07 Oct Fast Global Solutions celebrating 40th year
By Tim Douglass
FAST Global Solutions is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year and the employee-owned company is doing well, according to new CEO/President Steve Hagstrom.
“We are very much alive and well,” Hagstrom said.
The company, a world leader in manufacturing equipment for air transportation, agriculture and material handling industries, did face some challenges last spring, but after weathering some changes in leadership and workforce, FAST Global Solutions has rebounded and is back to the level it was before last year.
“We’re back in the hiring mode,” Hagstrom explained. Currently, FAST Global Solutions employs about 700 people at its locations in Minnesota and Nebraska. The company has plants in Glenwood and Windom in Minnesota, and in Falls City and Auburn in Nebraska. The company has more than 300 employees right here at its Glenwood operations. Hagstrom, who has been involved in other Glenwood companies like Healthland and American Solutions for Business, took over as CEO/President of FAST Global Solutions in April.
As the company celebrates its 40th year in business, Hagstrom said it’s time to really appreciate the legacy of the company’s founder, Jim Watkins and the dedication of all the past and present employees.
The company has been 100 percent employee-owned since 1997 when Watkins changed what was then WASP to an Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP), as a way to exit the company. What the decision did, was also provide employees with an important retirement benefit plan that meant the company historically invested 25 percent for each employee over and above the employees’ compensation.
That’s still the case, according to Hagstrom, although some recent changes have made that benefit “even better as a retirement savings and profit sharing program,” he said.
In 2017, the company was at an all-time high as far as profitability, but in 2018, with some over-expansion, that position softened as the company hoped that the growth would support more sales and profitability. Facing its financial challenges quickly put the company back on the road to health and growth in 2019.
Both the agriculture economy, something FAST Global Solutions entered when it purchased the Windom plant, and the more recent U.S. tariffs on steel caused some challenges for the company. “Purchasing the Windom plant actually helped fuel the company’s growth at the time, but the ag economy has been soft ever since. Europe, however, has become a new and solid market for the company’s ag products.”
The tariff war that hit most manufacturing companies in the United States also caused some headaches for FAST Global Solutions, but steel prices normalized in 2018, allowing the company to weather that as well, Hagstrom explained.
FAST features engineers
with a spirit of innovation
Still, the company’s unique products and 30-plus engineers on staff have sustained the business and fueled its growth through innovative design. John Hoeper, an 1982 Glenwood High School graduate with 33 years at FAST, and now Vice President of Engineering, said the design and quality of those products sold on a global basis is what keeps the company viable. FAST Global Solutions is a leading manufacturer of airline, air cargo and material handling solutions. The company has a full line of Ground Support Equipment (GSE) products, including specially designed carts, stairs, dollies and belt loaders. It also features specially-designed conveyor equipment, products for agriculture and military trailers.
Just recently, the company introduced a new product, called the AlphaCart, a revolutionary baggage/cargo cart for passenger and air cargo transportation services around the world.
“W are really excited to be able to offer this truly unique product to our customers,” said Todd Leidall, vice president of sales and marketing at FAST. “Our engineers continue to pursue advanced design ideas and technology that solve diverse customer challenges and this relentless spirit of innovation keeps our products on the leading edge of performance.”
The roto-molded construction of the AlphaCart enhances strength, durability and corrosion-resistance for years of rigorous daily use in any type of weather, it was stated. A co-polymer resin creates a lighter weight cart to reduce fuel use and wear and tear, while also able to move up to 8,000 pounds of baggage/cargo. The interlocking framework design allows for easy repair or replacements, as well as simple breakdown for shipping.
“At FAST, we’re always keeping the operator in mind with new product design and the AlphaCart will help the teams on the ramp perform their jobs faster and safer,” Leidall explained. “Another great feature of the design is that the top panel of the cart can be branded or used for advertising space, creating incremental revenue stream opportunities for the airlines,” Leidall said. The AlphaCart also has custom color options to match customer brand colors.
History of FAST Global Solutions
FAST Global Solutions was founded in 1979 by Jim Watkins and at that time was called Watkins Aircraft Support Products (WASP). Watkins had promised he would sell WASP to the employees when he was ready to retire, and in December of 1997 the employees for the ESOP Trust got a loan from a local bank to pay Jim and WASP became the employee-owned ESOP company.
For the past 40 years, FAST Global Solutions has been helping improve operational performance in the air transportation, material handling and agricultural industries, with smartly designed and ruggedly built equipment. When it was founded as WASP the company’s focus on unparalleled quality and critical safety engineering for non-powered ground support equipment resulted in exponential growth–doubling in capacity every year for the first decade.
Production momentum for the company continued over the years, with the addition of package conveyor and military trailer design and manufacturing. In 2015 WASP combined with FAST Manufacturing, a producer of high-quality agricultural sprayers and liquid fertilizer equipment, to become FAST Global Solutions.
Today, FAST Global Solutions is comprised of three product divisions:
WASP GSE: The world’s largest manufacturer of non-powered ground support equipment for the airline and air cargo industry.
WASP Conveyors: A leading manufacturer of parcel conveyor equipment for the material handling industry.
FAST Ag Solutions: Producer of proven, high-quality sprayer and liquid fertilizer equipment for the agricultural industry.