Hastreiter Industries: Working better together
By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — After graduating from the Mid-State Technical College Machine Tool program, Ken Hastreiter took a job as a machinist with a Stevens Point aerospace company.
“He was always an entrepreneur at heart, but it was actually a situation that pushed him into starting his own business,” explained Ken’s son, Kylan, vice president of Hastreiter Industries.
“He left the aerospace company to go to Cleveland, where my mother was getting her masters degree. The company had a policy that if you left in a two-year time period and came back; you had to start at the bottom again.”
Rather than start all over again, Ken’s wife Sondra suggested he start his own business.
“They came back to Marshfield when she graduated. She worked in (Marshfield), and he started the business with a single manual lathe,” Kylan said. “It was originally called Universal Tool and Machine (UTM.) He ended up doing work for the aerospace company he had previously worked for.”
The business started out in a small rented facility, which the Hastreiters refer to affectionately as an old “hog barn,” which was rented for $50 a month.
The young machining and deburring company found its niche when Ken was asked to produce a part for a hospital bed which no one else could manufacture.
The company then hit its stride, incorporating and purchasing its first computer numerical control (CNC) lathe.
“(He) got up to somewhere around 10 employees during the first Gulf War. A lot of what he was doing was in the aerospace industry, and when the Gulf War ended, all that work dried up,” Kylan said. “So, then, he shifted more into the energy industry, so parts for power generation. From the end of the Gulf War until 2016, basically he only had one to two employees on average.”
By 2016, the company had four CNC machines, one employee and Ken was semi-retired, while Sondra was doing the bookwork.
“He was very happy to keep the business small for all of those years, because there were no headaches – no problems, no headaches,” Kylan added.
Meanwhile, the Hastreiters’ children –Keegan, Kylan, and Kody – were finding their own paths.
“You can’t have a business-owner dad and not have entrepreneurship and the business mindset, and fiscal responsibility, and have that not rub off on to you. But, he always told us ‘go find your thing,’” Kylan recalled.
In 2016, Keegan and Kylan returned with a desire to grow the business.
“What prompted that and brought that about actually starts before 2016,” explained Kylan.
That precursor not only boosted the business into a new era, it set in motion a movement that would benefit the entire community.
Breaking the cycle
“Ken and Sondra got a vision for a nonprofit organization in 2011,” Kylan explained. “The idea for the nonprofit was that there are a lot of people that are coming out of challenged backgrounds that didn’t have direction in life or they want change in their life, but where do they get it. People that, for a lack of better word are ‘successful,’ they had somebody – a parent or a mentor or a teacher or a Boy Scout leader or a soccer coach – somebody in their life. But, not everybody has that when they need it.
“There are a lot of good organizations that are investing in people with challenged backgrounds, but when they leave the four walls of the nonprofits, where do they go? Back to their old environment, because they may not have the education, the skills; they don’t necessarily have the economic means to move out of that environment. So, when they go back to their old environment, what happens then? It just makes it really hard for them to continue the path that they want.”
The Hastreiters had a plan to help fill that gap and use the business to give them the trade skills needed.
“Then they have the economic means to go where they want; they can be mobile,” he added.
Added to a gap the trade industries are seeing in skilled workers, the Hastreiters knew they could make a difference in several ways.
The nonprofit, Shiloh Bound, received 501(c) (3) status in 2013.
“Looking at the business in 2016, we had one employee. We were not big enough to train and take on people and that is actually why we are trying to grow the business, to get to the size where we can get to this original vision,” Kylan said.
“We also figured, someday, we would launch a makerspace; after this, but now it’s flipped. We are going to do the makerspace, then this program.”
Since 2016, the company has since moved into new, larger facilities on the south side of Marshfield and has two dozen employees.
The business will be built up into a three-tier shop, as it moves from low volume, high mix production into higher volume manufacturing.
“As a company, we have to keep growing into new markets and diversifying,” Kylan said.
“Now, we are working with MACCI, UW-Stevens Point, Mid-State Technical College, Marshfield High School is on the steering committee as well, along with those. Beyond Marshfield, nine other area school districts as well,” Kylan explained.
He recalled a group of eighth graders coming through on the “Heavy Metal Tour” and a young girl’s interest in what the company was doing. But, aware of the lack of machining equipment in many local schools, Kylan knew there was most likely no place for her to develop that interest.
“So, the idea is we can create this area, and put all of this advanced technology in there, in a central location that is accessible to all of these schools. So, the businesses are involved in helping teach the kids and the high schools are involved where the kids can make projects,” he added.
“For example, let’s just say there are a group of fifth graders, they’re making robots from kits. By the time they are in seventh grade, they could be 3D printing out parts for their kits. By the time they are in ninth grade, they can be machining out parts for their kits.
“By the time they are in 12th grade, in interdisciplinary groups, they could be designing the robots in CAD, like 3D modeling on the computer; doing the printing; doing the machining; doing the wiring; doing the electronics; doing the software coding. Because they are all capable of it, they just need the space for it,” Kylan added.
“There are a lot of different businesses in Marshfield that we’ve started to talk to that are interested in this.
“(Young students) don’t know about the high tech jobs here, if they don’t get exposure to it.”
UW-Stevens Point will make space available to accommodate the makerspace, as local businesses and organizations come together to develop the area.
“Our logo is actually a lowercase h and a lowercase i put together, that when you put it together is a capital H. When you take things that are small apart, and you put it together, it is something bigger. That’s what it is like with our people here; it’s the partnerships that we create with our customers and suppliers; and that is what we are trying to develop in our relationship with the community. On all fronts, we can work on stuff better together.”