November 25, 2011 03:00 PM

Sen. Amy Klobuchar made a stop in Savage Monday afternoon at the Fabcon manufacturing plant just off of Highway 13 as part of her “Made in America” economic tour.

She requested the visit, along with visits to several other Minnesota businesses, in an effort better understand the industry and to further her mission of promoting long-term economic growth and job creation.

“We really enjoyed her visit,” said Fabcon President and CEO Mike LeJeune. “She was very interested and seemed to have a good understanding of the industry.”

Klobuchar asked questions about the history of Fabcon and the precast concrete panels it manufactures, then went on a tour of the facility and learned about Fabcon’s manufacturing process. She also took time to shake hands with several of the workers and asked them about their jobs.

After the tour, Klobuchar asked LeJeune, “What would be helpful in Washington?”

“Basically, do something. End the gridlock,” LeJeune said. “Almost anything would be better than what we’ve been experiencing. There’s a lot of uncertainty. Building a building is the ultimate expression of confidence and right now people don’t have that confidence.”

Hope on horizon

Fabcon’s headquarters in Savage employ 200 individuals, and its two other manufacturing plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania employ another 320 people.

“Our fourth plant in Indiana didn’t survive the recession,” LeJeune told Klobuchar. The Indiana plant closed in 2010.

Fabcon’s sales are up this year about 20 percent over last year, “which is still not half of what they were in 2007,” said LeJeune. “But we’re proud that we were able to take that big of a hit and keep going.”

Klobuchar said that Fabcon is a great example of a business that has been able to weather the economic storm. “It’s a tribute to their leadership that they got through this downturn,” she said.

LeJeune said that Fabcon is keeping its focus on future growth, specifically with its new Sentry-Cast concrete fencing product that features a stone pattern on both sides.

“You can see it out in front of our building,” said LeJeune. “We’re now certified with the state of Minnesota and we’re trying to replace the ugly wood panels you see along highways.”

When Klobuchar saw one of the panels, she remarked how much less maintenance the panels would likely require than the wood panels, and she asked LeJeune how she could help.

“Well, if you’ve got any friends at the Met Council …” he said with a laugh.

You might not know …

It’s likely many area residents have driven by Fabcon and rarely wondered what is happening inside the building.

One of the things residents might not know, LeJeune said, is that Fabcon’s biggest customer right now is Wal-Mart. “They’re making a big push into this area and all of the Wal-Marts you see going up are using our panels,” he said.

LeJeune said he thinks Klobuchar made the request to tour Fabcon because the company has received “a fair amount of press” recently for its VersaCore+Green panels that contain as much as 58 percent recycled content.

“They’re the lightest, strongest and most insulated product in the country, probably the world,” said LeJeune.

Fabcon facts

Founded in 1971, Fabcon provides precast concrete wall panels, highway traffic barriers, columns and sound walls for commercial and residential construction

Fabcon’s headquarters is in Savage, and it has plants in Ohio and Pennsylvania – employing 520 individuals

Each day, Fabcon’s plants produce 1.5 miles of precast concrete panels – enough to cover one city block

Fabcon’s national accounts include Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards and Target