Ever heard of the company that employs about one-third of a MN town? - Bring Me The News

Ever heard of the company that employs about one-third of a MN town?

Expanding company loves their northwestern MN workers
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Inside Digi-Key's Thief River Falls plant

Inside Digi-Key's Thief River Falls plant

Ask someone in the Twin Cities if they've ever heard of Digi-Key and you may well get a blank stare. 

Ask that question in Thief River Falls and you may well be talking to a Digi-Key employee. 

The town in northwestern Minnesota has fewer than 9,000 residents ... and more than 3,000 people clock in at Digi-Key every day. 

What's more, the number of workers will be climbing. A ceremony Friday marked the start of construction on Digi-Key's big expansion. It's a one million square foot addition to their existing plant. It'll take four years to finish, but it'll eventually mean 1,000 more workers in Thief River Falls, the company says.

What does this company do?

Digi-Key is a big player in the electronics industry. They don't make electronic equipment themselves, though. They're kind of like the hardware store for all the companies that do make electronic gadgets.

When those manufacturers visit Digi-Key's website, they can find a selection of 1.3 million electronic components. They order the parts they need online and the workers in Thief River Falls fill that order, sometimes within 15 minutes

Digi-Key's vice president for administration, Rick Trontvet, tells GoMN their workers are the big reason for the company's growth. "Our customer service as a result of our incredible workforce here is really the driving catalyst," he says. 

From its start in Thief River Falls in 1972, Digi-Key has grown into a $1.8 billion global company. So – as much as they love their northern Minnesota workforce – they did look at other options for their expansion. 

But state lawmakers helped convince Digi-Key to stay in its hometown by providing a $5 million a year tax break through the Greater Minnesota Job Expansion program

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Challenges that come with prosperity

When there's a booming company in a small town, it often creates a housing problem. Where are all the people arriving in town to work for this company going to live?

Mayor Brian Holmer says so far Thief River Falls has been keeping up pretty well. He's glad a different kind of housing problem didn't materialize. "If Digi-Key would've moved out, our city would've had a housing problem with way too many houses," Holmer told us. 

Digi-Key's Trontvet says Thief River Falls added 100 housing units last year and more are in the pipeline. Mayor Holmer says some of Digi-Key's workers drive in from other communities, so cities like Grand Forks, Bagley, and Bemidji have a role to play in the housing equation, too. 

In the near-term, he says, Thief River will get ready for the hundreds of construction workers working to build the expansion. For perspective, Holmer notes that Digi-Key's addition of a million square feet is a little bigger than a certain sports stadium you might remember called the Metrodome. 

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