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Business is brewing at Bedford Industries

submitted photo Bedford Industries' products include the company's signature item -- the twist tie, a now ubiquitous feature on packages of bread, English muffins, produce, rice cakes and more--and its newer but equally fast-growing and popular ElastiTag, a trademarked, patented product that, like the twist tie, was developed at Bedford's Worthington headquarters.

WORTHINGTON -- Free coffee is just one of the perks enjoyed by Bedford Industries' employees, but even without the extra caffeine, most Bedford employees operate at a high-octane level.

"This is a fun place to work," said Linda Hill, Bedford's Human Resources Manager and a 26-year employee of the Worthington-based and locally founded company. "We work hard, but it's a neat environment and there are so many positive aspects of this business."

When a long-time staff member like Hill is just as excited about the workplace as a more recent hire like Marty Rickers, who joined Bedford Industries last November as sales manager, it's apparent the company culture must have settled on a winning formula.

"I've never worked for an organization that values every employee as much as Bedford does," Rickers said. "Our production people are fabulous. They know how to pump out the products in a quality way."

The products include Bedford Industries' signature item -- the twist tie, a now ubiquitous feature on packages of bread, English muffins, produce, rice cakes and more -- and the newer but equally fast-growing and popular ElastiTag, a trademarked, patented product that, like the twist tie, was developed at Bedford's Worthington headquarters.

"Bedford is the only company in the world to make that product," Rickers said of the ElastiTag. "It has been very successful and is growing at a good pace each year."

Recently, a major milestone was passed when Bedford sold its one billionth ElastiTag. ElastiTags have been produced and sold by Bedford for about eight years, and it was Bedford's 10-person engineering group, along with input from other staff at all levels of the company, that helped design the ElastiTag.

"A good share of our ideas are generated by our desire to meet the needs of customers, so we had our engineers, printers, sales force, production people and graphics employees all contributing to the ElastiTag's eventual development," said Hill.

"We have a group that meets each week -- the Creative and Innovative Team -- and a lot of ideas come out of these think-tank type meetings," Rickers said. "It's amazing what goes on behind these walls, and neat to see all the creativity that is put into Bedford's products."

From the days when Robert and Patricia Ludlow founded Bedford Industries in 1966 to the present, Robert Ludlow promoted a company culture that valued a team approach, creativity and innovation. According to Hill, he listened to recommendations from all employees in the company regardless of their departments.

"Even the accounting people get involved in the Creative and Innovative Team meetings," Rickers said. "It really is a team effort here -- that's the idea Bob Ludlow instilled into everyone from day one -- to be progressive and innovative, but also to price our products right for the market."

The Ludlows' son-in-law, Kim Milbrandt, is now Bedford Industries' president, and he has maintained Robert and Patricia's original philosophy while continuing to propel the business forward. Jeff Tschetter, Bedford's general manager, is also firmly on board with the company's methods and mission. Hence, even as Bedford extends its product lines and marketing efforts internationally, it remains firmly grounded in Worthington.

"We have 275 employees, and every one of them works here except for our seven regional sales managers," said Hill.

The regional sales managers are based in Connecticut, Tennessee, Seattle, Wash., Kansas, Chicago, Ill., and California (two are there).

"We added about 30 employees over the past five years," noted Hill.

"A lot of that is due to the growth of the ElastiTag and the twist tie business," added Rickers.

A recent 90,000 square-foot expansion at the company's Worthington Industrial Park facility also helped.

"We just moved into it in January, and it's given us a lot more room and a nicer working environment," Hill said. "It's mainly manufacturing and warehouse space."

Bedford Industries' products are found around the globe, and as the sales and marketing staff travels to explore new market opportunities and visit with existing customers, they are ever on the lookout for Bedford's reach.

"Bedford products are in Spain, Germany -- all over the world, really, although we didn't find as many of them in China when we were there earlier this year," said Rickers. "We're trying to focus our effort on countries and regions that hold the most promise for us, including South Africa and central and South America, and Jeff Tschetter, Rena Willardson (our Seattle-based regional sales manager) and I will be traveling soon to Australia and New Zealand."

Meanwhile, to keep cosmetic companies such as OPI, Revlon and Estee Lauder well-supplied with the ElastiTags used on various product promotions, and to keep coffee makers stocked with the double-wire closures found on most bags of coffee, Bedford runs three shifts of production workers five days a week, beginning at midnight each Monday and ending at midnight Friday.

"Weekend hours are pretty rare, and I think that helps contribute to employee satisfaction," said Hill, who added that Bedford Industries offers a profit-sharing plan for its employees.

Bedford Industries is also supportive of the greater Worthington community, with many corporate initiatives taken to assist area non-profits.

"Almost every week of the year, Bedford is doing something to help a local charitable organization," Rickers said.

"We're involved in a lot of different things behind the scenes, from supporting activities like Minnesota West's Kids' College to the United Way to all the community events that are scheduled," listed Hill. "It is the right thing to do, and we want to give back. Our employees live here, and we want to be part of maintaining our community."

So while Bedford Industries, according to Rickers, is known for its "fabulous customer service" and superior, innovative products, it's the company's team approach and commitment to the community in which it was founded that will continue to help it grow successfully during the 21st century.

"It takes a group to make this happen, and we have a dynamic team of employees in all departments within our organization," stressed Hill. "We have a unique, safe work environment and we are proud to be supplying the world with our products."