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Investment in building projects rolls on

A giant warehouse that will one day support the medical supply needs for more than 100 Essentia Health facilities has transformed the Esko Industrial Park over the past several months.

Hidden from Highway 61 - where the park entrance is located - the dark rectangular building looms large to those driving past on Interstate 35. It represents a $36 million investment by the regional health care system.

According to Essentia spokesperson Tony Matt, the building structure is complete.

Contractors continue working on electrical and safety items, as well as heating, ventilation and air conditioning, and office space as company officials prepare for the arrival of storage racks and automation systems early this year.

As reported by the Pine Knot in August, Esko's light industrial park was one of about 20 sites considered by Essentia officials for the 163,000-square-foot highly automated warehouse.

"We needed to be close to an interstate for all of our inbound shipments, and also close to an interstate that had the junctions running up to Duluth, the Iron Range, Brainerd and back up to Fargo," said Brian Zuck, vice president of supply chain management for Essentia Health.

"So that I-35 near highways 33 and 210 really was the best fit for a distribution center for the Essentia Health footprint."

Zuck explained the new building will have an automated shuttle system to carry goods to and from team members, eliminating the need for those workers to use a lot of "travel time" to go find the items they need in the massive warehouse.

"We're going from a 'person-to-goods' to a 'goods-to-person' system," Zuck said. "We'll have two aisles with elevators on both ends, and a shuttle on each of 22 levels. They will shuttle down the row, grab the products from a bin and bring them back. It's a pretty slick system."

In August, the 20 lots purchased by Essentia were a giant sandpit. Today, the building structure is complete.

Zuck said there were several reasons for the new building, starting with the fact that they have outgrown the current facility in West Duluth, which is about one-third the size of the new warehouse.

Second, on the heels of the pandemic, the giant health care organization determined it could not allow supply disruptions to affect patient care in the future.

Finally, he said, the new facility should reduce supply chain costs. "In turn, that reduces our cost of care to our patients," Zuck said.

There will still be close to 20-25 workers on site, Zuck said, in part because as Essentia keeps growing, so does the supply side of things.

Building in Cloquet

C&L Distributing, one of the largest beer distributors in Minnesota, is currently building a 22,000-square-foot distribution and office facility at the business park off Minnesota Highway 33 north of Cloquet.

Dick Family Real Estate, LLC purchased 3.77 acres at the business park in September. They join Best Oil, Toy Barn Storage and the Cloquet DNR at the 60-acre business park.

"This is exactly the type of project that fits the vision of the Cloquet Business Park," said Holly Hansen, community development director for the city of Cloquet. "We are excited they selected Cloquet as a location to expand their Minnesota footprint."

C&L Distributing services 1,968 retailers in 28 counties, providing Anheuser-Busch products in addition to a portfolio of local, regional, and national craft beers, imports, non-alcoholic beverages, wine and spirits. They currently have six locations and had been examining building sites in the Twin Ports region after recently purchasing the Minnesota distribution rights from Superior Beverages, LLC in Superior.

As a company, they were looking to streamline operations and transportation logistics, according to a news release from the city of Cloquet, which also noted they are a family-owned company rooted in central Minnesota and are heavily involved in the operations.

Coming soon

Fairchild Equipment is also moving to Carlton County from a current location in Duluth. The forklift service and construction equipment provider is moving into the former Wear-A-Knit building at 1306 18th St. in Cloquet.

Fairchild Equipment provides comprehensive solutions for moving, stacking and storing materials. This includes new, used and rental forklift trucks, aerial lifts, professional cleaning equipment, construction equipment, railcar movers, yard trucks and more, plus pallet racking and automated storage solutions. Fairchild will offer both sales and services in Cloquet.

"We also provide parts, tires, and maintenance services for all makes and models of forklifts and material handling equipment," said marketing manager Melissa Barnes.

Fairchild Equipment was founded in 1985 as Yale Materials Handling and serves Wisconsin, Minnesota, northern Illinois, North Dakota and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The company has grown from only a five-person operation to over 280 employees across multiple locations.

In November, Fairchild Equipment was awarded the Most Valuable Partner Award for the 10th year in a row by the industry trade association, The Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association.

Association chairman John L. Gelsimino said the MVP Award recognizes the best of the best and means the company "checks all the boxes from education, industry best practices, awards, networking, employee engagement, giving back and much more."