DeWITT – A Minnesota tool company plans to bring new life to a central DeWitt building that’s been vacant almost eight years.
Malco Products Inc. has announced plans to purchase the former Vise-Grip factory.
More than 300 jobs were cut in 2008 when Newell Rubbermaid, the owner of the Vise-Grip brand and its plant in DeWitt, a town of just over 500, announced production would be transferred to China.
Malco Products is based in Annandale, Minn., a town of around 3,300 residents.
Company President and CEO Mardon Quandt said it was important that the company chose a rural area to expand, and added Nebraska is a good fit.
“We’re excited about starting a manufacturing operation and we think that there’s a good fit with the culture and the work environment in Nebraska,” he said. “The state just seems to have a real desire to get good manufacturing jobs back in Nebraska.”
According to the company’s website, Malco got its start in 1950 when Mark W. Keymer, a young steel supply salesman, began to manufacture and market a pipe crimper he invented for use in sheet metal ductwork used with forced air heating systems.
More tools followed, including a first hand seamer to employ compound leverage, a time-saving hand notcher and a hand operated, snap lock punch to complete the basic sheet metal tool set.
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The early product line of crimpers, seamers, notchers and punches has since been joined by hundreds of other specialty tools.
In addition to HVAC equipment, the company makes tools for automotive, fence and roofing work.
Quandt declined to say what would be produced at the plant and added the purchase of the building is still being finalized.
Fliers from the company have been posted around DeWitt and mailed to business owners inviting the community to an event Monday to “celebrate a major milestone in this process” and learn more about the company.
Quandt said around 12 company officials will be in DeWitt next week.
He added the company is around two years away from producing at the plant, and declined to estimate how many Nebraska jobs will be created.
Quandt stressed the Nebraska Department of Economic Development was helpful throughout the decision process.
“We have been working with the state of Nebraska on this project and they have influenced our decision to come to Nebraska,” he said. “We appreciate that the state has been very cooperative about different programs and is easy to do business with.”
The announcement that Newell Rubbermaid was moving Vise-Grip production to China in 2008 shook the town of DeWitt. Six years prior, upgrades were made to some of DeWitt's utility services, such as sewer infrastructure, to better handle the needs of the plant, according to Daily Sun archives.
Larry Wattjes, a member of the DeWitt Village Board, said the announcement will be a major boost to the town in more ways than the accompanying jobs.
“It’s a big boost to DeWitt to have some manufacturing going back in there,” he said. “We sell our own electricity and so we took a great big hit on that. Over the last eight years the cash flow has been really going down.”
The plant’s roots can be traced to Danish immigrant Bill Petersen patenting a pair of locking pliers in 1924 and starting production at his blacksmith shop in DeWitt.
In 1985, the Petersen family sold to American Tool Company Inc. Newell-Rubbermaid bought the plant in 2002 and it has operated under the name of Irwin Industrial Tools, a company American Tool bought in 1993.
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