I grew up in Richfield, Minn., and I abandon the more temperate climes of the East Coast to return home for the winter holidays. (Note: On Friday in Richfield, the temperature was 1 degree, but it felt like minus 19; in Brooklyn, N.Y., it was 43 and sunny.)
When I took a job at Glass Magazine, I started mixing business with my vacations. As John Van Dine, president and CEO of Sage Electrochromics Inc., Faribault, Minn., says, Minnesota is the “Silicon Valley of the glass industry.”
My Midwest glass travels have taken me to Owatonna for a tour of Viracon, to see glass shops in Bloomington and Hutchinson, to Fargo, N.D., to visit Tecton Products, and most recently down to Faribault to tour Sage.
(Note: Friday in Faribault, the high was a balmier 7 degrees, with wind chills only approaching minus 15. During my tour, the high was a touch above 20.)
Lou Podbelski, vice president of marketing, showed me around the manufacturing facility for the company that makes switchable glass products.
The Sage facility is unlike any other manufacturing environment I’ve seen. The place is clean—really clean—right down to the polished concrete floors. And the plant is also daylit and bright from windows on all sides that fill the plant with natural light. For photos, click here.
The multiple coatings required to produce Sage glass requires plant cleanliness like that at silicon chip manufacturing facilities, according to the company’s Web site.
As for the natural light, Podbelski said it was a conscious decision made for employees. “There are all kinds of studies that show productivity increases with natural light and windows. But, it’s not just question of daylighting. If you’re a human being, you love to have the association with the outdoors. Everyone wants to know what’s going on outside. If it’s snowing—we’re in Minnesota—if it’s raining. … That’s the main reason,” Podbelski said.
After the tour, I sat down for an interview with Van Dine about the growing green market, the high cost of Sage glass and the future of the company. Watch the interview below.
(Note, in closing: Minnesota is a lovely, beautiful place to visit. I recommend July and August.)