A contract for Willmar-based RELCO to participate in the design and construction of a major dairy products plant in the Netherlands also signals a connection to one of the largest dairy companies in the world. RELCO RELCO will work with Fronterra of New Zealand to build the whey and lactose plant in Heerenveen, Netherlands. “It’s our largest contract to date,” Mike Day, chief financial officer, said last week. RELCO was started by Loren Corle in 1982 in Willmar and has a facility in the city’s industrial park. The business designs, builds and installs processing equipment for the dairy industry. RELCO’s European facility in Drachten, Netherlands, will work on the new plant along with the Willmar plant. The project is big enough to require the attention of designers, engineers and manufacturing personnel at both plants. “What’s significant is it is with one of the largest dairy cooperatives in the world,” said Luis Marin, general manger. In a news release from Fronterra project director Hans Berghorst said, “This is a significant contract, and there was a great deal of scrutiny and pressure to ensure we found a supplier who could meet Fonterra’s high standards.” In the news release, Berghorst said RELCO’s track record and broad experience contributed to the company receiving the contract. While many of its customers are in Minnesota, like the First District Association, and all over the United States, RELCO has moved in the past six years to expand its presence overseas. It purchased a manufacturing plant in the Netherlands in 2007 and opened a sales office in New Zealand in 2011. RELCO is one of a number of Willmar businesses that don’t necessarily draw a lot of local attention while they conduct business all over the world. The company primarily builds evaporators and dryers of whey protein and other products, said Day. Day referred to that as the “dry side” of the dairy processing business. The recent acquisition of Wisconsin-based Stoelting helped the company move into the “wet side” of cheese processing. “It further complements our product lines,” said Marin. The Willmar plant now builds things like cottage cheese vats along with its original lines of equipment. “We have the capability of taking an idea, and we can design it, build it and install it,” he said. “It’s a complete turn-key operation.” It can be a challenge at times to stay in Willmar and attract the professional employees needed, the men said. “It takes a lot of different kinds of disciplines,” Marin said. “We’re very big in automation.” Welders are the most difficult employees to find. The business welds on stainless steel, which is a specialized skill. Project engineers can also be in short supply. “We’re looking for creative people and dependable people that can help us foster that growth,” Marin said. Both Day and Marin moved to Willmar in recent years to work for RELCO. Both said moving to Willmar from Brainerd and Rochester was an adjustment, but they do like it here. “The thing that attracted me was the people, and the growth opportunities,” Day said. “I like that people are not afraid to work shoulder to shoulder to get things done,” Marin added. West Central Tribune by Linda Vanderwerf

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