OWATONNA — Cybex and Life Fitness think they have a simple recipe for success: “Produce the highest-level, best-quality fitness products more efficiently than anyone else in the world.”
Those are big words from Scott Darsow, vice president of global manufacturing for Life Fitness, but the company believes it has the facilities, the expertise and the workforce to back it up. All three were celebrated Thursday at the official opening of Cybex’s 150,000-square-foot factory expansion, an event so momentous it took not one ribbon cutting, but three.
The event was held in the completed factory space, in an area that will soon be occupied by automated welding robots, tube lasers and powder coating paint lines. Attendees ranged from Cybex line workers in safety glasses to executives in suits from Life Fitness and Brunswick, which owns both companies, as well as representatives from Owatonna city government, the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, many companies involved in the construction project, and more.
Cybex has come a long way since its founding, Senior Director of Manufacturing John Champa said.
“Production began 35 years ago in an old chicken hatchery on the south side of Owatonna,” he said. “In those days, 10 machines per week was a good week. When this facility is operational, we’ll have the capacity to produce over 4000 weldments [independent welded assemblies that make up machines] every day.”
Work began on the project, which brings the total footprint at the factory to just under 500,000 square feet, after a groundbreaking eight months ago. It’s been 13 months since Cybex was purchased by Life Fitness, an event that Mayor Tom Kuntz said was met by some trepidation by city leaders.
“You’re always a little nervous when someone buys a local company, and when Life Fitness bought Cybex, we said, ‘Uh-oh, let’s make sure they still recognize the value of Owatonna,” he said. “That was no problem. Life Fitness saw that Owatonna is a great fit and decided to put a 150,000-square-foot addition, and here we are today to celebrate that ribbon-cutting.”
And there was quite a lot of ribbon to cut. The first ribbon was severed by the five most senior Cybex workers. The second, by officials from the city and chamber. The last was cut by officials from the two companies, with the scissors wielded by Brunswick Chairman and CEO Mark Schwabero.
In Darsow’s remarks, he gave special credit to the city for its efforts to make the project succeed.
“It became evident very quickly as Life Fitness joined the Cybex team and joined the Owatonna community that the level of commitment of the city of Owatonna to growing the local economy and helping companies like us succeed is second to none,” he said.
But even more weight was given to praising the company’s Owatonna workforce.
“Your knowledge, your day-to-day commitment to continuous improvement, are what have allowed us to get to where we are today, and what’s going to be needed for us to continue to be a leader in the industry moving forward,” Darsow said.
The expanded plant will be hiring 120 additional workers over the next two years, which Schwabero said will make the key difference in the success of the new factory space.
“What really makes it a great facility is the people,” he said. “We like the workforce here and believe the community will continue to support us with people resources.”
Schwabero said the company is committed to strengthening the Owatonna community, and backed that up with a $10,000 check announced on-stage for the Owatonna Foundation.
And when asked after the event if there’s any further plans for future growth, he smiled.
“There’s still land out there,” he said.