By Sue Moore
“This is a great place to work, it’s like a family,” says Nicole Mostrom of her employment with Ronningen Research & Development. The fact that the plant is located way outside of Vicksburg on YZ Avenue, doesn’t seem to dampen her enthusiasm.
“We make little plastic parts,” she continues. That doesn’t begin to tell the story of this company that was founded by Helmer Ronningen in the 1950s, out of his home office in something resembling a barn. At that time he sold filters and hired farmers in the winter to manufacture them, according to Deryl Myers, vice president of engineering for the firm. Today they employ around 50 people who design and make highly specialized molded plastic parts for the medical field, automotive and telecommunications companies.
“Someone has to be looking for us to find us,” Myers points out when describing the rural location of the plant that he has been with since 1978. “It’s amazing the number of Fortune 500 companies who have come here looking for a barn. Once they get inside, we have lots to show them.”
Myers believes the company has a bright future with technology changing so rapidly and Ronningen Research able to move quickly to supply the ‘over molded’ specialty parts this sector needs. “We have a can-do attitude. We may break all the rules as we can shorten the time frame for a company’s product getting to market because we can get the job done quickly. We believe that if you apply yourself and work at it, you can do anything you want to do.”
Myers has a partner in the business, Andy Harty, who concentrates on the financial pieces, while he is the engineer of sorts who came to the business as a toolmaker from Battle Creek. He lives in Vicksburg now and his three children have graduated from Vicksburg High School, with his son now working in the company.
When Myers first arrived in ’78, he joined Bob Ronningen, Helmer’s son, in the business. “This was the first fully integrated CAD/CAM company in the U.S,” he explains. “Bob wouldn’t ask an employee to do something he wouldn’t do himself, but that meant flying all over the country to deliver a product. At one time we had seven airplanes. We would mold parts and he would deliver them the next day, anywhere in the country. This was before FedEx became the delivery vehicle of choice, so Bob intrigued a lot of Fortune 500 companies with his specialty. Xerox was his first customer, building injection molds for them, Myers relates.
All those little plastic parts are found in products such as a GE Health Care prototype developed by the company; Edwards Lifesciences over-molded plastic parts used in heart surgery; they mold parts for fitness machine equipment that one might see in action on the TV show the Greatest Loser, made by Cybex. They also make air filtration products used on vehicles made by Cummins International. They have made a fiber optics device for Tellabs out of Canada. They also make housings for General Electric that go on some of their devices.
Ultimately Ronningen got bored and started a new company in North Caroline around 1984 to teach CAD/CAM technology and sold out to Jon Eickhoff, a member of the funeral home family from Mendon. Around 2005, Eickhoff sold out to Harty, Myers and his brother Marty Eickhoff (who died a year later).
The company offers health care benefits and will always continue to do so as long as we are making money, Myers says. “It’s our biggest single expense, but we believe it to be the most important. It’s pretty simple; it’s the group of people inside these walls who believe if you treat people like you want to be treated and let that flow over to your customers, the rest takes care of itself.”