Factory closings or job transfers, such as what is happening with Rochester Medical in Stewartville, which is losing at least 60 jobs to Mexico in 2015, always make an impact. The grim news makes headlines and gets people talking about the decisions that have quite an effect on the local economy.

However, the growth of these manufacturing companies often sneaks up on people as the expansions usually don’t happen on a well-traveled main street, but often in an out-of-the-way location in town. That’s probably why most people may not realize that manufacturing is growing in Minnesota, including our communities.

The Spring Valley Kiwanis recently invited owners of industry in town to speak at their meetings. Representatives from Expert Insulation, Kappers Fabricating, Inc., SATA and Tracker Industries, all talked about their recent expansions — their physical plant in Spring Valley as well as their market, several even venturing out internationally. Most of them are located off the main highway, yet the businesses combined draw well over 100 workers to their locations and employ more in other locations, mainly in the form of outside salespeople.

Harmony Enterprises, in a story we did on its recent ISO 9001 certification, revealed that it is also expanding with a new addition to improve shipping. An earlier story in our newspapers on its 50th anniversary revealed a fascinating timeline of how it started from investments of $300 by local business owners who wanted to see the local economy diversify, creating an operation in the local basement of the local newspaper.  The company kept diversifying and growing, entering the international market in 2011.

In Chatfield, EZ Fabrication started out as a company that built racecar frames, but expanded its focus and last year announced plans to consolidate operations in a new building, adding about 17 jobs to the 35 already there. Chatfield already has Strongwell and Tuohy Furniture, two businesses that are well-established fixtures in the community with quite a lengthy history.

Rushford also has some interesting businesses, such as Connaughty, and some emerging businesses in the nanotech field. Preston has also had plenty of activity over the past several years on the north end of town.

The examples could continue with even the smallest cities, such as Fountain, taking part in the growth of manufacturing.

During the talks by the Spring Valley owners, several reasons were cited for the positive environment in Minnesota, particularly smaller businesses.

• Local, smaller manufacturing companies are more nimble. They can cater to particular needs in products required by other firms and manufacture them quickly. With the tight economy, firms don’t want to sit on large orders required from overseas vendors due to the cost of shipping. The time in shipping is also a factor for companies needing inventory quickly.

• Quality is a big factor. Local products are known for the superior quality compared to those from China and other locations abroad.

• Relationships. These companies develop personal relationships with their customers. One representative said the recession was actually a blessing because firms had to look at options to save money or time. The local companies were able to step in and show them how they could do that.

• Lower wages is often given as a reason for buying products out of the country, but pay in China and other countries is going up, narrowing that gap and reducing the cost differences for items made overseas compared to the United States.

• Skilled workforce. Local companies are finding local people have a good work ethic and are competent at their jobs. However, while the quality is there, the quantity isn’t. Many firms are having a hard time finding enough people to fill the jobs, resorting to temporary agencies or other stopgaps.

There is a revival in manufacturing across Minnesota and, in some ways, the United States as the Rochester Medical story is now more of an exception than part of a trend that used to dominate industry.

The slow growth of these mostly homegrown businesses is a fascinating story that builds in the background. Those stories have a profound effect on our economy even if we don’t often see the evidence.

We often judge the health of our communities on the retail businesses in the downtown and along the highway, but a better indicator may be scouting the industrial parks and other out-of-the-way manufacturing areas. You may be surprised at the stories you uncover.