OWATONNA — U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar was impressed.
After taking a tour of the soon-to-be-completed and soon-to-be-open Cybex expansion in Owatonna on Friday, the senior senator from Minnesota — who also took time to try out some of the locally manufactured exercise equipment — expressed how impressed she was not only by the company and its expansion but also by the local workforce.
“I’m very impressed with how Cybex has ceased for new innovation,” said Klobuchar.
That, she said, coupled with the great employees at the Owatonna facility, has propelled it to its position in the world of fitness equipment manufacturing.
“The fitness craze is on and Owatonna is part of it,” said Klobuchar.
Klobuchar stopped at Cybex Friday, the second of nine scheduled stops — she stopped first at the Al-Corn ethanol plant in Claremont — on her two-day 10-county rural economy tour.
After touring Cybex, including being given a sneak-peak at the 150,000-square-foot expansion, Klobuchar said that reports of manufacturing’s death were greatly exaggerated.
“A lot of people wrote off manufacturing a few years ago,” Klobuchar said. “People say it’s dead, but it’s really on the upswing.”
And the tour of the Cybex plant was meant to illustrate just that point.
Leading the tour of the plant, including the expansion, was director of manufacturing John Champa.
Opened on 24th Avenue Southwest in Owatonna in 2007, the current Cybex plant boasts 340,000 square feet of space to manufacture the exercise equipment it is known for world-wide.
But last year, the company announced an expansion of the Owatonna plant — an expansion that will bring the plant’s size up to 490,000 square feet.
“That’s 12 acres under one roof,” said Champa.
But the expansion is not simply space. Champa said that with the expansion will come the addition of 120 jobs over a two-year period.
“That will make us one of the largest, if not the largest plant of its kind,” Champa said.
The expansion also represents a $31 million investment by Brunswick, the parent company of Cybex —$11 million for the construction of the addition itself and $20 million for the equipment that will be put in the new addition.
This should, the company hopes, help add to its already strong position in the market, Champa said. Cybex currently has the largest commercial fitness market share with 33 percent of the market in the Americas and 22 percent of the market in the rest of the world. Thirty percent of the Cybex equipment manufactured in Owatonna is shipped internationally.
At the present, Cybex has about 350 employees in Owatonna, 50 percent of whom have 10 or more years of experience. The additional number of employees to be brought on over the next two years will mean an increase of the workforce of about 34 percent.
That prompted Klobuchar to ask if the company would have trouble finding employees.
Champa said that since July, when Cybex broke ground for the expansion, more than 30 employees have been added to the Owatonna plant’s payroll.
Mayor Tom Kuntz, who accompanied Klobuchar on the tour, noted that immigrants have been an important part of the workforce of the Owatonna manufacturing sector — a comment that the senator responded to.
“We need a combination of strong security at the border and strong legal immigration,” she said.
Before the tour had ended, Klobuchar visited the plant’s fitness center, which is open to the employees and their families 24 hours a day. There Klobuchar tried out the Arc Trainer, an elliptical machine manufactured in Owatonna.
She didn’t stay on the machine for long, which was understandable: She had stayed up the night before until 2 a.m. to vote on one of President Trump’s cabinet nominations, and her flight from Washington, D.C., back to Minnesota left at 6:30 a.m.
The ribbon-cutting for the new Cybex expansion will take place on Thursday afternoon, Feb. 23.