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Young tech firm is choosing Rochester to rev up its growth in fleet industry

Digital Fleet, which offers fleet telematics services, truck tracking/monitoring software, and hardware sensors, headquartered in downtown Chicago, has its largest and most rapidly growing location at an old dry clear/warehouse at 612 11th Ave. NW in Rochester.

Chris Wurtz - Digital Fleet
Chris Wurtz, general manager of Digital Fleet, which makes software to help manage truck fleets, is pictured on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — A Midwest tech firm that mixes software and concrete is ramping up its Med City office, which includes a cement mixer parked among its desks.

Digital Fleet, which offers fleet telematics services, truck tracking/monitoring software as well as hardware sensors, is “technically” headquartered in a downtown Chicago office.

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However, a Rochester site in an old dry cleaner/warehouse space at 612 11th Ave. NW is the national company’s largest and most rapidly growing location.

“The benefits of Rochester that I see are that it's a cost-effective city to do business and, honestly, we've got easy access to good, talented people here,” said Digital Fleet’s Chief Operating Officer Chris Wurtz. “It has worked out great. … Honestly, we really like the space. It has been perfect for us.”

That industrial space is one that has seen many short-term commercial tenants, including a fudge maker and a record shop , go and out in recent years. While Digital Fleet occupies the bulk of the complex, Sikaffy Surplus and Sales is also a tenant.

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While Digital Fleet’s office has the vibe of a young tech start-up, the 11th Avenue location provides space and access for a unique feature of the company’s decor - a 2008 Kenworth concrete mixer parked a few steps away from 3-D printers and people working on laptops.

Having access to the truck to test out sensors that monitor the mixer rotation speed and many other factors is essential for Wurtz’s team of seven employees, who are mostly engineers and industry experts.

Chris Wurtz - Digital Fleet
Chris Wurtz, general manager of Digital Fleet, which makes software to help manage truck fleets, is pictured on Wednesday, June 15, 2022, in Rochester.
Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Finding a place with a big enough door and space for the truck was a challenge, he added. Of course, it is much better than the original setup when Digital Fleet first ramped up in Rochester early in the pandemic.

“So I was up in the Twin Cities. My wife was working for IBM as a software engineer. Then I ultimately decided that I just love Rochester. I like the community, so we came down here,” said Wurtz. “I knew several people in the area that work in the industry and brought them on board. And then for a while we were basically working out of one of the guys’ garage. And we had the truck parked on his front lawn.”

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Of course, another reason that makes southeastern Minnesota attractive for the company that mostly works with concrete companies is the proximity of Dodge Center, which houses McNeilus Truck and Manufacturing Inc. and Con-Tech Manufacturing Inc. Both supply the concrete industry with trucks.

That means talent with experience in the industry is plentiful. It means that it is not hard for Digital Fleet to fit up an order of new trucks for clients, who order equipment from Dodge Center.

While Digital Fleet is not the largest company in its niche, its systems monitor thousands of trucks in nearly every U.S. state and in Canada on an average day.

The combo of the tracking software and truck sensors mean that companies can remotely monitor where trucks are and if the concrete in the mixing drum is ready to be poured. Dispatchers can directly communicate with drivers via a computer tablet provided by Digital Fleet.

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“A concrete mixer is actually a factory on wheels with mixing aggregates, cement, sand and material as they drive to a construction site. It is similar to if you had a Cuisinart blender, driving down the road, and you're making cake batter on the way to the bakery,” explained Wurtz.

That means tracking the drum activity and a truck’s time on the road is crucial.

“You have 90 minutes until you have a 40,000 pound rock in the drum,” he added.

Look at an exceptionally large concrete pour, like when Mayo Clinic built the Richard O. Jacobson Building to house its proton beam treatment center in 2012.

That pour, which was considered the largest in Rochester’s history at the time , featured 540 trucks delivering 5,400 yards of concrete within 24 to 28 hours.

Keeping everything on schedule, so a truck can be in line for its 10 minutes pouring is necessary for a pour like that to be successful.

While concrete mixer and dump truck fleets haven’t been quick to adopt new technology, the pandemic nudged many companies to embrace the new tools and sign contracts with Digital Fleet or others in the telematics space.

Wurtz added that their services, which improve fleet efficiency, are even more valuable during times of high fuel prices.

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“So it costs about $1.50 to $1.75 a minute to idle an average Ready Mix truck. And so every minute we can take out of this process, we can help save our customer money,” he said.

All of that, hopefully, adds up to a selling point that brings in more clients for the growing Digital Fleet.

And as Digital Fleet grows, Wurtz expects that much of that growth will happen in Rochester.

“We just love it here,” he added.

Jeff Kiger tracks business action in Rochester and southeastern Minnesota every day in "Heard on the Street." Send tips to jkiger@postbulletin.com or via Twitter to @whereskiger . You can call him at 507-285-7798.

Jeff Kiger writes a daily column, "Heard on the Street," in addition to writing articles about local businesses, Mayo Clinic, IBM, Hormel Foods, Crenlo and others. He has worked in Rochester for the Post Bulletin since 1999. Readers can reach Jeff at 507-285-7798 or jkiger@postbulletin.com.
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