Uponor is On a Roll

Uponor North America beat its construction deadline and has begun making plastic piping at a plant in Hutchinson, Minn., that wasn’t scheduled to be completed until 2019, The Star Tribune reported a few days ago. The bigger news here is that this is the 11th significant expansion this company has made in Minnesota since 1990, with most of its growth this decade.

The 237,000-square-foot facility was acquired, renovated and received regulatory approval in less than a year’s time, allowing the fast-growing manufacturer to start production sooner than expected, Uponor officials said. More than 64 employees and crew leaders spent 23,000 hours bringing the project to fruition.

Finland-based Uponor, which has its North American headquarters in Apple Valley, announced the $6.4 million investment in the Hutchinson plant in July 2017.

Twin Cities Business profiled Uponor in its March issue. It pointed out that, as the economy strengthened and stabilized in recent years, the business of building homes roared back to life. Between 2012 and 2016, the total number of housing starts in the U.S. leapt 50 percent, to nearly 1.2 million, according to data from the National Association of Home Builders. Single-family home starts were up 46 percent over the same period.

Every home in America needs water. Plumbing needs pipes. And one company has a lock on about one-third of the market for plastic pipes in those homes: Uponor North America.

The company makes flexible plastic tubing called PEX that is used in plumbing, fire sprinkler, and radiant heating piping systems in residential and commercial buildings. Copper used to be the standard for plumbing in buildings. But today PEX is cheaper, more flexible (it often comes in rolls) and easier to install. And Uponor’s type of PEX, PEX-A, is considered the best available. Uponor sells about one-third of all PEX sold in North America.

While dozens of companies manufacture versions of PEX, “Uponor is probably the industry standard when it comes to PEX,” says Steve Hucovski, founder and owner of Plymouth-based Sabre Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning. He finds Uponor’s product to be smoother to work with and more reliable: “It’s very easy to use, it’s very flexible, it takes a lot to kink it … we don’t have a lot of leaks.”

As the popularity of copper wanes, sales of PEX are accelerating. Uponor North America also is growing at a rapid clip. Uponor’s North American revenue in 2016 topped $337 million, up 10.7 percent from the previous year. Employee count is now about 875 in the U.S. and Canada, with more than 600 in Apple Valley and more than 150 at a distribution facility in Lakeville. That’s double its North American headcount in 2012.

The company also continues to invest in Minnesota: Since it opened in 1990, it has expanded its Apple Valley operations 10 times, including an $18 million expansion in 2016 and, most recently, a $17.4 million expansion completed in early 2018. Combined with its distribution center and resin-receiving facility in Lakeville, Uponor now has a Twin Cities footprint of about 738,000 square feet. And that excludes its second manufacturing facility in Hutchinson.

See Twin Cities Business’s story for more on what kick-started Uponor’s growth, why it picked Minnesota for its headquarters, and where it expects to go from here.