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Our view: Minnesota company defies odds, impacts region

How many businesses have their own visitor center and museum? Not many, we figure, but the ones that do probably deserve it.

That’s the case with Marvin Windows and Doors, the economic giant that operates out of its headquarters in Warroad, Minn., 130 miles northeast of Grand Forks. Although we knew Marvin’s impact on the region, a member of our editorial board recently took the self-guided tour of the visitor center and got a first-hand feel for what the company has done for northern Minnesota, North Dakota and beyond.

A few facts about Marvin Windows:

■ 6,000 employees work at 12 Marvin facilities in the United States and Canada, churning out products that generate between $600 million and $1 billion in revenue per year.

■ Of those employees, more than 2,000 work in Warroad, although that town’s population is listed as only 1,700. Many Marvin employees work in North Dakota, too, including 500 at the Marvin plant in Grafton.

■ The company still is run by family members. Last summer, Paul Marvin was named CEO for Marvin Companies, becoming the fourth CEO in the company’s history.

■ A fire destroyed the factory in 1961, but the company immediately chose to rebuild in Warroad despite invitations and economic enticements from numerous other communities.

■ The factory in Warroad encompasses more than 2 million square feet. It’s surprisingly massive when viewed by a first-time visitor.

According to statistics from the Family Business Institute, maintaining a family business isn’t an easy endeavor. The organization notes that only 30 percent of family-run businesses survive into the second generation and only 3 percent make it to the fourth generation and beyond.

In 2013, Forbes Magazine noted that the “biggest issue with many family businesses is that they get stuck doing things the same way they have operated for years even when the business outgrows that structure. The founding generation holds on to the reins of leadership too long and won’t pass control to their children. … For family businesses that are so rooted in tradition, the most difficult part of the decision is to actually implement a change that will bring a more profitable and happier business.”

Of course, Marvin Windows and Doors has made appropriate changes over time to make it a “more profitable and happier business.” A tour through the Marvin Visitor Center in Warroad helps explain the somewhat unbelievable string of good decisions that have happened at the company over the past century.

The Marvin Visitor Center occupies 6,000 square feet and takes guests through a winding tour that begins with the company’s modest start as a lumber company to its incredible status today as an industry giant, and one with an incredible economic footprint in this region.

We knew Marvin was a big employer and economic driver for the region. What we didn’t know until we took the tour was the extent of the company’s impact and how it all came to be.

It’s a good way to spend an hour in Warroad, and we suggest visitors stop in.