BEMIDJI -- When Bemidji was preparing to host Minnesota Hockey Day 2019, state organizers sought local sponsors to promote the event. Bemidji Steel Company, owned and operated by Dale and Jane Grasdalen, stepped up to the goal net and donated $8,000 worth of time and materials to custom-cut strips of metal for hockey-themed fire rings.

Boyer Mechanical rolled the cut metal into rings that were used during the event and were later auctioned off as a Bemidji Hockey Association fundraiser. Bemidji Steel’s generosity, professionalism and quality of work did not go unnoticed. For Hockey Day 2020, organizers contacted Bemidji Steel for a repeat performance -- and this time they paid for the service.

Bemidji Steel describes itself as “a full-service metal distributor operating regionally out of Bemidji. We provide metal to everyone from the weekend DIYer to large manufacturers who take the metal and use it in their production.” For almost four decades, the company has ridden economic hills and valleys by evolving to meet its customers’ needs, by investing in state-of-the-art, high-tech machinery, by training and nurturing their employees, and by being team players with a community focus.

Bemidji Steel employee Daniel Murray sets up parameters for a bend on the company's press break. (Alex Stenberg / Special to the Pioneer)
Bemidji Steel employee Daniel Murray sets up parameters for a bend on the company's press break. (Alex Stenberg / Special to the Pioneer)

After graduating in Industrial Tech from BSU, Dale Grasdalen started Bemidji Steel Already in debt from college, he decided to take a chance on a new company to provide metal services to the area. The business – basically a two-man operation, just Dale and one warehouse employee -- opened in Bemidji’s Industrial Park with one existing wood building on site. In 1985, a steel building was constructed, and four years later, additional warehouse space was added.

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Bemidji Steel grew steadily through the 1990s. Grasdalen not only survived the recession of the 1980s; he built a successful steel sales operation (Think lumber yard, only with metals) with a strong reputation for quality products and service as well as for treating his employees right.

Gregg Winter programs a project for the press break at Bemidji Steel. (Alex Stenberg / Special to the Pioneer)
Gregg Winter programs a project for the press break at Bemidji Steel. (Alex Stenberg / Special to the Pioneer)

In 1993, Dale married Jane Campbell, who took on accounting and payroll duties and became part owner (now majority owner) of the business. As Bemidji Steel’s team grew, a second building was constructed in 2000, but the market was changing. “Customers weren’t just buying steel,” Grasdalen says. “They wanted cut pieces, partially fabricated -- ready to move into manufacturing.” Bemidji Steel adapted and started to add fabrication equipment -- machinery to cut and bend metals.

With a changing future in focus, Dale Grasdalen grew his team, and Bemidji Steel evolved and survived the Great Recession of 2008. After 30 some years in the steel business, more decisions had to be made. Should Grasdalen look toward retirement? Relocate to an area with more manufacturing? Moving forward would mean investing in new high-tech equipment and specialized training for employees.

Dale invested in both, crediting his customers and employees with providing the direction: “Our team has driven us and pushed the company farther,” he says. “The company’s growth is a result of their determination, grit and ingenuity to meet the needs of our customers.”

Sparks fly as a project progresses on the plasma cutting table at Bemidji Steel. (Alex Stenberg / Special to the Pioneer)
Sparks fly as a project progresses on the plasma cutting table at Bemidji Steel. (Alex Stenberg / Special to the Pioneer)

One unexpected addition to the Bemidji Steel team was the Grasdalens’ son, Alex. Returning to Bemidji in 2018 with sales and marketing experience, he had moved back to Bemidji intending to work at Bemidji Steel for a while and enroll at BSU to find a new career path. His move home (everyone thought -- including Alex) was temporary; but helping to move the company forward was exciting, and Alex worked his way onto the Bemidji Steel team.

That team has recently purchased newer, faster, more efficient, environmentally friendly and highly sophisticated machinery to provide value-added services including laser and plasma cutting, sawing and forming. They also work with local partners for welding, finishing and machining. With the upgrading and expansion of services, the Grasdalens, with the help of the Minnesota Innovation Initiative and a partnership with the Bemidji High School Career Academy, have also invested in training and cross training of their team members.

After two years with Bemidji Steel, Alex describes the company’s evolution as “nothing short of extraordinary” and says he’s never had so much fun going to work.

Dale sees Bemidji Steel’s forward thinking as a direct way to help other area businesses grow. “We only grow when our customers grow, and it’s important that we listen to their needs and grow with them.”