3 local aces in 50 Companies to Watch list

Graham Jaehnig/Daily Mining Gazette Named one of the 2017 Michigan 50 companies to watch, Vollwerth & Co. has been a Hancock fixture for 100 years.

HOUGHTON — Three western Upper Peninsula businesses were recognized among the 2017 Michigan 50 Companies to Watch by Michigan Celebrates Small Business.

Hancock’s Vollwerth & Co. and Xeratec, and Baraga’s Van Straten Bros., made the list of businesses this year.

Vollwerth President Adam Manderfield credited a willingness to expand as key to the success of the historic family business he runs with a brother and cousin.

“It’s the growth that we’re seeing,” Manderfield said, of the 100-year-old Hancock business that calls itself “The King of Meats.”

“We expanded a lot of our direct delivery markets,” he said. “We’re going downstate.”

Manderfield said the company employs two full-time sales people in the Traverse City area. Working with Dollar General Markets, Vollwerth products are not just available in Michigan — they’re now for sale in 32 states.

Manderfield is the great grandson of company founder Richard Vollwerth, who started out in the basement of a Hancock house in 1915.

The company moved to its current location in the 1920s. While operations had once extended to Iron Mountain, Marquette and Sault Ste. Marie, the company centralized its operation in Hancock in the 1980s.

Just a few blocks from Vollwerth’s is Xeratec, a rural sourcing IT (information technology) solutions firm.

“We specialize in solving difficult software technology problems,” according to Xeratec’s website and Facebook page. “We apply our deep expertise, which spans industries, technologies and specialities, to work with our clients to define and implement the optimum solution, ultimately creating a deliverable that provides a measureable return.”

The company’s mission is a check against the practice of outsourcing. Rural sourcing, also known as onshoring or domestic sourcing, involves sending work to service providers in rural locations, where the cost of living and operating expenses are lower.

“It is a cost competitive alternative for companies that want to avoid the negative aspects of offshoring,” the site stated.

Established in 1964, Van Straten Bros. is a Baraga-area metal fabrication shop and family business that recently branched out to manufacture solar-power systems for Caterpillar in a new plant in the village of Baraga.

“As Upper Michigan’s premier custom fabrication shop, we are committed to manufacturing high-quality products per customer specifications,” stated the company’s website.

Van Straten specializes in custom metal fabrication, machining and welding.

“Our products and services vary from boom fabrication, steel weldments, main frames, laser bending, forming, CNC machine and burning and much, much more,” the website stated.

The awards were not missed by the Keweenaw Economic Alliance (KEDA).

“These three companies exemplify both the importance of multi-generational family-owned businesses in traditional industries that anchor our economy as well as the current wave of technology companies that have taken root in the Keweenaw,” said Jeff Ratcliffe, KEDA executive director. “All three exemplify the dogged determination needed to grow in a competitive and changing global economy.”

The companies will be honored at the 13th annual Michigan Celebrates Small Business gala on May 4 in Lansing.

“Companies making it to the Michigan 50 Companies to Watch list are a remarkable group of second-stage companies,” Michigan Celebrates Small Business said in promotional materials supplied to the winning companies. “Defined as having six to 99 full-time-equivalent employees and generating $750,000 to $50 million in annual revenue or working capital from investors or grants, these companies form the backbone of Michigan’s economy.”

The businesses represent “all regions of the state and a diverse range of industries, known for their exceptional entrepreneurial leadership, creation of innovation or use of innovation in creative ways, and their sustainable competitive advantage.”

Winners were selected by Michigan-based judges from the banking, economic development, entrepreneurship development and venture capital communities.