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Local firm earns top award

Riverland Laser (703 St. Croix St.) owner Dale Jorgenson said being on a first-name basis with his customers may be the best thing about his small business.

His customers know him, and he knows his customers.

"I didn't want to grow too large," Jorgenson said about his company, which celebrates 10 years in business during 2008.

The St. Croix County Economic Development Corporation (EDC) honored Riverland with its 2007 Small Business of the Year award last week at the annual awards banquet. Jorgenson said he invited all the business' 10 employees.

He said, "They were excited about it and about sharing in the honor."

Jorgenson had volunteered to donate the award plaques, so he ended up making his own award. Besides the shiny glass trophy, Riverland also received recognition from U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl, state Sen. Russ Feingold, and state Rep. Ron Kind.

"The recognition is very much appreciated," Jorgenson said.

St. Croix EDC Director Bill Rubin said judges looked at award nominees' noteworthy accomplishments and contributions to enhance their community. Rubin mentioned Riverland's physical plant expansion, new products, additional employees, increased sales, new training programs and other advances.

He also cites Jorgenson's active participation in the River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and Rotary Club, St. Croix EDC, UW-River Falls and, recently, the new 10-county organization Momentum. EDC does not typically reveal who makes an award nomination.

Rubin adds that while Jorgenson sits on the EDC board, he did not vote on award winners.

Starting small, staying focused

Jorgenson said his son worked for a laser marking company and mentioned it could be a good business to start.

After he'd spent 30-plus years as a manufacturing operations manager, Jorgenson's company wanted him to move to Boston. The Kinnickinnic native didn't want to live in Boston.

He talked to his wife, Linda, then searched for a building, finally finding space in the Main Street building that now houses Borst Auto. He said small-industrial space is hard to find.

"I took 'X' amount of dollars to start the business, and I burned through that," Jorgenson said.

He went back for a second dip before things starting breaking even. The owner says for the first year and a half, he didn't get a paycheck.

Even so, he said he never felt scared. "That's just not in my make up."

He said years in the manufacturing industry prepared him well to handle all the aspects of a laser-marking business, from machines and equipment to vendors and service.

Jorgenson said he focused on the question: "What do I need to do to satisfy this customer?"

He said his business plan -- a roadmap idea of where he wanted to go -- focused on staying small. Jorgenson said a business plan lays out what needs to happen to get the lights on and the doors open, everything from the business computers to the pallet jacks that move merchandise. His plan also outlined marketing, budgets and revenue goals.

Mark that

Jorgenson said about Riverland's services: "We can put a laser mark on anything...but the heart of our business is marking materials for industry."

He cites a few: Electronic, medical, airplane repair, automotive and machine shops. Two shelves in Riverland's conference room show off the vast array of items it has marked.

Laser marking replaces many kinds of printing and can be applied to plastics, composite, ceramics, rubber, metals, alloys and more.

He said his business fills a niche, usually marking hundreds of something at a time. Jorgenson said industries needing more than that would probably buy their own laser machines.

Riverland serves clients throughout Wisconsin and Minnesota and has worked on both coasts.

The owner holds dear one job done for the New York police department. He marked the names of police officers and New York Port Authority employees lost on Sept. 11, onto memorial crosses made out of World Trade Center steel.

As a thank-you gesture for the donated work, the department honored Jorgenson by sending him a small piece of memorial steel from one of the twin towers.

While he serves clients far and near, he enjoys working in River Falls and embraces the detail and responsibility of business operations.

Jorgenson said, "I have a business in my hometown that's successful. What could be better than that?"