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Continued growth at Amerequip leads to expansion, more jobs

The Kiel-based manufacturer recently broke ground on a 32,000-square-foot addition

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June 28, 2023

KIEL – Things are on a huge upswing at Amerequip®, a Kiel-based designer and manufacturer of custom equipment for the commercial lawn, landscape, agricultural, construction, waste management and industrial markets.

So much so that Amerequip recently broke ground on a 32,000-square-foot addition to its Kiel facility – bumping the facility up to approximately 350,000 square feet.

Mike Vander Zanden, Amerequip president and CEO, said the additional square footage is necessary to support new customer demand.

“We are excited about the growth potential that this new expansion offers,” he said when first announcing the expansion. “It will provide assembly space for new business we have been awarded, as well as room for additional shipping and receiving.”

That new business, Vander Zanden said, has come from John Deere’s agriculture division, Briggs & Stratton and Bobcat.

He said that business will be onboarded later this year or in early 2024 and is in addition to significant new business they’ve added over the last 13 years.

Diversified evolution
For much of its 102-year history, Vander Zanden said Amerequip mostly provided attachments for compact utility tractors.

While that served them well for many years, Vander Zanden said the company learned in 2009-10 that people don’t need attachments for compact utility tractors, especially during a recession.

Starting with the company 29 years ago, Vander Zanden has moved his way up through the ranks – first in the engineering department as a manufacturing engineer, in supervision, in management of all three facilities, sales and as vice-president of operations, before becoming president and CEO in 2009.

Those years haven’t come without ups and downs, Vander Zanden said.

“I was about six months into my role as president and CEO when I had to look 50% of our team members in the eye and tell them I had to lay them off,” he said. “As a result, the company went from 200 employees to 100 in 2009. At that time, I vowed that as long as I was in this role, I was never going to lay anybody off again.”

Vander Zanden said that set the course for the company’s diversification.

“We have since grown from a $20 million company in 2009 to about $145 to $150 million in revenue we’ll do this year,” he said. “And we’ve grown from about 100 team members then to the 350 team members we have now.”

Adding some large companies to the company’s portfolio, Vander Zanden said, helped tremendously with the growth, including such companies as Caterpillar, McNeilus, AriensCo. and a lot of large OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) in diversified product fields.

“So, now we’re not just in compact utility tractors,” he said. “We’re also in construction, the industrial and refuse side of things and commercial mowing. We’ve not only diversified in the last 13 years, but we’re continuing to work hard so we continue diversifying.”

Vander Zanden said the company has also added some new work, not only with existing customers but with new customers that will be coming on board, probably sometime in 2023.

“That, in turn, is creating the need for the additional square footage,” he said. “It’s all being driven by our desire to diversify, grow the business and ensure I hold true to my commitment to never lay anyone off again – which I’ve lived up to for 13 years so far.”

This is not the first expansion Amerequip has done, Vander Zanden said – noting a few throughout the company’s history.

“Since our strategy from the recession to grow and diversify, we’ve been working to get all of our core competencies under one roof,” he said. “In 2014, we did an 80,000-square-foot expansion at this location in Kiel to consolidate all of our welding operations. So at that point, welding, painting and assembly were all under one roof.”

In 2017, Vander Zanden said the company did another 80,000-square-foot expansion to consolidate its fabrication department in Kiel, as well.

“So now, raw steel from the mill comes in at one end of the facility and products are finished, painted, serialized and they leave at the other end of the facility – with everything from a production standpoint now under one roof,” he said.

Always been based in Kiel, New Holstein
When Vander Zanden began at Amerequip, he said the company had four locations – three in New Holstein and one in Kiel.

In 2017, he said the company sold the original building in New Holstein, leaving them with the three locations it has today – the main one is located in Kiel; the other two are in New Holstein.

Amerequip recently broke ground on an expansion project at its Kiel facility. Photo Courtesy of Amerequip

“The sale of that original building coincided with a second expansion we had in Kiel,” he said. “But the original business started in New Holstein 102 years ago and later expanded to include the other two locations in New Holstein as the business grew.”

Vander Zanden said in 1982, the company acquired an existing building in Kiel to support some new business it had at that time.

“But New Holstein and Kiel have been in our DNA since the company originated in 1920,” he said.

Two of Amerequip’s existing three locations – the one in Kiel and a 40,000-square-foot facility in New Holstein – are for manufacturing.

The other facility in New Holstein is 15,000 square feet and houses the company’s engineering, testing and prototyping work.

New job opportunities
An additional 25-30 new skilled team members – welders, fabricators and assemblers – will be hired for positions within the expanded Kiel facility.

An additional 25-30 new skilled team members – welders, fabricators and assemblers – will be hired when the Kiel facility expansion is completed. Photo Courtesy of Amerequip

Vander Zanden said the company’s assembly is typically more complicated than assembly work at many manufacturing facilities because it’s done with hydraulics and electrical software.

“(So, we are hiring) individuals who have a mechanical sense or mechanical skill set in their abilities,” he said. “We take great pride in providing good paying, local jobs with development opportunities for team members throughout their career at Amerequip. We value what they do for us and our clients. This new facility will help us to continue delivering on our high standard and quality of work.”

While the company anticipates hiring more people when the expansion is complete or nearing completion, Vander Zanden said it doesn’t need any additional employees currently – something unlike most manufacturing plants around Northeast Wisconsin.

He said the company has had tremendous success in the last year or so, adding the necessary resources to grow the business and meet its customers’ demands as they arose.

“We have seen what I would call somewhat of a flattening in demand for our existing product lines,” he said. “Our growth rate, because of what occurred during the pandemic, and because of existing businesses’ volumes growing so much, meant we weren’t out selling a lot.”

Vander Zanden said the company was able to keep up with the increased demand from its organic business and hire enough resources to meet that demand.

“Then six months ago, we started seeing our organic or existing business was flattening,” he said. “So, we started going back out and selling, looking for new opportunities again.”

Vander Zanden said Amerequip has again found success with that.

“So, although we’re in a flat period right now, we’ll start seeing continued growth happen again later this year or in early 2024 when that new business is onboarded,” he said.

That’s when the company will bring new team members on board.

In the meantime, Vander Zanden said Amerequip is fortunate and grateful to have the team members it has.

“We truly are blessed to have incredible team members,” he said. “Our commitment to the local communities and the State of Wisconsin, as well as our commitment to continue to grow, is driven by my commitment to not ever have to lay anybody off again and to provide new opportunities.”

Vander Zanden said “it’s not easy growing from $20 million to $150 million.”

“But the local communities, our team and the state over the last 13 years have been wonderful to deal with,” he said. “And our partners – our customers – are what allow all this to happen.” And as the company continues to grow, Vander Zanden said Amerequip will continue to invest in and support the local communities of Kiel and New Holstein.

“We are grateful to be part of two communities that support our company, team members and the work we do,” he said. “It’s our honor to be involved and to give back. Our continued growth allows us to give back even more to these communities and make them a better place for our team members, and the communities as a whole, which is something that’s important to us.”

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