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All-hands-on-deck mentality sets GLC Minerals apart

Focusing on small, incremental gains noted as formula to steady growth

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September 12, 2022

GREEN BAY – In 1871, Ulysses S. Grant was the U.S. President, pioneer aviator Orville Wright was born, the first-ever photographs of the Yellowstone National Park region were taken and there were just 37 U.S. states.

In that same year, GLC Minerals, a calcium and magnesium carbonate products manufacturer on the Port of Green Bay, was established.

The then-named Hurlbut Calcium and Chemical Company was established by local entrepreneur, Fred Hurlbut Sr., who capitalized on what he called an economic opportunity of the Great Lakes shipping following the Civil War.

Today, five generations and more than 150 years later, the company, now-known as GLC Minerals, is owned and operated by Wes Garner, chairman, CEO and great-great-grandson of Hurlbut.

Garner said though the company has endured many trials and tribulations – as well as many reinventions – along the way, it continues to be a mainstay business in the Greater Green Bay community.

“The key driver of our success, and one of the cornerstones of our success, has been our ability to use the Port of Green Bay,” he said. “It allows us to source multiple quality minerals from throughout the Great Lakes and the world.”

Garner said today, GLC Minerals’ focus is in the minerals – which it obtains via ship to serve the needs of businesses, both in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest.

He said to move materials 500 miles on a ship costs the same as transporting it five miles via truck.

“The economies of scale in leveraging the port allows us to deliver to our market better and for less than anybody else,” Garner said.

A look back
What started as a docking and dry goods business in downtown Green Bay, Garner said, grew and expanded through the family’s second and third generations – getting into real estate development, concrete pipe and other concrete products, a hotel and a docking business for coal and other commodities.

He said by the mid-19th century, GLC Minerals added the calcium and chemical aspect of the business, and in 1940, moved to near the mouth of the port.

Garner said the move was an instrumental pivot for the company’s future.

“After the third generation died, the company decided to sell the assets of the company,” he said. “My dad purchased the calcium and chemical side of the business – a small part of the business at the time – which I then purchased in 1996.” 

What GLC does
Garner said GLC Minerals supplies essential minerals – primarily calcium and magnesium – for use in industrial (glass manufacturing, air pollution control, specialty papermaking and a variety of adhesive sealants and coating applications) and agricultural applications (primarily used as a feed supplement for dairy rations and agronomic applications applied to fields to control pH levels).

“We’re very diversified,” he said. “We touch a lot of parts of Wisconsin, from manufacturing to industrial to agriculture, which is cool. The minerals we supply, and the quantity we supply, is critical.”

GLC Minerals is located at the mouth of the Fox River in the shadows of the Leo Frigo Memorial Bridge on the north side of Green Bay. Chris Rugowski Photo

Most of the businesses GLC Minerals serves, Garner said, can only maintain three to four days’ worth of inventory due to sheer volume of product required and ability to store it.

“They go through massive amounts of material, and it is expensive to store,” he said. “We are committed to keeping them stocked. Customers are used to how timely we are in our deliveries. It’s one of the values we bring to the market.”

So much so that Garner said even with all the ups and downs of COVID-19, they delivered.

He said customers credit them as “the best supplier they had because they never lost sleep about our ability to deliver.” 

Garner said most customers stick around, with many being with the company for 40 years – most located in the Upper Midwest, with a heavy concentration in Wisconsin.

“Our core purpose is to keep customers’ businesses running,” he said. “When we do that, we stay running.”

‘Own your future’
Garner said that focus, as well as the company’s values – “Own your future” – formalized about 10 years ago, drive GLC Minerals and its 50 employees.

He said the company’s value statement was established with input from refugee employees who said they were seizing the opportunity to take responsibility for their futures by coming to the U.S. and creating it.

Garner said the company gets better every day by focusing on small, incremental gains that lead to steady growth.

“We recognize we can’t get bogged down with a bunch of bureaucratic decision-making if we want to keep our customers running and to be responsive to their needs,” he said. “It also means not being afraid to get dirty. No job is beneath anybody in the company.”

Garner said the all-hands-on-deck mindset has proved fruitful.

Today, he said the company is 10 times the size it was when he purchased it, and it has quadrupled employment over the past 25 years.

Garner said the company’s consistent output has allowed it to be resilient during times of recession and continues to offer its employees the opportunity to earn a family-supporting wage. 

Giving back
Garner said GLC Minerals is community-oriented as well.

He, himself, has served on the Greater Green Bay Chamber Board of Directors and as the chairman of the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation.

Garner said he encourages his leadership team – which is 80% women – to follow suit.

“We are proud to be a heavily woman-driven company, and that has changed the face of our business, especially in a rock crushing/animal feed market that doesn’t typically see that,” he said.

Garner said GLC Minerals has a strategic focus on areas of the community it supports: water (due to its connection with the port), the Fort Howard Neighborhood (which is where the company resides) and foster care and adoption (as he and his wife, Kim, have built their family through adoption).

In 2022, he said the rotating community focus shifted to suicide prevention/mental health, something that, unfortunately, struck close to home for GLC Minerals.

“Unfortunately, we live under the tallest bridge in the area, and our team has witnessed multiple suicides in the past several years,” he said. “After dealing with one last year, we said, ‘We have to do something.’ That includes being engaged in a community issue that is often somewhat hidden.”

The future
Garner said the focus is on growing 10-15% per year, with a move from the commodity space of calcium and magnesium into building proprietary products geared to specific applications, such as dairy nutrition or soil health.

“That’s going to be the next big growth stage for the company and move us to be more of a national player, particularly in dairy nutrition,” he said.

Garner said it’s a significant shift, as it will require branding, marketing, research and development and an additional level of technical expertise, not to mention a culture of innovation.

He said the company has used a defined innovation process, put in place in 2010 to get here.

“This is our challenge, and it’s awesome,” Garner said. “But this company is literally five generations of entrepreneurship. That, and water, are the only constants. You can look at the wall in our office and see that every 30 years, the business changes completely, whether by choice or default. That’s what I love about it, and it’s what gets me out of bed every day.”

Garner said GLC, which celebrated its 150th anniversary last summer, has grown to be the leader in custom mineral processing for numerous markets, such as animal feed, glass, fillers, coatings, adhesives and sealants.

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