Q&A with President, Loren Corle
(as featured in the West Central Tribune’s 2017 IMPACT on Agriculture publication)
How did RELCO get its start? In 1982, I had been teaching Industrial Welding at Ridgewater College for two years. Enrollment in the welding program declined and my teaching contract was not renewed for the ‘83-84 school year. Previous to being laid off, I had arranged to join another instructor doing summer welding work at First District Association in Litchfield. It was that summer job that never ended and today has grown into RELCO.
What does RELCO offer its customers? RELCO offers cheese and dairy processing equipment to customers across the globe.
Why did RELCO focus on the dairy industry? Although we began in dairy, it was not our single focus in the early years of RELCO. We did some work in the ethanol, egg, poultry, meat, steam, gas, and structural. After a time, I realized it was going to be better to focus our attention and commit to one industry as we grew. In today’s world-wide competitive marketplace, one cannot be an inch deep and a mile wide. It is much better to be an inch wide and a mile deep.
What kind of changes in the industry has RELCO faced? Have there been changes in the technology and equipment? Changes in how the dairies themselves operate? There has been enormous consolidation in the dairy industry over the years, and that is continuing to happen. The single-site, one plant company is becoming a rarity. Technology is also changing. Today plants focus on automation that allows fewer people to process higher and higher volumes. Sanitation requirements and end-product specifications are also continually tightening. What was top quality food-grade product 20 years ago, would not receive premium prices today. Energy use is also a much greater concern than in the past. The ever-increasing cost of energy is driving equipment to greater and greater efficiency requirements.
How important is innovation in RELCO’s continued success? It is extremely important. Today, if you do not continually improve your products, your competition will leap-frog you in the market place. As a smaller company battling three giants in our industry worldwide, we rely upon innovation to capture market share.
Is RELCO affected by the ups and downs of the dairy industry? How has the company been able to weather the down times and taking advantage of the good? Yes, RELCO lives and breathes with the dairy industry. The dairy industry goes through cycles much as any other industry. As a capital equipment supplier, our work-load comes in slugs. We try to staff to the low point on our business cycles and rely on a pool of trusted and qualified subcontractors to help deal with volumes we cannot handle in a reasonable time. We have also seen success through geographical diversification. While the dairy industry world-wide has some general cycles in common, not all regions of the world are totally in sync. For example, several years ago when our business was slow in the USA, there was lots of work in the European Union and we were able to shift resources and supply from here to there. Today, it is more the reverse of that situation.
As RELCO expanded why was it important to keep it based in Willmar? By default, it is where our people live. If it were not for the people, we would not be here, as manufacturing costs are lower elsewhere. For now we can remain competitive only by hiring the very best talent.
What does being a local business in a significant agricultural region give RELCO in terms of a business edge? For RELCO, the advantage is in attracting talent. We have found some of our best, long-term technical employees in people that grew up on a farm or in a farming community and want to live & raise a family in that rural, smaller town environment.
What kind of schooling or training should students be looking at if they are interested in working, or starting an agricultural based business? RELCO began as pipe welders. Today, we still employ a lot of welders but have significant employment opportunities as drafters, mechanical engineers, chemical engineers, electrical engineers, assemblers, sales & marketing professionals and the normal support staff of accounting, HR, IT, and safety specialists. It is a challenging environment that has travel opportunities and exposures to many cultures and countries. I have always found a great deal of satisfaction in building equipment and supplying an industry that feeds the world.