Anderson Steel Adding Jobs With $1.2 Million Investment

19 May 2016

In 2002, Great Falls-based Anderson Steel bought a $900,000 beam line, automatic equipment that does drilling, sawing, punching, shearing and fabrication of structural steel.

“It isn’t fully depreciated yet, but it is already out of date,” said Susan Humble, the owner of the metal fabrication business established in 1970 by her father, Duane “Bud” Anderson.

That beam line is being replaced with $1.2 million of fabrication equipment, which will help increase productivity and efficiency.

“The new beam replaces five pieces of equipment,” Humble said. “A process that took two people 45 minutes to complete now takes one person three minutes.”

The plan is to leverage that increased productivity to increase sales and boost Anderson Steel’s workforce by 15 personnel this year and a total of 50 over the next four years.

“We had 40 employees and we are now up to 47, so we are half way for our hiring goal this year,” Humble said.

The investment, financed in part by a $112,500 Big Sky Trust Fund grant from the Montana Department of Commerce tied to the increase in jobs, is part of an aggressive business plan for Anderson Steel’s metal fabrication division.

“We are bidding projects across Montana and the Western U.S., including Alaska and Hawaii,” said Bob Reiman, vice president of operations for Anderson Steel Supply. “By refocusing our efforts, we are returning to the original business plan this company was founded on 46 years ago.”

For example, Anderson Steel was the successful bidder for the steel work — architectural steel components such as handrails, stairs, as well as the structural steel — for the $14 million Washington Grizzly Champion Center, a 46,000-square-foot complex that will be located behind the southwest corner of Washington-Grizzly Stadium at the University of Montana. The center will house a new 7,000-square-foot locker room for the Grizzly football team, a 12,500-square-foot strength and conditioning center for all student-athletes and team meeting spaces.

“Our employees are from Montana, from this area, and many of them are Griz fans,” Reiman said. “It’s been a great project and a fun one. Our people are proud of all their work and proud to be involved in this project.”

The Washington Grizzly Champion Center contract is an identifiable milestone in what is a bright chapter in Anderson Steel’s story, Humble said.

Ferocious labor demands in the Bakken oil fields, along with a local expansion of the metal fabrication industry, taxed the supply of skilled labor over the past several years.

“It was painful; those types of skills are not readily available in Montana,” Humble said of the turnover her business experienced.

Although Great Falls College MSU directed resources to its welding programs, students graduated without skills such as how to read blueprints and a solid understanding of the building process for steel orders. That made the on-the-job learning curve steep.

“The state’s skilled labor pool was depleted and as an industry, I think we were not paying enough attention,” Humble said.

To fill that gap, Anderson Steel is working with Great Falls College on welder apprenticeship programs to bring students to work sites in apprenticeship programs. A state of Montana workforce development grant may help offset some of the cost of that training for Anderson Steel.

Humble credits Reiman with looking into the opportunities to apply for workforce development grants from the state of Montana.

Cascade County submitted with Big Sky Trust Fund grant application to the state on behalf of Anderson Steel. The Great Falls Development Authority assisted with the application preparation.

“About 80 percent of the work we do is with existing businesses for projects such as expansions, business strategy, shoring up business plans,” said Jolene Schalper of the GFDA. “This is just one example of the services we have to offer.”

GFDA’s Lillian Sunwall worked with Anderson Steel in the past on federal Procurement Technical Assistance Center projects and will be assisting with their next workforce development grant application, too.

Humble said the investment in new equipment with the latest technology is a morale boost for the employees in Anderson Steel’s steel fabrication division. The company also has a doors, frames and hardware division, allowing one-stop shopping for construction project managers.

“We are investing the future of this company and it is a bit scary, stepping out on a limb and borrowing money,” she said. “But, this is a fund stage. People’s attitudes are great. We are ready for the change.”

She’ll have several chances to the chance to check out progress on the Washington Grizzly Champion Center project this fall.

“I’ve had season tickets for Grizzly football since they played at Dornblaser Field,” she said. “We love the Griz. We also support the (Montana State University) Bobcats, except when they play the Griz.”


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