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It’s rare to see a business last the test of time, and rarer still to see that business remain in the same place through the years, employing generations of the same families and hardy folk who first hacked a living through the wild and untamed land of Wisconsin. But that’s exactly what Loos Machine & Automation in Colby has done, weathering two world wars, a Great Depression and Recession and countless other obstacles, from its founding in 1902 by E.D. Loos to its present owners, Kurt Mertens and Dennis Baumgartner.

“We’ve been able to build the foundation of our company around the quality workforce from around the area,” CEO Eric Mertens said. “They’re hard-working individuals that mostly live within a 20 to 30 mile radius of our facility.”

Loos is just one of a number of facilities in the area that prides itself on its manufacturing skills, and speaks to the heritage of the region.

“Ultimately, to be a Wisconsin company, especially a Central Wisconsin company, our heritage brought over a lot of that manufacturing and industrial background,” Mertens says, defining what has made the company successful through its century long existence. “It brought over the values of hard work and ingenuity and creativity.”

Loos and Central Wisconsin represent the perfect marriage of manufacturing and agriculture, with the business having its roots in the dairy industry. The company began by helping dairy farmers with their milk and cheese products.

This relationship continues to this day, and the owners expect it to remain strong in the 21st century.

“As far as the dairy sector, it’s not only apparent with our work force here, but a strong suit within the area,” Mertens explains. “With the dairy industry, as far as the milk producers, there’s a lot of cheese manufacturers in the area as well, and that’s ultimately how we got our start.”

But the business has seen its share of changes, and it looks very different from its humble origins. Loos now produces state-of-the-art food processing equipment, not just for dairy, but also for other sectors of the food industry.

“Our niche is that we manufacture custom automated systems for the food industry,” Mertens says. “That includes dairy, beverages, meat, fruit and vegetables.”

And while Loos Machine and Automa- tion might hail from the small city of Colby, its reach extends far beyond the confines of Wisconsin, with products going to all the corners of the United States, and even to such exotic locales as Israel, Barbados and Brazil.

“We’re primarily domestic, but we just finished up a project in Canada and then we have a couple items shipping out to Australia later this year, ” Mertens said.

Despite that global reach, the company has always stayed in Colby, content to remain local and uniquely and proudly Wisconsin.

“We’re extremely proud to not only be such a long-standing local business, but we’re proud to employ hard-working, Mid-Western work ethic,” Mertens said. “We find that this sets us apart from a lot of the competition in our industry.”

As the years have gone by, the company has added more and more technology, which ranges from cooking and processing systems to material handling and conveying systems — and even robots and automated technologies.

“We feel that we’re not only assisting in that trend, but at times setting the trend in the food and processing industry,” Mertens said regarding automation.

Even with the lights and sounds of buzzing, whirring and spinning equipment, the company is very much human- oriented and driven, with over 100 employees currently working for Loos.

“Far from replacing what people do, it’s simply a change in how the work force does its job, with people still required to help maintain, clean and run those machines and tools that make a business like Loos Machine and Automation possible,” Mertens says.

It’s a completely comprehensive approach to manufacturing, employing skilled laborers, but also engineers and skilled designers and those who help run accounts and process orders.

Even with all the technological innovations, there are challenges facing the business. Loos is always in the market for skilled laborers, and always looking to attract local talent.

“Throughout the years, probably our biggest hurdle has always been continuing to find the quality employees to allow us to grow our business,” Mertens said. “We’ve been able to do so in large part in working with a lot of local schools — whether that be high schools, middle schools, the technical colleges in the area as well as traditional four year colleges.”

The business continues to grow, and has added thousands of square feet to accommodate the latest trends and changes in technology.

It’s that willingness to embrace the future, while being mindful of its past, that will ensure another 100 years of manufacturing, Mertens said.

It’s something that Mertens, who has been with the business for 15 years and grew up with it as the son of the owner, Ken, takes extraordinary pride in.

“We’re very proud of the area and proud that we can show some success within the area,” he said. “We feel that there’s a lot of pride in this community, and we’re happy to be a place that contributes to that local pride.”