Iowa trailer manufacturer expands to meet growing demand
By JEFF MONTGOMERY
Feb. 04, 2018
FARLEY, Iowa (AP) — A longtime Farley manufacturer is adding more than 60,000 square feet to its footprint, a move that will allow the business to introduce new technologies and expand its reach to a broader range of customers.
Behnke Enterprises manufactures a variety of trailers for customers in the agricultural, construction, heavy haul, commercial and original equipment manufacturer sectors.
The smallest trailers produced at Behnke are capable of hauling 3,000 pounds, while the largest can haul 110,000 pounds.
Avalon Service Center in Rickardsville is the local dealer for Behnke products, but the trailers are sold through the U.S. and Canada. Some products even make their way to the Middle East, Australia, Japan and Europe.
The business started in Holy Cross in 1987 and moved to Farley 11 years later.
Co-owner Margie Behnke, who runs the company with her husband, Jerry, said the original building in Farley spanned 24,000 square feet. Several expansions brought the building to 128,000 square feet by 2012.
Company leaders began contemplating the latest string of expansions in late 2016, due largely to a downturn in the ag market, the Telegraph Herald reported .
"For many years, we relied really heavily on the ag side of things," Behnke said. "Ag prices recently have not been so great, and when those sales slowed up, it forced us to seek more business on the construction side."
Behnke said the business already has hired about 10 workers since the expansions began, bringing the company's total workforce to about 90. She said officials plan to add at least five more workers in the next couple of years.
That kind of growth signals good news for those who oversee economic development in Farley.
Bill Schueller, director of the Farley Development Corp., said Behnke Enterprises has contributed mightily to the local economy since arriving two decades ago.
"They started out here with just 15 or 20 employees and have just continued to grow," Schueller said. "Now they are one of the largest employers in the community."
Contractors broke ground on the first phase of a three-part expansion in the spring of 2017. The 32,000-square-foot addition was completed that summer, Behnke said.
Behnke said the addition created room for extra warehousing, six additional welding bays and a structural plasma machine purchased from The Netherlands.
Sales and production increased so quickly that the company soon started planning a second addition, which added 18,000 square feet. The addition largely is complete, but workers have not yet begun operating within the space that will allow the company to add an automated laser system that processes 40,000 pounds of sheet steel per day.
The company also started a third addition in late 2017. Behnke said cement work was completed in December and its completion is projected for March. It eventually will house a "tube laser" that will be operational by April.
In addition to providing more space, Behnke noted that the additional 62,000 square feet will allow the company to keep more operations in-house.
"It makes it a lot easier for us to control the timing of production," Behnke said. "Instead of waiting to get certain parts or products and being on somebody else's time, this gives us a lot more control over when things get done."
The consistency of the workforce at Behnke Enterprises has helped the company navigate its recent growth and diversification.
The Behnkes' four sons all are part of the workforce. Margie Behnke said that many in the company's workforce have "five, 10, 15 and even 20 years of service."
She acknowledged that there is "a lot of competition" in the local labor market and said the company's scheduling is one thing that helps attract and retain workers.
"We generally do four 10-hour days (in a work week), so unless someone is working overtime (on Friday), they have a three-day weekend," she said. "I think that really appeals to our workers."
Over the past two decades, Behnke's growth has had a positive ripple effect on the local economy.
"It's been great for the community, good for restaurants and fuel stations. It has really benefited everything around town," said Schueller. "They've also used local contractors for all of their additions, and there have been quite a few of those over the years."
Dan McDonald, vice president of existing business for Greater Dubuque Development Corp., said Behnke has done "phenomenal things" over the past three decades.
He said its steady growth isn't surprising given the company's reputation for quality.
"They are recognized as the best of the best for their products, the gold standard," he said. "It is always cool when you have a product produced in Dubuque County recognized as being the best."
Information from: Telegraph Herald, http://www.thonline.com