Vermeer’s self-propelled baler is Coolest Thing Made in Iowa

ABI reveals winner at conference in QC

Vermeer Corporation team members pose with their Coolest Thing Made in Iowa trophy during the Iowa Association of Business & Industry (ABI) annual conference in Davenport. Front row, from left, are: Vermeer team members: Kent Thompson, R&D senior engineering manager; Stan Fynaardt, assembler III; Terry Patterson, assembler II; and Mindi Vanden Bosch, vice president of operations. Back row, from left, are: MidWestOne CEO Chip Reese and ABI President Mike Ralston. CREDIT IOWA ASSOCIATION OF BUSINESS & INDUSTRY
Vermeer Corporation team members pose with their Coolest Thing Made in Iowa trophy during the Iowa Association of Business & Industry (ABI) annual conference in Davenport. Front row, from left, are: Vermeer team members: Kent Thompson, R&D senior engineering manager; Stan Fynaardt, assembler III; Terry Patterson, assembler II; and Mindi Vanden Bosch, vice president of operations. Back row, from left, are: MidWestOne CEO Chip Reese and ABI President Mike Ralston. CREDIT IOWA ASSOCIATION OF BUSINESS & INDUSTRY

The coolest of the cool products manufactured in the Hawkeye State is an innovative piece of equipment designed to make the grueling work of baling hay a much easier job for today’s farmers.

Vermeer Corporation, a third generation, family-owned company based in Pella, Iowa, won the bragging rights – and a shiny trophy – when its ZR5-1200 self-propelled baler was named winner of the first-ever Coolest Thing Made In Iowa contest. The Coolest Thing Made was announced on Wednesday, June 5, during the Iowa Association of Business & Industry “Taking Care of Business Conference,” which is being held this week in Davenport.

Vermeer beat out three other finalists – and dozens of original nominees – in a public voting process to capture the new award created by ABI and sponsored by MidWestOne Bank.

Vermeer ZR5-1200 Self-Propelled Baler
Vermeer ZR5-1200 Self-Propelled Baler

The Vermeer self-propelled baler, the first in the world, reduces the steps needed to make a bale and maximizes productivity through zero-turn capabilities.

Third generation Vermeer leader Mindi Vanden Bosch, vice president of operations, accepted the honor on behalf of the industrial and agricultural equipment company that was founded 75 years ago by her grandfather, Gary Vermeer.

“My grandfather was a farmer. He founded Vermeer on a spirit of innovation by simply searching for a better way to do hard work,” she told the ABI luncheon crowd. “Receiving this award is incredibly special as it indicates his legacy continues on.”

The other finalist products and companies were: Musco Sports Lighting, made by Musco Lighting, Oskaloosa; a custom built pipe organ produced by Dobson Pipe Organ Builders Ltd., Lake City; and Safe T Home, manufactured by Sukup Manufacturing Co., Sheffield.

Ms. Vanden Bosch told fellow ABI members that Vermeer was “proud to have been nominated alongside an incredible line up of cool things made in Iowa. Thanks to ABI for bringing awareness to everything made in our great state.”

After the ceremony, she told the QCBJ that not only is she proud of the award and the cool equipment their company builds, “but I’m even more proud of the team who designs, builds and supports it.”

The winning baler, launched in 2018 by Vermeer, is the only self-propelled baler on the market, she said.

Among the company employees on hand for the announcement was Kent Thompson, Vermeer’s senior engineering manager, who designed the new product.

For the whole Vermeer team, Ms. Vanden Bosch said the honor is deserving because “the innovation around this machine is awesome.”

The company’s culture and products are focused, she told the QCBJ, on “how do we make it easier.” She recalled how Mr. Thompson’s vision was to design a baler that would be as easy to use as his self-propelled lawn mower. “With this machine, I could even bale hay,” she quipped.

Headquartered in Pella, Vermeer has more than 70 family shareholder members and employs 4,500 people around the globe. That includes 3,500 in Iowa at operations in Pella, Griswold, Des Moines and Ames. It also has global operations in China, Brazil and the Netherlands.

The company produces 280 different models and ships 26,000 units annually out of Iowa, Ms. Vanden Bosch said.

Today, Vermeer is led by her brother Jason Andringa, who became CEO and president in 2015. Their mother Mary Vermeer Andringa, Gary Vermeer’s daughter, a former CEO, serves as chair emeritus of the Vermeer Board of Directors.

In announcing the winner, ABI President Mike Ralston said “The Coolest Thing Made in Iowa showcases the best of Iowa manufacturing. Congratulations to all of this year’s finalists and especially to the entire team at Vermeer.”

Mr. Ralston also credited Kelsey O’Connor, ABI’s marketing and communications director, for shepherding the creation of the new ABI award which drew a total of 71,382 votes online over  the various bracket-style rounds. In all, the contest had 68 nominations from companies representing 53 different Iowa cities, he said.

Part of the impetus for the contest was also to showcase the vast diversity of products being made in Iowa. Iowa’s manufacturing industry employs 225,000 workers statewide and pumps $38 billion into Iowa’s economy.

Deciding to sponsor the inaugural Coolest Thing contest was “one of the most no-brain decisions I was able to make in my life,” Chip Reeves, CEO of MidWestOne and an ABI board member, said at the awards luncheon. “We are all in on Iowa’s economy and all in on Iowa’s manufacturing.”

Among the criteria was that the product be made in an Iowa facility and using a manufacturing process. “We wanted Iowa pride to shine,” Ms. O’Connor said.