O'Donnell renews ties to town by joining Bedford
WORTHINGTON -- Colin O'Donnell may have grown up in Duluth, but he still considers Worthington his hometown.
O'Donnell, who has been employed with Bedford Industries since 1997 -- right after graduating from college -- already had familial connections to the area and had spent plenty of time in southwest Minnesota before relocating here.
"I actually worked in summers down here on the family farm in Bigelow and then went to the community college here for two years," O'Donnell said earlier this month in an interview in his office. "I also worked for the city of Worthington's engineering department during summers of college."
O'Donnell was happy to return to rural Worthington after completing his undergraduate studies at the University of Minnesota in Twin Cities.
"I enjoyed it, and I still like rural life," he said. "I like being outside of the town and the pace of it. I enjoy having neighbors and having a common history with your neighbors. I enjoy it from a business level -- getting to know the judge, the guy that runs the hardware store, the editor of the paper."
Making a move
O'Donnell was near completion of his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering when he married his wife, Gretchen, who was a graduate student at Bethel University (Seminary). The couple had decided that their next location would likely depend on where Colin landed a job.
"My options were to go to work for McDonnell Douglas and another company in the Cities that I had done an internship with," O'Donnell remembered. "I had heard through my grandmother ... that Bedford was on the lookout for engineers. I turned in a résumé, just kind of on the off-chance that they'd be interested in someone that would live and work in Worthington. My degree was in mechanical engineering and my project was in machine design, and at that time Bedford had Bedford Technology and was making machines for sale."
O'Donnell got the job, and shortly after graduating came back to the Worthington region and began work at Bedford Industries as a mechanical engineer and design engineer.
A job -- and
company -- evolution
The Bedford Industries O'Donnell began working for 15 years ago has changed considerably, and so have O'Donnell's responsibilities.
"When I started at the company, we were half the size of what we are now," said O'Donnell, who is now one of about 275 employees. "We had lumber, we had machines -- a lot of other stuff was still here. Shortly after I started, a lot of that was spun off into Bedford Technology.
"I started in machine design, and my next position was engineering supervisor, where I had the machine shop and some of the drafters. Then, a couple of years into that, I went back to school at the University of Sioux Falls and got my MBA."
About the same time he earned that degree -- in 2004 -- O'Donnell was promoted to engineering manager. That job, he explained, entails all the engineers, drafters and the machine shop, as well as the maintenance and electrical departments.
"As time progressed and as we shifted things around, I picked up the quality department as well," he added.
Another segment of O'Donnell's position is quality assurance and control.He has certification from the American Society of Quality as a CMQ/OE (Certified Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence).
"For example, with our twist ties, there's thickness and there's coverage," he detailed. "One of the things that Bedford really does well is spool it (tie) a lot of different ways. That's a competitive advantage for us. A good example is with big bakeries that use our spools, which don't have breaks or knots or twists or other such issues. That's important for a big bakery, where work can't stop. Loaves that go through an oven or a continuous process -- if that last part with the twist tie fails, it backs up the whole process."
A quality lab, added O'Donnell, regularly pulls samples to examine aspects such as print registration, performance of its elastic and how well a tie is bonded to an accompanying tag.
Bedford's e-tag -- and much more
Bedford Industries was doing its share of business internationally -- particularly in Mexico and South America, O'Donnell said -- as far back as the late '80s and early '90s. Then came the development of the e-tag, or Elasti-Tag.
"It wasn't until the e-tag product came around about five years ago that we began a new effort to go international," O'Donnell said, "We changed the sales group around -- that freed up one guy that could go over to Europe, Australia and New Zealand.
"The e-tag product that we have is very different -- twist-tie markets are bakery and produce, and are markets that may tolerate a lower level of printing. There are e-tags ... being put on cosmetics and housewares. One of our big customers for e-tags, for example, makes scented products, and they are very particular about the brand image. We need to make sure there is high printing quality. We need to make sure the tags serve the right function for the right markets. ... For another example, if you're buying a fabric softener, the tag may have a sample of another scent."
While the advent of the e-tag is an example of an extremely successful Bedford Industries product, the company continues further development. The addition of new sales manager Marty Rickers coincided with the addition of new product development to O'Donnell's post; he now carries the title of engineering/quality assurance manager and has approximately 25 people who report to him.
O'Donnell also has been doing a fair share of traveling for the company over the past several months.
"A lot of it is trade shows, and I come and help with how do we make the products buyers are looking for. That encompasses both small changes to what we do now and maybe other things that aren't being made yet," he said. "There's also talking to specific customers about their lines and working out products for them. And there's training ... and that involves finding the technology we want to use for our products."
Another way to demonstrate the growth of Bedford Industries, O'Donnell stated, is with its facilities expansions in Worthington. The company completed a 91,000-square-foot expansion project in early 2011, and a previous expansion of 67,000 square feet was completed in 2002.
Right at home
O'Donnell still has extended family in the Worthington area, and he resides with wife Gretchen and three children -- Ian, 12, Katie, 10, and Lucy, 5 -- on an acreage near Bigelow.
His involvement in the community includes his current service as president-elect of United Way of Nobles County, membership at First Covenant Church in Worthington (including serving as its treasurer for the last three years), cast member and technical assistant for the summer 2011 production of "Beauty and the Beast" at Memorial Auditorium and Performing Arts Center and singing with Worthington Chamber Singers, to which he recently returned after a 10-year hiatus.
It's his job, however, that keeps him busiest, and he's pleased to have been a long-time part of what he feels is a great place to work.
"It's been fantastic to work for a well-run, family-owned organization that's growing," O'Donnell said. "I get to do all kinds of things and have experiences and professional growth without having to work at a bigger company in a bigger city.
"To work in what's essentially your hometown and see the company's dedication to its employees and the way it treats all of us, it's terribly rewarding."