Partners for Growth: entrepreneurs know there’s always a better way

By: Bill Owens
December 1, 2017

Much to the chagrin of my spouse, I am fascinated with old or unusual tools. On my desk sits a Cochran speednut wrench. The design of this wrench allows the user to release and regain purchase on a nut or bolt by moving the handle back and forth. There is no reason to remove the wrench each time the hardware is advanced. The design was patented in 1916.

While there were a myriad of industrial uses for the wrench, just think of some of the changes in agriculture at the time. The transition from steam engines to tractors to run threshing machines probably resulted in farmers spending a great deal of time with a wrench in their hands. How many times does a person have to bang their knuckles on a hard-to-reach nut before they think “there has to be a better way?”

Bill Owens

The speednut wrench was eventually replaced, as was the threshing machine. The sentiment that there has to be a better way has likely always existed — and just as likely, always will.

As a frugal college student, I remember pulling the steering wheel off of the column of a 1978 Buick Estate Wagon. I don’t remember exactly why I needed to remove it, but I did have to purchase a wheel puller. I can’t imagine trying to accomplish the task without one.

In my office, I have an illustration pertaining to a 1929 patent from a local inventor. In pondering the technical work, I am reminded of that wheel puller, and I probably owe thanks to Reuben A. Kaplan. Mr. Kaplan’s Gear Puller bears a strong resemblance to the tool that allowed me to remove that steering wheel. He knew there has to be a better way.

In 1925, Mr. Kaplan founded Owatonna Tool Company — OTC. In 1985, OTC was acquired by Sealed Power Corporation and ultimately became part of Bosch Automotive Service Solutions in 2012. With over 500 employees in Owatonna working for Bosch, it seems like I am not the only one that owes Mr. Kaplan thanks.

The “can do” attitude and broad skill set run as deep as the agrarian roots in this part of the country. In basements, garages, farm shops and various outbuildings throughout the Owatonna area, there are people that have found a better way. Do you have a neighbor that can no longer store vehicles in the garage because the space is occupied by a hydraulic sheet metal brake? How about a daughter-in-law that wants a vertical mill for Christmas? Are you trying to convince your spouse that you need three-phase electrical service in the basement for your electric train? Are you that person? Do you know that person? Maybe it is time for that person to take that next step, and you don’t have to do it alone.

There are resources available to local businesses. In addition to manufacturing space, the Owatonna Area Business Development Center has office space for lease and provides access to business guidance at no cost to you. The Owatonna Chamber of Commerce and Tourism offers exceptional networking opportunities and is a great source of business information. The South Central Minnesota Chapter of SCORE provides guidance backed by industry specific experience. The Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation is a good source of information on business programs and alternative sources of funding. For business advocacy, it is difficult to find a more driven group than the Owatonna Partners for Economic Development.

Take note entrepreneurs! While it may seem like it is you against the world, in reality you have a community of people on your side.

Bill Owens is executive director of the Owatonna Area Business Development Center and a member of Owatonna Partners for Economic Development.

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