SIOUX CITY, Iowa (AP) — At a southern California factory, a 311-foot conveyer weighs, inspects and packages 800,000, 3-pound bags of Wonderful Halos per day, or 19 million of the mandarin oranges.
The 640,000-square foot complex, the size of 11 football fields, was built two years ago by Younglove Construction for Paramount Citrus, which markets Halos to grocers nationwide.
Younglove, a little-known subsidiary of Sioux City-based Klinger Companies Inc., specializes in design and construction of processing and bulk handling facilities for the food and grain industries.
Recognized in the industry for its slipform method of concrete construction, the Sioux City Journal reports (http://bit.ly/1rvKmu3 ) Younglove regularly travels the country to work on a wide range of ag-related projects, from grain elevators and ethanol plants to feedmills and seaport terminals. Customers range from small farmer cooperatives to large agri-business conglomerates.
In recent years, Younglove has expanded beyond its Midwest roots of building structures to warehouse or mill crops such as corn, soybeans and wheat.
Besides Halos, the company has built processing and packaging plants for consumer foods like pasta and pistachios.
Rebounding from some lean times during the Great Recession, Younglove has flourished lately, on the strength of an economy fueled by record commodity prices, exports and farm income.
From 2011 to 2013, the contractor averaged nearly $90 million in revenue, the best three-year showing in its 118-year history.
"The last three years have been very good for us," said Mike Gunsch, who recently retired as Younglove president after 44½ years with the company.
In comparison, Younglove revenues were around $30 million in both 2008 and 2009, in the aftermath of a global financial crisis that plunged the U.S. economy into a deep recession.
Two years ago, Younglove's volume hit a record $107 million, as the contractor placed an all-time high of cubic yards of concrete, Gunsch said.
During 2012, Younglove completed its largest project ever, a $72 million expansion of United Grain Corp.'s terminal at the Port of Vancouver, Wash. The project created four million bushels of storage to allow the terminal for the first time to export corn and soybeans to Asian.
As part of the United Grain project, Younglove built the largest slipform structure in North America — a concrete silo that climbs 346 feet into the air, or the equivalent of 20 stories.
With the slipform method, concrete is poured into a continuously moving form. As workers standing on platforms insert steel reinforcing rods into the wet concrete, hydraulic jacks slowly raise the forms at a rate that permits the concrete to harden by the time it emerges from the bottom of the form.
"It's a 24 hour-per-day process for as high as you need to go," Gunsch said. "Sometimes it takes a long as two weeks. Most of them typically take a week."
Younglove was an early slipform pioneer, constructing its first concrete grain elevators in the early 1900s, using crude, hand-jacking systems. For decades afterwards, Younglove also continued to build the wooden grain cribbed structures that gave birth to the company in 1896 in Mason City, Iowa.
As the grain elevator business moved west with the railroads, founder John Fremont Younglove relocated the company to Sioux City in 1908.
Younglove was later joined in the family business by his sons, Carl and Clyde. After the firm fell on hard times in the early 1920s, Clyde went to work for Sioux City general contractor W.A. Klinger.
In 1925, Younglove Construction became a Klinger subsidiary. Klinger founder William A. Klinger asked Carl Younglove to continue managing the Younglove business. Clyde Younglove's son, Roger, also later ran the company.
Gunsch, just the fifth president in Younglove's history, was succeeded earlier this month by Ken DuBois, who previously served as vice president and has 15 years experience with the company.
Gunsch, who joined Younglove as a project engineer after graduating from Iowa State University in 1969, was promoted to vice president of project management 1979, executive vice president in 1988 and president in 2007. He succeeded Mike Rueckert, who served as persident from 1975 to 2007.
The company grew rapidly and diversified its business model during Gunsch's more than four decades with the firm..
In the 1970s, Younglove's customer base began to change from small Midwest cooperatives to large agribusinesses such as ConAgra Foods and Archers Daniel Midland.
Younglove, which built scores of the grain elevators that dot the countryside, also started to construct more feed mills for hog, chicken and turkey operations.
In 1988, the company built its first pasta plant, for American Italian Pasta Co. The opportunity arose after the industry started to move flour milling and pasta production to a single, integrated site.
Younglove has since done 12 projects for American Italian, makers of such pasta brands as Mueller's, Golden Grain, Heartland, Anthony's and Martha Gooch. The pasta plants are spread out across the country, in Arizona, Missouri, South Carolina and Wisconsin
Gunsch said Younger has benefited from other repeat business over the years.
Younglove, for instance, is currently building a two-story addition to Paramount Citrus' office adjoining its Halo factory in Delano, Calif. Younglove also led the 2011 construction of Paramount's pisatachio processing and packaging plant in Lost Hills, California.
Other big-ticket Younglove projects include a $30 million expansion of a rice drying complex for Producers Rice Mill in Stuttgart, Ark., and a $32 million expansion of Louis Dreyfus Commodities grain terminal in Port Allen, La.
Over the years, Younglove has done work in 36 of the lower 48 states, but few projects in Sioux City or the immediate tri-state region. That's contributed to Younglove's low profile in its hometown.
"The vast majority of people do not know who Younglove is," W.A. Klinger President John Gleeson said. "We cannot be more proud of the work they've done over the years."
Gleeson noted that Younglove buys considerable materials and other supplies from local vendors.
Younglove has 18 employees based in Klinger's Sioux City office building, which includes executives, project managers and the design group.
In a typical year, Younglove takes on about 10 projects, Gunsch said. Each is assigned to a project superintendent, who works on it from start to finish.
Some of the construction workers travel from town to town, while others are hired locally, Gunsch said. The numbers fluctuate from year to year, depending on the total amount of work and size of the projects.
In the record-breaking 2012, more than 800 were on the payroll. In 2008, when jobs were scarce, the number of workers fell below 150.
Of the seven projects Younglove has on the docket for 2014, four are in Iowa. They include a corn processing plant in Glidden, a turkey feed mill in Ellsworth, a feed ingredient plant in Shell Rock and a hog feed mill in Oskaloosa.
Information from: Sioux City Journal, http://www.siouxcityjournal.com