Robert Carpenter | Editor-in-Chief
Vermeer Corporation, a major manufacturer in the underground utility and pipelines markets, was struck by an EF3 tornado about 4 p.m. on July 19 at its headquarters just outside of Pella, Iowa.
Company officials reported only minor injuries with seven people treated at the Pella Regional Health Center. All were treated and released the same day.
Vermeer President and CEO Jason Andringa said that “from the Vermeer family and executive team, we are extremely pleased that the injuries were relatively minor. That’s the thing we are most happy about.”
Andringa also pledged that “we (Vermeer) will survive and thrive.”
While the town was spared from substantial damage, the Vermeer campus that includes seven manufacturing plants, took a direct hit with severe damage to two of the facilities. Plants 5 and 6 are currently closed pending further structural evaluation and expected to be declared a total loss. The waste treatment facility was also declared a total loss.
Vermeer was celebrating the company’s 70th anniversary and was hosting more than 400 customers and dealer personnel onsite when the storm developed. Vermeer employs about 2,700 people at the Pella campus though the factories work in shifts so many were not onsite during the tornado.
Vermeer spokesman Doug Hundt, president of industrial solutions, in a press update on July 24, said the campus had about 25 minutes notice that a storm was headed their way.
“We do practice drills on a regular basis – we live in Iowa,” Hundt stressed. “When it became imminent that a tornado would hit, the training took over. We were able to get everyone into shelters – including our guests – in plenty of time.
“We also have several trained EMT’s (emergency medical technicians) on campus that were able to help immediately once the storm passed,” he said.
“The outpouring of concern and support from our community and our friends across our industries has been overwhelming,” Hundt related. “The dedication, quickness and compassion of local emergency responders that was demonstrated in caring for our team members, dealer personnel and customers and helping cleanup has been crucial.”
After being closed the day after the tornado, Hundt said Vermeer leadership and personnel sprang into action, developing plans for coping with the damage and getting production back up and running. In less than a week, Plants 1, 2 and 3 were running at full production.
“Within 12 hours, we had our parts distribution center, which received only minor damage, back online to support emergency orders, and it is back in full operation today (July 24),” he said.
Back at work
Amazingly, within a week, Vermeer also had full production restored for specialty tooling, specialty excavation (large track equipment), solar and forage product lines. By early August, the company anticipated production would resume for large HDD rigs, reclaimers, small pedestrian trenching products, tree care and landscaping, Hundt outlined.
The destroyed Plants 5 and 6, were responsible for the manufacture of small and medium sized horizontal directional drills, utility tractors and some large grinders. While the structural evaluation of those plants is ongoing, company officials are hoping to at least salvage much of the manufacturing assets and transfer them to another plant where capacity is being added to resume production of those product lines. “We think in the next 30 – 45 days we’ll be able to resume manufacturing in other buildings,” Hundt pointed out.
Added Dave Wisniewski, vice president, Underground Solutions for Vermeer: “The tornado was extremely destructive, but it took a very tight path. It was really amazing what happened within the path and what didn’t happen outside of the path. So, there was a lot of equipment that was not touched, damaged or impacted at all by the storm. There was a small, finite portion of that inventory that was in the storm path. Some of it is damaged to the point that we can repair it, some of it we still need to access.”
Hundt said Vermeer would get that undamaged “inventory out to the field as quickly as we can upon inspection. We’re working closely with our dealers to coordinate inventory across our dealer network to provide support and products to our customers when and where they are needed.
The tornado was on the ground “maybe 8 – 10 miles,” Hundt estimated. “Beyond Vermeer were some farms that were impacted but again, no serious injuries or loss of life. We were very fortunate that the tornado did not hit the town (Pella) directly.”
Vermeer’s extensive and close-knit dealer network continue to aid their corporate parent in the reconstruction process, Hundt said. “Our dealerships have a process to work and support each other. They are in communication and will support each other if there is a need that can’t be met locally. We really believe between Vermeer’s dealer network and our restoring production capabilities so quickly that there will be minimum impact to the market.
“We believe last week’s events, as devastating as they were, were just a temporary setback. Our resolve – just like that of our customers – is as strong as our yellow iron.”