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Andy Wells receives American Indian Business Award

A burgeoning business and educational outreach are among the qualities which earned Andy Wells, president of Wells Technology, the third annual American Indian Business Award.

The award was presented by the United Indian Development Association, part of the National Center for American Indian Enterprise. The recognition cites Wells' outstanding leadership and contributions to American Indian economic and business development.

"It's because of our growth as a Native American business (28 percent last year), but also reaching out to other disadvantaged people so they can become employable," Wells said.

Wells said potential apprentices can apply to Wells Technology and work as apprentices under instructor Jeff Hilderbrand.

Wells Academy, incorporated Jan. 1, and in line for status as a 501C3 nonprofit, recently received the first donation, $12,000 from Fastenal. The contributions help pay the salary of the instructor and wages of academy apprentices. Currently, four apprentices have joined the academy and Wells intends to add one additional apprentice each month.

People of any age can apply, but Wells said currently most apprentices are young people because of the intensity of the computerized manufacturing.

A Red Lake Band of Chippewa member, Wells grew up on a farm on the Red Lake Reservation.

"Like a lot of farmers you have to fix your own equipment, so you have to be a little innovative and creative," Wells said.

He attended Bemidji State University for two years and then went to work for Polaris where he developed in 1965 the first snowmobile to use a fiberglass hood. He said a model of the "Lil Andy," as the snowmobile was christened, is in the museum at Polaris.

Wells then returned to BSU to finish his degree and taught high school and at BSU. In 1985, he took a leave of absence from BSU and entered the industrial world as a consultant for Control Data Corp. He designed a cleaning system for Control Data, but when the company went out of business in 1989, Wells needed a new job.

He stopped on his way back to Bemidji at the Gold'n Plump chicken processing plant in Cold Spring, Minn.

"I knew chickens because we raised chickens when I was a kid on the farm," he said.

He saw that Gold'n Plump workers unloading crates of chickens were suffering from back injuries, so he designed and sold to the processing plant an automated crate lifting system, the PAL -- Palletized Automatic Loading system. Then, he noticed all the hand and wrist injuries the workers suffered and developed the Air Snip and Air Knife powered by compressed air.

Wells said the company now produces about 11,000 different products -- three or four new items each day. Fastenal and BEA, an aerospace company, are the largest customers. Innovations range from a football-field sized mat for safely detonating land mines and the Angel Decoy System which equips aircraft with firing pins that flash and deflect rockets.

Fastenal is also Wells Technology's mentor under the Small Business Administration guidelines. As mentor, Fastenal provides Wells Technology training and advice in areas of product quality, production efficiency and marketing technique. One of the recent suggestions was for Wells Technology to upgrade machinery with computerized equipment.

Wells Technology is expanding with a new building under construction. Wells said the company employs 25 people with the goal to increase hires to 30 workers by the end of the year.

Other honors Andy Wells and Wells Technology have earned include the Eagle Award from the Minnesota Native American Indian Chamber of Commerce, Minority Small Business of the Year from the Minnesota Small Business Administration, Supplier Appreciation Award from BAE, One Million Parts with Zero Defects from Hi-Lex and Outstanding Performance from Kraft Foods.

But Wells doesn't forget his roots as a Red Lake enrolled member.

"I'm proud of it and I like to have good news out there about Native Americans," he said.