Progress: Anderson Brothers - Building up the Brainerd lakes area
If you've driven through the Brainerd lakes area, odds are you've driven over a road paved by Anderson Brothers Construction.
If you've shopped at a big box store in Baxter, you've parked in a parking lot Anderson Brothers Construction put in.
If you've flown in or out of the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, you probably landed or took off from a runway originally paved by Anderson Brothers Construction in the 1960s.
For more than 75 years, Anderson Brothers Construction has left its mark on the Brainerd lakes area.
Overall, roads, streets and highways make up 70 percent or more of the company's workload, CEO Terry McFarlin said, but each division of the company complements the others. If a road is being repaved, residents along the road may want to get their driveways paved, which is where the residential division comes in. Divisions share employees and equipment, with the complicated arrangement coordinated on a daily basis.
The company's bread and butter is and always has been asphalt paving, McFarlin said. The maintenance division does crack sealing and patching, while the commercial division does parking lots at local big box stores. The company also does roads, ranging from small township roads up to state highways and airport runways. The highway division is probably the largest portion of the company, he said.
There are three crushers that create aggregate material for paving, McFarlin said. Most people don't see the aggregate division, he said, but there's 8-10 people testing aggregate materials all day long. It helps keep costs down and helps the company control its aggregate quality.
"The more control you have over that, the better you are," McFarlin said.
The company works on projects in a wide swath of Minnesota, McFarlin said. The geographic area for highway jobs will stretch south to St. Cloud, west to Detroit Lakes, north to Grand Forks and along the U.S.-Canada border to International Falls. Commercial, residential and maintenance projects could include Detroit Lakes, Walker, Longville and Garrison.
"I think that's helped our (employee) retention," McFarlin said. "It might be late when they get home, but they're home."
The company didn't head to North Dakota during the oil boom like so many other construction companies, McFarlin said. Since that business has slowed, many of those companies are coming back home, he said.
Through the ranks
New, young employees usually start out in the maintenance division to get a taste of the type of work and hours involved in construction. It works like a minor league team, he said, and the other divisions pick off the talented employees for their teams.
"It's always been a company that's promoted from within," McFarlin said. "I think it works best that way, that they can come in, they understand your culture, the way you do things."
The maintenance division equipment is a smaller version of what's used in other divisions, McFarlin said, so it works well for training. People aren't going to come in with the necessary expertise, he said, so they'll need to be trained.
"Once they figure out that this is the kind of lifestyle that they want to live, and this is the kind of industry they want to be in," McFarlin said, "then they're here for a very long time."
The company's retention is excellent, McFarlin said, and there are a few employees who have been with the company for 40 years.
Chuck Wynn Jr., 62, in one such employee. He's going on his 42nd year working for Anderson Brothers. He graduated from high school in Crosby and joined the Army at the end of the Vietnam War. He spent three years in Germany and came home.
His father worked for Anderson Brothers at the time, so Wynn applied for a job, not thinking he'd be with the company 40 years later. He's still with the company because of the people.
"I get along well with everybody out here," Wynn said. "A good sense of accomplishment with all the different things we work on."
Wynn spent 25-30 years as a shop foreman, managing and repairing equipment. He recently stepped down from the position, deciding to reduce his stress levels by working as a mechanic mentor instead. He does mechanic work and answers questions his coworkers might have about repairs.
Any Anderson Brothers employee who works for the company for 40 years gets their own parking spot. Wynn said it was a pretty great feeling when he hit the 40-year mark and got his own spot.
"It's humbling," Wynn said. "With all the hours put in, a lot of people just do not want to do it for that many years."
McFarlin worked his way through the company, from an equipment operator to foreman to superintendent. During a business and succession planning process in about 2007, McFarlin was asked if he would take over as president when the current president retired in a few years. He said yes and in 2011 took over as president and CEO.
McFarlin grew up with a farming background, so he was running heavy equipment at a young age. He was drawn to construction because, similar to farming, there's long days and hard work.
"I guess I never would have imagined where it would have taken me," McFarlin said. "But I'm glad I stuck through it all."
The quick pace of construction appeals to McFarlin, he said, as well as the opportunity to make quick decisions. Every minute seems to count and tasks can't be set aside to be completed later. There's also the satisfaction and pride in seeing a completed job, he said, especially when it's something everyone uses.
"You've accomplished something big, and a lot of people get to benefit from it," McFarlin said.
There can be up to 250 employees during the summer season and many employees are laid off around Nov. 1. Even though they aren't working during the winter, employees are putting in long hours during the busy season, he said.
During the fall and winter, the company starts planning for the following year, McFarlin said. This includes bidding on projects, developing estimates for bigger jobs and maintaining and repairing equipment in three different shops. There's also research, permitting and paperwork to do over the winter.
"The goal is to try and get everything up and ready by April 1," McFarlin said.
The company looks at every public construction project, McFarlin said, but if the job looks too complicated or complex, the company probably won't bid on it. The company avoids underground work, he said, and instead prefers mill and overlay projects, which are simpler and less time-consuming.
Any company has to be flexible, McFarlin said, and know when to grow and when to retract. The company realized the Highway 371 bypass in Baxter was going to attract development, he said, and prepared for it.
"Things were kind of pulled in and concentrated locally," McFarlin said. "You have to be able to do those things to get this far."
The nine-person ownership team is in place to make sure the company stays around for future generations, McFarlin said, and to ensure the jobs remain in the community.
"That was the wishes of the Andersons, to make it perpetual, to keep jobs in the community," McFarlin said. "And to continue to give back to the community."
Going forward, the company keeps those goals at the forefront, McFarlin said, as well as the focus on doing things right and treating people fairly.
It's easier to work on any kind of project in Brainerd or Baxter, McFarlin said, because the job is closer to the company's resources.
"The closer we are to this yard, the better that we'll do," McFarlin said. "Because we've got the ability to change up resources. That could be people, that could be equipment, aggregate resource."
There's about five to six companies in the region who compete for similar asphalt jobs, McFarlin said. What sets Anderson Brothers apart from those competitors is the quality of the company's work, he said. People in the state who don't know the company's history are surprised by the work quality.
"We've always held a high degree of integrity, honesty and quality work," McFarlin said. "And that means a lot today."
• Business: Anderson Brothers Construction.
• City: Brainerd.
• Number of employees: Up to 250 during the peak construction season in the summer.
• Interesting fact: Throughout its 77 years, Anderson Brothers has remained in the same location on Highway 210 in east Brainerd.