Swedish company picks Hudson for its North American base
The managing director of a Swedish company that provides seat accessories for heavy equipment has been quietly at work in Hudson for the past six months setting up an American subsidiary.
The American version of Sittab Inc. is located in a 4,000-square-foot office and production space in the River Bluffs Business Center on Harvey Street in St. Croix Business Park.
Anders Claesson spotted the building while on a sales trip to the nearby Grammer seat assembly plant several years ago. He remembered it when Sittab was ready to start its American operation, and moved into the River Bluffs space at the beginning of September 2011.
"That's not the reason," the mild-mannered Claesson replied it was suggested that the number of people of Scandinavian descent in the Twin Cities area might have influenced the decision to locate here.
A majority of Sittab's American customers are in the Minneapolis and Chicago areas, and those two cities also have direct flights to Europe, Claesson noted. The lower cost of doing business in the Twin Cities region led to an evaluation of three facilities -- one closer to downtown Minneapolis, one in Owatonna, Minn., and the one in Hudson owned by John Wold.
"We decided to pick this one because it had the best flexibility," Claesson said. "We got the best response from the owner of this facility. We liked the people we met. So that's why we chose Hudson."
Sittab was founded in 1991 in Borlange, Sweden, a city of about 41,000 people located northwest of Stockholm. The founders came from the forestry industry and began making specialized operator seats for logging machines.
The company expanded to providing seats and seat accessories for a variety of machines and vehicles in the agricultural, construction, mining, railroad and manufacturing industries. It also supplies seat components for military vehicles and ships.
Its seat components include headrests, armrests, joystick and control holders, swivels, and suspension systems that minimize not only vertical jolts, but those from the side, front and back, too.
Some of Sittab's larger customers in North America are John Deere, Case-New Holland, Caterpillar, Komatsu, Volvo, Tigercat Industries, Grammer and the train-maker Recaro.
The Swedish company had $9 million in sales in 2011, including $1.5 million to customers in the United States.
Currently, all the products are assembled in Sweden from components made mainly in Scandinavia and China. Sittab employs 30 people at its Swedish facility.
The plan is to begin assembling the products sold in North America at the Hudson location.
Last week, Claesson hired his first American employee, Adam Varney, who will be the assembly manager.
Varney will be traveling to Sweden, where he'll be trained in putting together the Sittab products. He's begun learning the Swedish language.
"It's going really well," Claesson said when asked about the U.S. venture.
Claesson said business has been so brisk that the development of the American company was postponed some while the mother company concentrated on new projects and filling orders.
"If this takes half a year, one year or two years, that doesn't matter," he said. "But, of course, we want to be able to get production in here as soon as possible since we're paying the rent for it."
Claesson, who also owns 20 percent of Sittab, is on a one-year mission to get the American company established. He arrived here last September with his wife and three children. They plan to return to Sweden next summer.
The family rented a home in the Woodbury, Minn., area. The oldest child, 14, attends Oak-Land Junior High School. An 11-year-old is at Lake Elmo Elementary. The youngest child is three and a half.
The American schools were a big change for the children, but they have made friends and are adjusting well, Claesson said.
"It's very good for their language (skills). So this is a good experience for them," he said. Swedish children begin learning English in school at age 10. The Claesson children are getting the equivalent of an immersion course in it.
It took some time for Claesson to negotiate the U.S. bureaucracy for a visa to be here. And he still needs to obtain a visa for the American Sittab company, which is incorporated in Delaware.
Some Europeans view the U.S. business system as antiquated, he said, but he appreciates the freedom it provides.
When he hires someone in Sweden, the employee's pay and benefits are determined by their age and education, and the region of the workplace.
"You kept the freedom in your system," he said.
"For me, starting a company, I would find it a lot easier over in Sweden. But on the other hand, if I knew all the rules and regulations over here, I'm sure I could do it for much less cost here than in Sweden. In a way, it is much easier to make money over here than in the European system."
On the other hand, paper checks haven't been used in Sweden in 25 or 30 years, Claesson said. He phoned his mother to ask her how to write one.
Claesson grew up on a dairy farm outside of Borlange. He later purchased the neighboring farm and lives there with his family when they are in Sweden.
Claesson, a mechanical engineer by training, and his wife, Asa, also spent time in the United States before they had children. Then, he was working for a train manufacturer located in Charlotte, N.C.
"I can see a certain attitude change from when I was here the last time," he said. "Americans are more aware of the value of companies establishing here - especially the importance of having jobs here in the U.S."
"I like America," he said. "It is easy to get around totalk to people. Everybody is friendly. You're well treated wherever you go. Everybody helps."
To learn more about Sittab, go online to http://www.sittab.se.