Even though MacDon Industries opened its sprawling 800,000-square-foot manufacturing operation for a tour for visiting participants in this week's Centrallia conference, it probably still could be referred to as Manitoba industry's best-kept secret.
But it's not like it can really hide.
MacDon occupies several buildings across 35-hectares of land in the Murray Industrial Park just down the street from Boeing.
Whereas the strategic importance of Boeing's presence in Manitoba's economy is quite well known, MacDon employs about the same number of people -- more than 1,400. And while Winnipeg's Boeing plant is somewhat at the mercy of corporate decisions in Chicago and Seattle, MacDon has a global enterprise directed from Winnipeg and owned by Winnipeggers.
MacDon has been owned by the MacDonald family since 1971 and is run by three brothers -- Allan, Gary and Scott MacDonald.
Among other things, the company makes industry-leading windrowers (also called swathers) from start to finish at the Winnipeg plant.
"MacDon is a great Manitoba success story," said John Schmieser, CEO of the Calgary-based Canada West Equipment Dealers Association. "The contribution they make to the Manitoba economy is significant."
Press-shy though they may be, the MacDon story is well known throughout the industry.
"The stuff they build is so good and so unique that they really don't have a lot of competitors. No one can make the stuff as good as MacDon," said Jerry Engel, president of the Agricultural Manufacturers of Canada.
Since 2007, the company has grown dramatically from about 600 employees. It recently completed a 60,000-square-foot expansion and during a tour, company officials stress just about every single steel part is made from scratch at the Winnipeg plant. However, it was noted the pace of growth has meant some parts outsourcing has been required.
Industrial experts say the more control a company has of its manufacturing process the better. The percentage of parts -- numbering in the thousands -- that MacDon makes itself is greater than many other companies of its size.
There does not seem to be a consensus as to what has propelled the outrageous growth spurt over the last few years, most attributing it to a number of circumstances.
Growing demand around the world for agricultural products, and the strengthening of agricultural commodity prices had something to do with it. The company now has sales and marketing offices in Moscow and Melbourne.
This week, a number of company officials are at a large agricultural equipment show in Moscow.
It has a sales and distribution operation in Kansas City and sub-distributors in Argentina and Brazil.
Some new flex-technology for MacDon header attachments for combines and other savvy product development have helped drive recent growth.
"They have decades of experience surveying the marketplace and determining what customers want and focusing on areas not covered by the major manufacturing companies," said Schmieser.
At the same time, the company has quietly developed relationships with all the mainline agriculture equipment companies like John Deere, Case IH, New Holland and AgCo and makes private-label products for all of them.
Early this year a high-profile partnership with John Deere's Ag and Turf division was disclosed, where MacDon is now producing John Deere self-propelled windrowers from top to bottom.
In addition to select models of John Deere-branded self-propelled windrowers, the deal calls for MacDon to also make draper and auger headers and pull-type auger mower conditioners for the U.S. company.
Those John Deere's tractors can now be seen coming off the MacDon line in the distinctive John Deere green.
As one company official put it, "That green paint makes a huge difference in the marketplace."
But that's not to say MacDon's own reputation is not stellar. It has more than 600 dealers and exports to more than 30 countries including Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, China, Denmark, Italy, Kazakhstan and Ukraine.
"Our members love being MacDon dealers because first and foremost they make quality products and secondly, the company is first-class from top to bottom," Schmieser said. "There's an awful lot of very good business sense and lots of integrity in the organization."
The facility includes one of the two largest powder-coat paint systems in North America, fed by about three kilometres of overhead track carrying thousands of different parts for products like the self-propelled windrowers and draper headers for combines as well as disc, auger and draper products commonly used to harvest a wide variety of cereal grains, oilseeds, grass seeds, rice, soybeans, hay, forage and specialty crops such as peas, lupins and lentils.
-- 835,000 square feet of production, management and administration space in Winnipeg.
-- Covers about 35 hectares in the Murray Industrial Park.
-- More than 1,400 employees.
-- About 160 forklifts operate in the plant.
-- 60,000-square-foot expansion completed in May.
-- About three kilometres of overhead track feeding the paint booth, one of the two largest in North America.