SBA honoree helps lead family business into next generation

July 10, 2019

This paid piece is sponsored by the Minnehaha County and Lincoln County Economic Development Associations.

If you want a glimpse into the future of manufacturing, look no farther than DeGeest Steel Works Co.

President Derek DeGeest was named small-business person of the year for South Dakota earlier this year by the U.S. Small Business Administration, capping off a period of significant success and transition.

His grandfather Clint founded the company as DeGeest Manufacturing in 1976. The family-owned contract-job shop cuts, bends, welds, paints and assembles parts for equipment used in many different industries and which are shipped all over the world.

In 2013, the business moved to a new, larger building in Tea and rebranded as DeGeest Steel Works. Derek’s father, Scott, his brother and wife are all active in the company. They now specialize in automating complex and large carbon steel weldments for original equipment manufacturers, using a full line of robotic welders and a new automated robotic wet-coat paint system.

We caught up with Derek DeGeest to learn more about how the multigenerational company is positioning itself for continued success.

DeGeest is clearly a decades-long South Dakota success story, but what’s been happening recently? How is 2019 going for you?

Wow, you caught us in the middle of a transformational year! Where do I start?

We had a goal of doubling our capacity by the spring of 2019. We are ready to partner with new customers looking for a full-service, cost-effective production part supplier. By equipping our shop with technology to stay competitive, we continue to bring new capabilities and value to our customers.

The completion of our building expansion to 133,000 square feet brought space to feature one of the largest fully automated robotic wet-coat paint systems in the region, bringing new robotic technology to the USA and debuting a new robotic application to the paint-coatings industry.

We’ve added software capabilities and equipment – a fifth laser with twin storage towers, three more large robotic welding systems, six more manual welding cells and numerous proprietary mobile-software applications to connect our processes.

We are finding new ways to utilize our software development, data analytics, robotics and automation experience and applying them to all phases of our manufacturing process.

So to answer your question, a lot has been happening in 2019! It’s going to be a great year!

DeGeest has grown to 45 employees. As a third-generation leader, how are you trying to foster and evolve its culture?

Our family has always cared deeply for our employees and for the relationships we have built with our customers. We are very proud of the work we do together and for being able to serve many of the same companies for decades.

While the physical expansion was underway, our team led an organizational restructure to enhance our core values, develop our employees and to prepare our team for the growth we are experiencing. This has helped us empower our employees and start various committees and groups to work together to solve problems and make our shop processes and procedures better.

We will continue to look for ways to multiply the efforts of our experienced, talented, hard-working team.

What would you say it is about being located in Lincoln County that has allowed you to thrive as a business?

Lincoln County is a great place to do business. There is a large pool of talented people in Lincoln and Minnehaha County that want to do a good job and be a part of something bigger than themselves. This has allowed us to grow an extraordinary team.

The state, county and surrounding city organizations have been a great resource to help us grow. One example is the work we have been doing with the state Electrical Commission to create new electrical code that will keep manufacturing companies in South Dakota competitive and safe.

You’re also part of a state task force working with government and education to address workforce needs. What are some strategies you’d like to see further employed in this area?

As an industry, manufacturers need to continue to invest in their communities, facilities, equipment and technology to stay competitive and attract the next generation of manufacturers. There are amazing technology advances in manufacturing that are creating new jobs requiring new skills and making careers in manufacturing super cool.

We take time for school and club tours. In fact, it’s one of the highlights of my job to get these students into our facility to expose them to what modern manufacturing looks like and show them and their parents the career opportunities in manufacturing.

Programs like STEM, robotics, computer programming and technical academies in our school systems are doing a great job giving students hands-on experiences as well. DeGeest Steel Works has partnered with the Tea Area School District and received a South Dakota workforce development grant to open a technical academy for construction and manufacturing at the new Tea Area Middle School. We will support their welding and robotics programs for their students to gain real-world experiences in manufacturing.

DeGeest was recognized recently by South Dakota Manufacturing & Technology Solutions for your participation in the What’s So Cool About Manufacturing program. What strategies are you finding effective in trying to convince young workers to pursue a career with your business?

We feel strongly about being active members in our community and advocating for workforce development in our industry by partnering with area technical colleges, high schools and middle schools to help young people choose rewarding careers in manufacturing and develop the skills they need to succeed.

We are in the middle of a technological boom for the manufacturing industry right now. Our strategy is to show them how cool manufacturing is with software innovations like 3-D modeling, CAD programming, offline robotic programming, touch screen tablets at every station, automated computer programs, custom mobile phone applications, robots welding, painting and part tending.

By partnering with the Tea Area School District STEM programs, CTE Academy and the Dream It. Do It. What’s Cool About Manufacturing? video contest, we expose kids to real-world applications of what they are learning in class and help keep them excited about the possibilities in manufacturing.

We believe manufacturing is a very rewarding career option for those that like to build and solve complex problems. Any time we have the opportunity to promote our industry to the next generation of doers, we want to jump on it!

What’s next for DeGeest? What are you most looking forward to about the business in the next year?

We are looking forward to working with U.S. manufacturers and helping them integrate robotic automation to their operations. This year will mark the beginning of an exciting new business venture for DeGeest Steel Works. We are excited to announce the opening of our new company, Lesta USA, made in partnership with our Italian auto-teach painting robot supplier Lesta Srl.

Lesta USA is the sole North American distributor, integrator and manufacturer of Lesta painting robots that feature a technology not currently available in the United States. This technology automatically captures the experience of a skilled painter in your paint department and instantly generates a robotic program without the need of any programming assistance.

This rapid automatic program generation and production technology makes robotic painting accessible to all mid to small manufacturers and will be a game changer for the U.S. manufacturing industry.

DeGeest Steel Works is developing new software solutions and designing part-handling systems to complement the Lesta painting robots for Lesta customers all over the world to continuously improve their robotic painting automation.

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SBA honoree helps lead family business into next generation

If you want a glimpse into the future of manufacturing, look no farther than DeGeest Steel Works Co. The company is in the middle of a transformational year, and we caught up with its next-generation leader.

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