SURREY - One of the oldest businesses in North Dakota has built a brand new facility here to serve the booming northwest corner of the state.
Crane Johnson Lumber Co. was founded 129 years ago in 1883 in Cooperstown. Today it has grown to include five lumber yards across North Dakota and Minnesota, including the new one in Surrey, as well as a truss and wall panel plant in Fargo called Mid States Truss.
Tony Watterud, vice president and manager of the Surrey location, said their primary business is supplying building materials to contractors, but they also welcome the general public to stop by and see what they have to offer.
"Anybody can come in. Our hours of course are more around business to business, but we know too a lot of people general contract their own projects," Watterud said. "We want to be sure and sell to them, too."
Construction on the Surrey location began in April and it opened for business Nov. 12. The product lines Crane Johnson carries include framing lumber, trusses and wall panels, roofing, windows, siding, insulation, sheet rock, cabinets, and interior doors and mill work.
While Watterud said he has a full staff with 10 employees and isn't hiring at the moment, he does foresee possibly having to do some more hiring once the busy spring construction season hits next year.
"It's just an uncertain time of year for us, not knowing what's going to happen with the weather. This (good weather) has been a gift. It's been awesome," Watterud said. "But we could have a blizzard here in the next few days and then things would slow way down."
On the subject of employees, Watterud said an incredibly pleasant surprise for Crane Johnson has been finding so many well-qualified people to fill the needed positions at the new lumber yard.
"We weren't expecting that at all. We were expecting to just have the same challenges most people have had, and it's been just refreshing," Watterud said. "I have 10 qualified people who have experience in the industry to some degree, and I've had a number of other people apply that I would love to put on if I could."
While Minot was definitely looked at when the company first scouted locations for the new lumber yard, Surrey ended up being the perfect fit. Watterud said most incoming freight to Minot and the Bakken comes down U.S. Highway 2, which is literally a stone's throw away from the building. Being that close to the blacktop was important to make freight easier to ship and receive.
The location right next to Surrey also allows Crane Johnson to deliver materials around the region without having to go directly through Minot and its growing traffic congestion. Watterud said they can generally get to any of the building locations in the Minot area in about 25 minutes, while most of the Bakken area can be serviced in 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
"It's an easy route out and back in a day," Watterud said.
Also important was getting enough land for current needs and future expansion considerations, which Watterud said was about 10 to 15 acres.
"And of course, the land prices as you get away from Minot are not quite so pricey," Watterud said. "So all those factors equal Surrey."
Watterud said so far customer response has been very positive. He said they were worried at first about how people would like their location in Surrey as opposed to Minot, but those fears were quickly alleviated.
"It seems like most people feel that Surrey is just kind of a suburb of Minot, anyway," Watterud said.
He also said Crane Johnson didn't know about all the residential development in the Surrey area when they picked the location, which has been another pleasant surprise.
"The contractors coming in have given us a lot of projects to do bids for next spring," he said, noting they are bidding on many more projects for next spring than they originally anticipated.
Because they opened for business so late in the year, Watterud said they won't be holding a grand opening event until next spring, when the weather will be nicer and warmer.
"We are open now, we want to stress that to everybody, but our warehouses aren't heated. So we want to be sure if we get rain or get a nasty day that we can at least be in a (dry and warm) space," Watterud said. "So we'll have a big barbecue in the spring."