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Form Wealth Management
November 19, 2013 | 02:22 PM
Trostel is a quiet company.

Anyone not knowing it was there, may have passed by its headquarters at 901 Maxwell St. without realizing that it is the nerve center for a global company.

But Trostel has become more noticeable this past year.

Gone is the 79,000 square-foot manufacturing plant that grew up just behind the headquarters building.

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Workers and heavy equipment from Scherrer Construction, Burlington, are now framing out the steel supports of what will be a 38,000-square-foot “expansion” to the Trostel operations.

That’s right, the expansion is smaller than the original manufacturing plant.

But it will mean an expansion of 20 new jobs for Lake Geneva, said Steve Dyer, Trostel president and CEO.

“What we’re really doing is refocusing and reinvesting in Lake Geneva,” Dyer said in a recent interview.

According to Trostel’s website, Dyer was hired as president and CEO in May of this year. He earned an MBA and a Bachelor of Science degree in business administration and manufacturing technology from Eastern Kentucky University. He has 20 years of industry experience.

Trostel’s Lake Geneva headquarters is also its center for research and development.

Dyer said Trostel executives hope to have its new Lake Geneva manufacturing space under roof by February.

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Manufacturing equipment should be installed by spring. The 20 new full-time jobs are also planned for 2014, Dyer said.

The renovations to the Lake Geneva facility are also intended to “increase operating efficiencies, reduce energy use and accommodate the latest in technical equipment,” the company website says.

A privately-held company, Trostel isn’t releasing the cost of the Lake Geneva remodeling.

But Dyer said the Lake Geneva work is part of a $7 million investment in Trostel’s Walworth County facilities. Trostel is adding 30,000 square feet to its plant in Whitewater, as well, he said.

The company is officially described as a manufacturer of custom seals, precision-molded rubber products and custom rubber compounds. In addition to the new manufacturing space, Trostel is also working on landscaping.

Pointing to the houses just across the street from his window-lined office, Dyer said Trostel wants to fit in with the well-manicured front yards and green spaces of the nearby residential area.

“We want to be a good neighbor,” he said.

Seal maker

Trostel makes products on which most people and businesses rely, but few ever think of.

Trostel makes custom-designed seals for a wide variety of uses in cars, construction equipment, appliances, for the oil industry, mining and boats.

The new Lake Geneva manufacturing space will be used to create new products and prototypes for customers.

Trostel doesn’t just manufacture the seals, its engineers also design and build the manufacturing process. Sometimes the company also invents the materials from which its products are made.

The remodeled Lake Geneva plant will remain Trostel’s world headquarters (it says so, right on the front entrance). The focus of the new plant will be research and development of prototypes for new products and materials.

And while Trostel is publicly committed to bringing 20 new manufacturing jobs to Lake Geneva, “internal goals are bolder,” Dyer said.

Trostel now employs 55 people at its Lake Geneva facility. Trostel opened its Lake Geneva facility in 1952.

It was one of the first light industries to locate in Lake Geneva, according to the company’s history, “The Legend of Albert Trostel & Sons” (Write Stuff Enterprises 2004) by Jeffrey Rodengen and Richard Hubbard.

The new Lake Geneva plant, called Trostel Packings, employed 550 people “manufacturing oil seals, pneumatic and hydraulic packings and other leather and synthetic products for industry,” according to Rodengen and Hubbard.

Dyer said manufacturing ceased in Lake Geneva in the early 1990s.

The company opened new plants in Texas and Mexico closer to their customers and the company had the capacity in those facilities to make up for what closed down in Lake Geneva.

However, the world market is changing, Dyer said. Overseas labor is no longer cheap labor, and industries are finding that bringing jobs back to the United States and paying a living wage is cheaper than shipping from overseas, he said.

Lake Geneva became Trostel’s world headquarters in 1969, when the company finally cut ties with its Milwaukee operations.

Good location

Dyer said Lake Geneva has turned out to be an excellent location for Trostel.

It’s been a boon in getting clients to visit the area.

“You don’t have to twist arms to get people to Lake Geneva,” he said.

The city has also been helpful in terms of permitting and assisting the firm getting through the process of the current plant remodeling, he said.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child, well it takes a community to help grow a business,” Dyer said.

Walworth County has also been grateful for Trostel’s contributions to the local economy.

Earlier this month, Trostel was awarded the Walworth County Economic Development Alliance’s Capital Investment Award for 2012.

The company, which has about $70 million in sales annually, has a total of 300 employees, Dyer said.

In addition to locations in Lake Geneva and Whitewater, Trostel also has plants in McAllen, Texas, and Reynosa, Mexico.

Milwaukee roots

According to Trostel’s official history, Albert Trostel & Sons Co. started with Albert Gottlieb Trostel, a German immigrant who came to Milwaukee in the 1850s.

He worked at tanneries for several years, and then, with a partner, August Gallun, he started a tannery. Trostel and Gallun opened their tannery just prior to the Civil War, and the company profited from the Union Army’s need for boots and leather straps and reins for military caissons.

In 1885, Trostel and his partner parted ways. Trostel’s company continued to make leather boots and calfskin gloves. The company also made leather grease seals for carriages and wagons.

Military needs for leather products in World Wars I and II also added to Trostel’s profitability.

However, the world and technology changes.

Trostel still exists. But Albert would never recognize the products his namesake company makes now. And the materials the company uses are completely alien to the 19th century.

By 1969, Trostel was out of the leather industry and out of Milwaukee. In keeping with a changing world, Trostel focused on seals.

Invisible, vital

Seals may be unglamorous and even, to most people, invisible, Dyer said.

But they must work all the time to keep out stuff that gums up the works, and keeps stuff in that makes everything moving smoothly. When a seal fails, odds are somebody is going to notice, Dyer said.

For example, anyone owning a Ford F-150 pickup also owns Trostel-designed wheel seals.

Dyer said Trostel was also involved in creating components of the truck’s automatic braking system.

Dyer said Trostel right now is working on an original product for an appliance manufacturer.

Dyer said he couldn’t say what it was or for whom. But if everything works out, another Trostel product will find its way into people’s homes.

However, Trostel doesn’t make just any kinds of seals. These aren’t the gaskets and o-rings do-it-yourselfer buy by the bag at the local hardware store, Dyer said.

Trostel works with its customer to come up with solutions to unique problems.

“Trostel will never be competitive by being the cheapest product in town,” Dyer said. He said the company is focused on critical applications.

Because most of its products are uniquely designed to meet the needs of clients and customers, Dyer said, Trostel does not have a catalog of product.

And because the company is well known to other manufacturers, they will direct their customers to Trostel to solve problems inherent in a product, Dyer said.

“Give us your most difficult job,” Dyer said.

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