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Windom's Toro a vital part of community

Windom’s Toro plant first opened in the community in 1951. (BRIAN KORTHALS/DAILY GLOBE)

WINDOM — Toro is more than just a business located along the highway on the north edge of Windom. It represents stability and a sense of community.

“Toro provides a tremendous economic benefit to the city by having an international company like that make up our employment base,” Windom City Administrator Steven Nasby said. “It’s also provided a lot of stability for the community. They have been a very good company steward over the decades they have been here. The city certainly appreciates their commitment to our community.”

Toro first opened its Windom plant in 1951, but the company’s history begins years before. This year marks its 100th anniversary.

“Toro got its start in 1914 manufacturing engines for The Bull Tractor Company,” said Branden Happel, senior manager, public relations. “They were based in Minneapolis, not far from our original plant in St. Paul, and introduced the first small farm tractor that fit the budget of the average farmer. They eventually ran into trouble finding a reliable source of engines, which led to our founding as The Toro Motor Company.”

Five years later, the first Toro branded piece of equipment was introduced, called a TO-RO utility tractor, which could be converted from a standard farm tractor to two-row power cultivator. Around the same time, Toro began its turf business.

“We were approached by the Minikahda Club here in Minneapolis to create a motorized fairway mower,” Happel said. “The purpose was to replace horse-drawn equipment which, as you can imagine, left hazards not often liked by golfers. That machine, called the Standard Golf Machine, helped create the motorized golf maintenance industry. That’s how we got our start in the turf business, and we continue our leadership today.”

Now, Toro provides equipment for a wide variety of uses.

“Today, we manufacture products for golf courses, sports fields, agricultural fields, landscape contractors, homeowners, municipalities and construction,” Happel said. “We are a global company, serving customers in over 90 countries around the world. If you look at how we got our start and how we’ve been successful throughout the years, it’s based on our commitment to innovation, listening to our customers and understanding their needs, and developing products that make their jobs easier.”

The company has more than 5,000 employees around the world and roughly 1,800 here in Minnesota. In the Windom facility, there are a few more than 600 employees.

“The ripple effects of that into the retail economy are very good,” Nasby said. “Toro has been a stable employer and company in our area, which has enabled people to buy houses, build houses and remain in the community. That’s had a very good impact on the rest of the community.”

The Windom facility draws employees from all across Cottonwood County, according to Aaron Skogen, director of operations for Toro’s Windom facility. Skogen said the facility does a variety of manufacturing.

“Windom is primarily centered around our residential and landscape contractor customers,” he said. “We produce products ranging from walk power mowers to residential and commercial zero turn mowers. We also manufacture single- and two-stage snow products. Those product families are really centered around the residential customer and our landscape contractor business.”

Component manufacturing and injection molding also takes place in Windom, which supports other plants in Minnesota — and worldwide.

Community involvement

The economic impact of the Toro facility in Windom is significant.

“From an employment perspective, it is a big factor,” Skogen said. “Within the Windom facility, the employees are very involved in the community from a number of different aspects.”

He said at least 18 different communities are represented employees of the Toro plant. Workers are deeply involved in their communities, which includes being on Chambers of Commerce or fire departments.

“I believe there is a significant related employee impact on the communities through the organizations, causes and projects our employees support,” Skogen said. “In 2011, we worked with Island Park here in town to help renovate the ball field, including the new scoreboard, which you can see as you drive by on Highway 60. And, in 2012, we made a large donation to the local hospital foundation to assist in their efforts in serving the community.”

Last year, Toro was instrumental in renovating the Comfrey school’s athletic fields. The company also does equipment donations. 

“All the ball fields — the football and baseball fields — are maintained with Toro equipment,” Skogen said. “We all have a great sense of pride in seeing our equipment out there keeping these fields in top shape, along with other green spaces around the city. I think there is just a tremendous amount of associated involvement in our community here, as well as involvement by The Toro Company. It’s really led by those associates out on the floor.”

It’s the employees who make Toro the company it is, Happel said.

“A big factor to our legacy and our success is our employees,” he said. “It’s their talents, hard work and commitment to serving customers. It’s one of the main reasons we’ve been in Minnesota for 100 years and its core as we enter our second century. 

“When you look at Windom, and our many talented employees behind our products, they are a big part of who we are as a company.”

Another way the company gives back is through the Legacy Grant. 

“That program is open to any non-profit in our communities,” Skogen said. “The application deadline is March 31, and they can apply at That’s something we look at as part of a grant program, so if there is a project at one of those non-profits they’d like to get done, that’s something we’re doing.”

Throughout the year, the company is celebrating its 100th anniversary, leading up to the official date of July 10. 

While the Windom plant is only 63 years old, the facility is getting involved in the celebrations as well.

“We’re currently working with community leadership to plant 100 trees around town,” Skogen said. “Right now we don’t have firm plans, as we are in the development phase, but we are planning on doing some type of event in early June with Toro volunteers.”

Another part of the anniversary celebration is called 100 Acts of Caring.

“We have a team formed here at the Toro facility in Windom that is putting that together,” Skogen said. “It’s kind of left up to the imagination of the team. It could be anything from collecting school supplies or doing a food drive or anything like that, so they are working on that as well.”