Epicurean is loving their new home in Superior, and Superior is loving them right back. Designer and manufacturer of kitchen cutting boards and tools, Epicurean made the move from Duluth at the beginning of 2017.
The city of Superior assembled an incentives package of $100,000 for site improvements to the property, according to Jason Serck, economic development, planning and port director for Superior.
“The stars were aligned, we worked as a team and the resounding message is that there are benefits for both cities to keep the jobs in the Twin Ports. Everybody benefits,” Serck said.
His office has a heavy focus on industrial recruitment, and sees the advantages of moving into Wisconsin to take advantage of new tax credits. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) awarded a $512,000 loan to Epicurean in 2016 as an incentive to set up shop in Wisconsin. Mark Maley, public affairs and communications director at WEDC, said Wisconsin is drawing many companies across its border, from just outside of the Twin Cities to companies crossing out of Illinois to southern Wisconsin, because of their manufacturer and agriculture tax credit.
“It essentially wipes out the state income tax for a manufacturing company. It’s a big selling point with companies moving from other states,” Maley said.
That 7.5 percent credit, phased into its full effect in 2016, does a neat balancing act to the state’s 7.9 percent corporate income tax, leaving manufacturers to pay only 0.4 percent on income. Another $100,000 from the Douglas County Revolving Loan Fund contributed to the development.
Dave Benson and Tony Ciardelli, owners and founders of Epicurean, chose the former Woodline Manufacturing building at 257B Main St. on Connors Point to be revamped from its previous life as a wood door and trim manufacturing plant.
“We had been looking for a facility in that square footage for many years around the Duluth, Twin Ports area, but it was challenging for us to find a good facility that was renovatable for reasonable cost,” said Benson.
An outgrowth of Duluth’s Loll Designs, Epicurean is an entirely independent company, but under the same ownership. Benson said that has meant a marketing shift for Epicurean, moving to a “Twin Ports” branding in order to maintain their Minnesota-based identity.
“We are from Minnesota, and being Minnesota born and bred is an important part of our companies, but now I also have a new appreciation for how the two communities can work together,” Benson stated.
To hear Benson explain the move in retrospect, it was the right place at the right time that lured them over the bridge. They had ruled out starting from the ground up due to costs, and did not want to acquire a very old building that needed a great deal of work. That narrowed the field of options considerably, and Epicurean had radically outgrown its former facility in Duluth.
Exploratory talks with Superior officials proved to Benson that they were more than welcome in the neighborhood.
“It was obvious they (Superior) wanted to help, and were very influential in getting the move to happen with the incentives and benefits they offer, and help connect all the dots to other organizations,” said Benson.
Talking to him, you can tell he is trying to remain practical in his explanation of the Connors Point facility. But his blatant enthusiasm for the beauty of the location cannot be quelled by mere practicalities.
“For our purposes, the building was a really good shell to work with, but first and foremost it’s the site right on the harbor with the building literally sitting on the water with a view of Duluth,” Benson stated, adding, “If that building was in Duluth, we would have stayed there.”
Extensive renovation inside and out included adding a heat reclamation system, building office space and the computer-controlled cutting (CNC) area.
Employing about 60 people, 80 percent of Epicurean’s staff live in Duluth, and their accessibility to Superior has been a bit of a surprise. Crossing the bridges to the Superior waterfront has turned out to be a slightly quicker trip for some, and some employees from Duluth are still taking part in the company’s bike-to-work program that gives biking commuters extra paid time off. Some employees are able to rely on a Twin Ports bus route with a stop just at the start of Connor’s Point.
Benson credits the company’s dedication to nurturing a positive work culture to an overall stable workforce at Epicurean, though the CNC skill set is one that is in high demand throughout the region.
Made from a raw material called Richlite, Epicurean had its genesis from leftover pieces from skateboard jumps. Richlite is an incredibly sturdy material composed of recycled paper infused with resin. Water and heat resistant, Richlite can be milled and joined just like wood products, and Benson said that their previous company was making eco-friendly skate parks. The Richlite leftovers were too precious to throw away, so the guys made cutting boards for their family and friends back in 2003.
“They loved them (the cutting boards), and we found no one had brought Richlite to the consumer market, and it took off from there,” Benson said.
Now they export their products to about 50 countries in Europe and Asia, with exports making up about 40 percent of their sales. Benson attributes their success in a wider market simply to the fact that they have a quality USA-made product, something he said is a very significant appeal to markets in Hong Kong, China, Japan and South Korea.
Epicurean is moving forward with a new WEDC grant program that supports their sales and marketing for exports.