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Friesen owner praises Storm Lake workforce

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Russ Edwards, founder of Westman Group Inc. which bought Friesen USA Inc. 10 months ago, lauded the efforts of workers at the Friesen Storm Lake plant Friday in a ribbon cutting held to welcome company owner Russ Edwards to Storm Lake and to commemorate expansion of the operation in the Tuscarora Building.

Citing Edwards' company, Westman Group Inc., as "the best-managed private company in Manitoba for six, consecutive years," Storm Lake Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Gary Lalone welcomed Edwards, saying, "this is good for our community."

"It is just wonderful to see our employees here again and to enjoy our fellowship here today," Edwards said.

Edwards' own story is quite literally that of a rags-to-riches saga of a young man who mortgaged his own home in 1975 to start a culvert company. With the help of his wife, Edna, who worked as a nurse while Edwards devoted his energies to his company, Edwards was able to build, according to Lalone, "the best-managed private company in Manitoba" and one of the most successful manufacturing companies in Canada.

Edwards said Westman Group Inc. will soon have 18 plants including two in Storm Lake. He said there are a total of 850 employees in his company's total operations.

"Our employees are considered as family," Edwards said. He recognized workers at four facilities that manufacture storage tanks and seed tender equipment, a new product for the company but a product Friesen has manufactured for several years. Edwards said the seed tenders will be exported to Canada and around the world.

Edwards called Friesen USA "among the best when it comes to customer recognition and satisfaction and we are all proud of you."

Recognizing Gord Doerksen, whom he hired as controller 20 years ago, Edwards said, "he has worked hard to bring the company where it is today."

Edwards was more than willing to give credit to his employees.

"It has always been out policy to promote from within," Edwards said. "When we purchase a new company we allow our employees to grow and develop with the company."

Doerksen shared Edwards' enthusiasm for Friesen employees.

"It's always been important to us that the people come before the company," Doerksen said. "We're really here to celebrate the actions we have taken over the last 10 months. We have come a long way in 10 months and each and every one of the Friesen employees here has contributed to where we are here today. The efforts you have put in have been just unbelievable."

Doerksen seemed very optimistic about future company sales.

"A challenge has gone out," Doerksen said. "If we build them, the sales department will sell them. The challenge is how many units can we make."

"One of our primary goals was to expand and modernize the facilities," said Bryan Macdonald, vice president of the Bins Division which includes Friesen of Iowa.

Vice President of Operations, Bernie Thiessen, said, "This is just the latest in a long list of accomplishments."

Thiessen thanked Byron Friesen, operations manager in Storm Lake, "for embracing the concept and pulling our team together. Their effort and dedication really made this project a success. The future for Friesen USA is very bright."

"Here at Friesen USA we make the very best seed tanks and storage in the world," Thiessen said. "It's our intention to continue to be the leaders in the industry."

Thiessen said the company planned to introduce new products in the future "so that we can fill our production facilities on a continual basis."

The Storm Lake facility now has 135 employees, up from 19 when the plant started operations in 1989. "Our goal is to be able to create more opportunities for people in the community for employment," Friesen said.

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