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Vertical Limit's move pays off in employees, revenue

By Dawn Schuett

schuett@postbulletin.com

WANAMINGO -- Vertical Limit Inc. had just 18 employees and was only three years old when it relocated from St. Paul to Wanamingo in 2004.

It might seem a risky move when trying to grow a young business, but its owners have no regrets. The company, specializing in building and maintaining towers for cell phone providers, now has about 75 employees and is on pace to make $12 million in revenue this year.

"It's been a crazy ride because we didn't quite anticipate the growth," said Eric Bicknese, the 29-year-old president of the company formerly known as Vertical Limit Construction Services.

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Bicknese, who lives north of Zumbrota, founded the business along with Corey Nihart of Medford, Jonathan Schroeder of Chatfield and Scott Shepard of Robbinsdale, Minn. Bicknese, Nihart and Schroeder grew up in Chatfield. Before starting their business in 2001, the four were co-workers at a Twin Cities office of a Colorado company that also constructs telecommunications towers.

In those first years, they worked out of a small office above a garage in St. Paul. When they searched for space to expand, they looked elsewhere in St. Paul and in smaller communities, including Rosemount and Hastings.

"They just didn't have the TIF (tax increment financing) program that Wanamingo has," Bicknese said.

The city's location and the opportunity to "be a big fish in a small pond" where the company could help the community grow also were factors in deciding to move here, he said.

The company built a 5,400-square-foot building in Wanamingo's industrial park. About 15 employees work at the facility on a daily basis, with the others typically traveling from their homes to job sites in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota. The company also opened an office in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, where 10 employees help to rebuild and troubleshoot at tower sites for Cingular Wireless.

"Our main goal though is to be very strong in the Midwest," Bicknese said.

He wants Vertical Limit to have the image of a Fortune 500 company, but he's mindful of its small-town roots.

Vertical Limit buys fuel and other goods and services from local businesses whenever possible, and it's donated money to the school and civic clubs in Wanamingo.

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The four owners, who are hands-on when it comes to running the business, have a strong work ethic and look for that in potential employees, said Bicknese, who grew up on a farm and worked as a general laborer after graduating from Chatfield High School in 1995. Employees include Bicknese's dad and brother; Schroeder's brother; and Eric Nelson, the mayor of Wanamingo, who also runs Nelson Electronics in town with his dad, John.

Although the company is growing, Bicknese said, "we're definitely not where I want to be, but that takes time."

In the future, he said, he'd like to see the company achieve $20 million a year in revenue and have 100 employees. With space already getting tight at its current building in Wanamingo, the company might expand there or build a larger facility in a few years.

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