There’s not a street in Meadow Grove that hasn’t claimed a small piece of Eli Eckert at one time or another.
The small village, located along Highway 275 on the western edge of Madison County, is where he grew up. It’s where his father, Mark, impressed upon him the dividends of working harder than the next guy.
So when the Norfolk resident made a decision to locate his welding and steel fabrication business there last winter, it seemed like a natural thing to do. But it took awhile to realize the opportunity existed in the sleepy town of only 300 residents.
“I have skinned my knee on every street in this town,” Eckert said. “I do like coming back to the town of Meadow Grove.”
Eckert’s business — Eckert Fabrication — does welding and steel fabrication projects in a variety of sizes and quantities. The business started in Columbus after Eckert’s brother, Joe, made the decision to purchase Mohrmann Tool. He helped provide some of the capital to help his brother purchase the company, but he wasn’t interested in the tool and dye work that was done at Mohrmann Tool.
“I didn’t see that as something I wanted to do because if I can’t hit it with a hammer…” Eckert cut himself off with a laugh. “That’s the way I am — square peg, round hole.”
Instead, he began looking at the money his brother’s company was spending on different aspects of Mohrmann’s business. He soon realized it would be beneficial to create a company that would be able to handle the steel fabrication and welding services his brother’s company regularly outsourced to other businesses.
Eckert opened the steel fabrication and welding business in Columbus in 2012 with the goal of completing welding and steel fabrication projects in a variety of sizes and quantities.
The business’ goal was quickly attained. Its large profile roller, which sets up dyes to match the shape of bigger projects, has allowed Eckert Fabrication to fill a specific niche. In addition to the work it has done for Mohrmann Tool, it also has finished projects for large manufacturing companies like Vulcraft and Valmont.
Eckert Fabrication also has the ability to do welding and steel fabrication projects for smaller businesses and individuals. In addition to steel the business can work with bronze, brass, aluminum and stainless steel.
“We make anything,” Eckert said. “We get guys who bring in something they doodled on a napkin at lunch time and ask if we can make it.”
But the company’s versatility also helped create its biggest challenges because the constant growth required more space.
“The reason we had to leave Columbus is we started growing and growing and growing,” Eckert said. “We went from 1,000 square feet to 4,000 to 6,000, and then we outgrew that.”
Eckert said he began looking for something larger, but he was unable to find a place suitable at a price his fledgling company could afford.
“We started looking and couldn’t find anything unless we wanted to spend $400,000 to $800,000,” Eckert said. “Just starting out, you can’t afford that. That’s like your first car being a Lamborghini. You can’t do that.”
Then one day, his father — who lives in Meadow Grove — had an epiphany while driving through his hometown: Maybe the former home of the Meadow Grove Grain Co. would suit Eckert Fabrication’s needs.
Mark Eckert knew a sign had been hanging at the dormant site — which included large steel buildings and an office — for quite sometime, but it hadn’t immediately dawned on him that it might make the perfect location for Eckert Fabrication.
“My dad used to work here at the elevator and nobody thought anything of it,” he said, smiling. “There was a sign on the door, and I called and said I’d like to recycle your buildings and turn them into something else.”
Last February, Eckert purchased the land, two large buildings and the office on which the Meadow Grove Grain Co. once operated and moved his business there. Little by little, he has gone through the process of cleaning up the property and modifying the buildings for his company’s needs.
“There was no plumbing, no electrical, no water, no heat, no insulation,” Eckert said. “So, we’re starting over, but for what we got it for, we couldn’t have built one of these buildings.”
Now the sky is the limit for Eckert Fabrication. Not only did the purchase give the company about 13,000 square feet of space from which to work, it also gave Eckert a sense of satisfaction that he had done something worthwhile for the town that gave him so many good childhood memories.