Technology and innovation drive changes in the grain storage and handling industry each year. SMA LLC is at the forefront of providing integrative solutions to the design of commercial storage tanks and elevators. Located in Monticello, Minnesota, SMA has been in the agricultural construction industry for 40 years.
Founded in 1975 by Mike and Stan Brey as SMA Elevator Construction, the first job for the company was a 50,000-bushel steel workhouse for a feed mill in South Dakota. 40 years later that building still stands. As the amount of commodities has increased, the demands of the industry soon changed. SMA recognized the new needs of the facilities and began constructing round corrugated steel bins to add to existing workhouses. In the mid 1980’s railway systems began offering shipping-ratio incentives to elevators. This created a need to move larger volumes of product in a much shorter period of time. SMA again met the demand by building 25 car-train loader facilities.
When current owner Dan Jenniges was presented with the opportunity to purchase the company in 2013, he and his partner Jim Bunker decided to buy out Stan and Mike Brey. Under new ownership the company was renamed SMA LLC. For the sake of a smooth transition, both former owners have remained with the company to a limited extent. “They have helped to maintain the relationships with our customers,” says Jenniges. “Mike and Stan are supporting the continued success of the company and to ensure a smooth transition in ownership.”
Jenniges began his career in the agricultural construction industry when he graduated from high school in 1998. After working in the industry for 10 years, Jenniges joined SMA in 2008 as a millwright. As he worked his way through the company, he found himself in a project manager position. “Mike and Stan were looking to get out of the ownership roles while still maintaining the relationships they had worked so long to build,” Jenniges explains. “It turned into a win-win situation because Jim and I were in a position to basically take the company off of their hands while still turning to them as consultants.”
After 40 years in business the knowledge and expertise that SMA has developed in the industry is unparalleled. “We really hang our hat on our design-build company,” says Jenniges. “We get jobs done and we design projects very well.” SMA possesses a vision for the future growth of each facility. “A lot of companies build just for today and not for tomorrow. The expertise that this company has gained in four decades comes through in the quality and efficiency of our facilities.”
Staying on the course of action
In a competitive and challenging industry such as agricultural construction, recruiting skilled and competent workers is an ongoing effort. SMA values every relationship and that care is exhibited through the work environment provided for employees and subcontractors. “We provide a competitive salary and a great benefits package to our employees,” says Jenniges. “We are a small company and we prefer to stay that way. We don’t want to become a big corporate construction company.”
SMA recognizes the significance of the dependability of the company. “Our customers rely on us to have the job done before the harvest,” he elaborates. “You have a window of opportunity to provide the service and you have to make all the right moves from beginning to end so if there is a problem it is dealt with right away.”
SMA is currently serving the entire Midwest market and is expanding throughout the continental United States. Outside of the Midwest, SMA has built a feed mill in Arizona, and slip-form silos in Massachusetts. “We’re also looking at some work in Indiana. We’ve got two projects happening in Washington this year and we went out to Colorado this past winter,” says Jenniges. “Our geographical footprint is expanding with the fertilizer market.” In the process of maintaining relationships, the subcontractors that the company works with regularly are invited to travel with SMA. “This helps to keep everybody busy throughout the year,”
At any given time, SMA will have 10 to 20 active projects running concurrently. Projects range from small repair work to constructing a complete facility. The operation employs up to 40 employees at peak season, with labor support from subcontractors. SMA has recently partnered with Genuine Builders, a concrete subcontractor Arlington, South Dakota. “They contribute a labor force of 300 workers,” Jenniges explains. “That has augmented our operation because we really shine when it comes to the bigger jobs.”
A passion for the industry
Regardless of what industry an individual is involved in, a passion for the craft will lead to success. This philosophy has contributed to Jenniges rise to prominence in the agricultural construction industry. “I’m a firm believer in being passionate about what you do,” says Jenniges. "The most rewarding thing for me about this job is overcoming the challenges that are presented, such as creating design solutions for facility efficiency and function.”
Often in construction, contractors enjoy witnessing the completion of a project from start to finish. The ability to see a structure stand for years following construction is a rewarding aspect that few occupations offer. “Any issue that might come up during construction is minor compared to seeing the final product when it’s done,” says Jenniges. “As you drive around the Midwest some of these elevators stand out like landmarks. To be able to look at one and say ‘I built that,’ is really rewarding.
Jenniges also notes that the technological advancements made in the industry have been exciting. In a career involving the construction of state-of-the-art grain elevators, Jenniges has had the experience of tearing down old, wooden elevators and witnessed the modifications in design and technology. “We tear down structures that were built in the 60’s and 70’s,” explains Jenniges. “It’s so intriguing to me to how these things were built back then compared to the large concrete complexes we’re building today. Also, to see how technology has made life easier for the farmers has been rewarding.”
SMA is able to diversify itself into the industrial sector as well. In 2014 the company constructed a soy flour food grade facility. “It was something that SMA had never done before,” Jenniges explains. “The success of that project gave us the experience to be able to open our doors to a variety of markets.”
The future is bright for SMA. The company’s current backlog of work will carry it through the 2016 harvest. As the grain industry progresses, storage will continue to be in demand. “With all these elevators that we have built, the farmers will continue to add storage facilities,” says Jenniges. “We will continue to see storage and renovation projects. I think we’ll be seeing an increase in feed as well. It seems like every year we increase in the amount of feed projects that we build. Right now we’re very busy though and are doing our best to make sure our customers are taken care of.”
While the company is prepared to diversify when needed, the team remains focused on the factors that have stabilized the company for the past 40 years. Reputation, integrity and quality will continue to be the driving forces behind SMA LLC.