Citizens make Masaba feel welcome

Citizens make Masaba feel welcome
Think of it in terms of simply its name, and one might get the impression that Masaba Inc. is as tough and unrelenting as the rugged iron ore range in northern Minnesota where it derived its name.

But Jared Higman, the company's president, paused for a moment last Thursday when addressing the scores of people who turned out for the new industry's ribbon cutting and open house last Thursday, Oct. 27, to make a special introduction.

Seated near the stage and podium located in the center of Vermillion's new manufacturing plant was Jared's grandfather, Harold "Bud" Higman Sr., the man who started the company decades ago in Akron, IA. The elder Higman, now 89 years old, still works every day at the family's gravel pit.

Eventually, Jared's father, Harold Higman Jr., took over management. Today, Jared represents the third generation of Higmans involved in manufacturing equipment used in the mining industry.

"This is a family business with the entrepreneurial spirit we want to have come to South Dakota," Gov. Mike Rounds said in his remarks before the ribbon cutting ceremony.

"Masaba has a long-standing tradition of quality, integrity and innovation," Vermillion Mayor Dan Christopherson said. "This has resulted in this outstanding facility today. It all started with a vision."

A partnership of Masaba's company representatives, South Dakota's congressional delegation, the governor's office, and representatives of Clay County, the city of Vermillion and the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company worked as one to help locate the new industry in the city, Christopherson said.

Masaba's products aren't used in deep underground facilities, such as the former Homestake Mine in the Black Hills.

But wherever rock needs to be cut, transported, and sorted, it's likely that Masaba can build something to help with the job, ranging from small conveyors, to the company's largest product � a "plant" weighing nearly 140,000 pounds, which, through the use of screens, shakes rocks to separate smaller stones from the larger ones.

The company's market ranges from Canada throughout all of the United States and parts of Mexico.

"A lot of what we manufacture is for the aggregate industry, and when I say that, we're talking limestone, sand and gravel," Higman said, "and last year we worked with a huge gypsum site, that's used to make the wallboard in your house.

"A lot of what we do is just building big stuff that's either crushing aggregate, screening it, or washing it," he said. "People don't realize that the concrete in the highways � there's a lot that (aggregate) that goes into it."

Masaba's niche, Higman said, has been to custom design and engineer the specific type of equipment needed by its various customers.

He pointed to a large piece of equipment � a plant � on display in Masaba's new Vermillion facility.

"This plant here is probably going to be one of a kind," Higman said. "That's been our edge in the market. People (in the mining industry) can come to us, we work really well with the owners and operators and also work well with our dealers."

Rounds urged the people attending the open house to not view Masaba's relocation from Iowa to South Dakota as a battle between the two states.

"The competition for jobs is not between different regions," he said. "The competition is between our country and countries elsewhere in the world, and we have to do everything that we can to use all of the different devices and unique opportunities that we can provide these businessmen to compete on a world-wide basis."

Masaba's move from Akron, IA, to Vermillion, to a much larger, 100,000 square-foot manufacturing facility, has given the company new opportunities for growth.

"We have the capacity for much greater things," Higman said. "The old facility was breaking at the seams. This is double or triple what we had."

The plant has been up and running in Vermillion since July. The ribbon-cutting ceremony was held last week to allow landscaping and other tasks to be completed.

Masaba employs between 45 and 50 people.

"As we keep growing, we're going to keep employing," Higman said. "We're going up to 60 employees by the end of the year. We want to manage our growth. We want to grow our company in a very methodical way, and when we find good people, we want to keep them."

Masaba's staff ranges from fabricators and welders, to mechanical engineers.

"I want to thank them (the Higmans) for having faith in Vermillion, for having a faith in South Dakota," Rounds said, "and for giving us an opportunity to show them what we can do to help them grow."

Rounds said Masaba's executives have already been working to help promote South Dakota. The governor and Higman have met four times personally, and Higman has taken part in two buffalo round-ups and two pheasant hunts.

After Higman became acquainted with South Dakota, Rounds said, he returned to participate not just for the social aspect of the round-ups and hunting, but also to work as an ambassador for South Dakota.

"He wanted, as a good corporate citizen, to tell other people about what a great place this is to do business," the governor said.

"The nice thing about Vermillion is the amount of additional good applicants that we've received," Higman said. "We've gotten a lot of applicants here, and that's been very refreshing. The nice thing about being located in the Midwest is there are a lot of good, hard-working people. People want to work, and they're extremely proud of what they do."

The Higman family has pledged to retain quality work despite rising steel prices and to stay in the United States, Higman said.

"Made In America means something to us. We have good people," he said. "There are so many companies out-sourcing to other countries, but we keep it here in America."

"South Dakota said to me, ?What can we do?' They took a ?can-do' attitude," he said. "Gov. Rounds said the purpose is to keep jobs and keep people in the state. The state has helped us tell our good story. We are glad we made this decision."

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