A manufacturing company with a long history in Brainerd recently renovated its facility and moved jobs into the city.
“It’s expansion. It’s growth. It’s new employment and it’s been a long time coming, It’s exciting stuff,” said owner Bill Bieber during a ceremony at the plant. Bieber said the Brainerd community has supported ATEK for more than 40 years.
“It’s been a wonderful relationship,” he said. “... It’s true that we’re smaller today than we were 20 years ago. There was a time when we had three manufacturing plants here and I think close to a 1,000 employees.”
ATEK Products has its corporate offices and manufacturing facility in northeast Brainerd near the Highway 210 and Mill Avenue intersection. The recent plant renovation prepared space for the addition of Datakey Electronics, one of ATEK’s divisions previously in Savage. Datakey now joins ATEK Products’ other divisions here — Larco, AcroReels and TankScan.
Today ATEK Products employs 63 workers, with 46 of those jobs in Brainerd. Six employees have been at the company for more than 30 years. Bieber thanked employees for their loyalty to the company. He said several years ago the company set out to reinvent itself. Technologies come and go, Bieber said, and some products went away, such as the aluminum reels the company previously made for analog video tape. The company still makes reels, but not a lot. The company continues its core business of making mats that signal doors to automatically open such as those at grocery stores.
Another familiar product manufactured in Brainerd comes in the wall switches used for handicap access and in hospitals, restaurants and airports, allowing people to access doors by pressing a plate. The company makes 95 different variations for size and shape. Some are wireless. A new variant uses a copper cover, which significantly reduces bacteria and has particular applications in hospitals.
ATEK works with MedTronic to make a device that measures knee replacement range of motion. The device is with shoulder replacements and heart and brain shunts. And ATEK is a contract manufacturer for Pitney-Bowes with systems used by mass mailing operations and post offices.
The company reported the upgraded facility in Brainerd will allow it to “strengthen its manufacturing capabilities and bring jobs to the local community.”
Datakey Electronics makes smart keys with computer chips inside rugged plastic keys designed to withstand extreme conditions. The re-programmable memory keys are used to transport electronic data and control access. Some keys, as an example, act as a payment method with a credit balance used to pay parking meters. The smart keys may be used to operate anything from traffic controls, exercise and agriculture equipment; remote weather stations, inventory control, commercial ovens, fuel dispensers, network security. Customers include the military. The company also has encrypted keys with Guardian II, for use to access secure areas, that can’t be duplicated. The keys come with the ability to block lost or stolen keys using administrative software and to track usage.
ATEK’s roots go back to 1946. In Brainerd, the company once had multiple locations and counted its employees in the hundreds. In 1956, Fred Bieber bought an 11-year-old metal stamping company and die shop in Minneapolis — Acrometal Products — for $25,000.
Brainerd council members, Brainerd Lakes Chamber and BLAEDC representatives gathered at ATEK for a Wednesday ceremony unveiling the renovated facility. The renovation of 15,000-square-feet of manufacturing space at the Brainerd facility took about six months to complete and involved more than 10 Brainerd area contractors.
ATEK Companies has two businesses, ATEK Products in Brainerd and ATEK Precision Castings in New Hampton, Iowa.
Bieber said ATEK Products, which has a philosophy for shared profits with employees, has products with tremendous growth potential.
“It means this company will be here to provide long-term secure employment,” Bieber said. “It means growth. It means stability. It means more jobs. ... We could become a very, very significant player in this area. We have the potential. The future looks very bright.
“We are going to grow this business. ... Our destiny is really in our own hands.”