LAKE CITY — Hearth & Home Technologies takes a box and turns it into something beautiful and functional ... a thousand times a day.
In 1992, the company known then as Heat 'N' Glo took a big, empty box and transformed it into a factory that today employs 600 people who manufacture four brands of gas fireplaces and inserts — Heat & Glo, Heatilator, Quadra-Fire and most recently, Majestic.
The company repurposed space again early in 2017, taking a warehouse and creating a $1.5 million product-and-design engineering lab. A public-private collaboration made that possible, said Brian English, community relations manager. Lake City created a tax incentive and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development added other incentives through the Job Creation Fund.
Thanks to the work being done there and the lean-manufacturing implemented at the main plant, Hearth & Home Technologies is more focused than ever on creating for the future in addition to taking a moment to reflect on the local plant's 25th anniversary and Manufacturing Month.
"We have our own research and development team here. We continue to launch two to four products a year," English said.
For example, Hearth & Home Technologies recently launched the Heat & Glo Primo, a linear fireplace with SafeSurface technology, which keeps the glass cool to the touch.
"It's very kid friendly," Plant Manager Bruno Rahn said.
A touch-control system that is similar to a smartphone and offers homeowners more control of their fireplace is among the other recent innovations.
Come December the plant will unveil its "Assembly Line of the Future," Rahn said. This will offer height-adjustable workstations, right-sized equipment, enhanced material flow and ergonomic advancements for manufacturing. That was a $1 million-plus investment as well.
Members also will use improved automation and technology to fabricate, paint, assemble, test and package the complete fireplace. Already raw materials and partially assembled parts move almost by themselves via carts that follow technology embedded in the factory floor.
The factory is clean, orderly and efficient — plus comfortably cool, which may surprise visitors given the products being made and tested there.
"We recently tripled our air conditioning," Rahn noted with a smile.
Attention to the safety, well-being and comfort of team members is one reason HHT again earned a spot on Workforce Development Inc.'s Best Places to Work list. The third-party group assesses training, development, community presence and more.
Rahn puts it this way: "I think that drive to improve our business and be part of something special is what binds us all together as members of HHT."
The longevity of team members commuting from as far as Woodbury to the north and Winona to the south, plus Pierce and Pepin counties in Wisconsin, also speaks to why HHT is the largest hearth product manufacturer in the world.
"We've been very fortunate to have been on a five-to-six-year growth trend," English acknowledges.
And wherever they might call their home, members know that giving back to Hearth & Home Technologies' Mississippi River home town of 5,000 people is part of the package. In 2016 alone, the company drove more than $3 million in revenue to Lake City via materials, services, restaurants, lodging and utilities, plus charitable events and community volunteering.
"I love the fact that we invest in the business as well as the community," English said.