Made in Tri-States: Earlville manufacturer serves hog industry, aids local economy

Jerry Ingles works on a product at EIP Manufacturing in Earlville, Iowa. PHOTO CREDIT: JESSICA REILLY

EARLVILLE, Iowa — At EIP Manufacturing, employees take pride in building things that last.

CEO Kenny LeGrand believes the quality and longevity of the company’s products have become its calling card during the course of nearly a half-century in operation.

“Our products tend to have a longer life than our competitors’ (products),” he said. “Our product life is about 12 to 15 years. And it’s not uncommon for a producer to come back and say, ‘I have had your product in my building for 20 to 24 years.’”

This dependability has brought back old customers and helped attract new ones, allowing the business to grow into a major economic contributor in Delaware County.

EIP Manufacturing is a steel fabricator that specializes in making products for the hog industry, including gating, flooring, gestation stalls and farrowing crates. In addition to creating its products, the business conducts fabrication work for other companies. The company operates out of two buildings in Earlville — one on the south end of town and the other on the north.

LeGrand emphasized that EIP’s products are custom-made. Designers are tasked with creating a product that fits specifically within the dimensions of a customer’s barn. This means that every project is a different experience.

“We meet a new challenge with almost every job,” he said. “It requires our staff to be very flexible. They are very good at taking on those challenges.”

EIP Manufacturing has maintained long-term relationships with many of its customers — and has the documentation to prove it.

LeGrand said the business maintains comprehensive records of past projects, allowing it to pull up designs from products it completed decades ago. This expedites the process of creating new products for returning customers.

“We can pull prints from 20 years ago, blow the dust off it and remake it,” he said.

EIP Manufacturing was founded in 1975 by Dale and Eileen Keuter. The company initially sold wooden livestock feeders. It later shifted to making metal products and expanded its product selection.

While serving hog producers has been a constant for the business, navigating that industry requires constant adaptation.

LeGrand said the fortunes of the pork industry are influenced by a variety of factors.

Government regulations, which dictate how animals and meat must be treated, often shift the parameters for project requirements. Interest rates, fluctuating food prices and foreign competition also wield influence.

The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the ultimate curveball at pork producers. The virus prompted the temporary closure of many slaughterhouses, leaving producers without an end-market for their pork.

LeGrand said pork producers aren’t out of the woods.

“They are still recovering,” he said. “It’s not over. It may be another year yet until they have recovered.”

More than four decades after the business was founded, EIP is continuing to evolve.

In 2014, the business was sold to Brad and Annie Mills, an Iowa couple that owns multiple Midwest businesses.

LeGrand said the company is expanding its geographical footprint.

“Historically, we have mainly been in the Midwest,” he said. “… More recently, we are trying to reach out further.”

Local economic development leaders believe the sky is the limit for the Earlville company.

Donna Boss, executive director of Delaware County Economic Development, said EIP Manufacturing has been “an anchor” in the county.

“It’s wonderful to see everything they have done from the ground up,” she said. “Over the years, they have continued to be very proactive and think outside the box.”

The company employs about 50 people, forming a sizable workforce in a community that is home to fewer than 1,000 people. Boss said banks, restaurants, convenience stores and other local businesses benefit from the presence of these workers.

“It has a ripple effect on the rest of the economy,” she said.

Staff members at EIP range from fabricators to designers, allowing the company to walk clients through each step of the process.

Because projects are tailored to specific dimensions and needs, a high emphasis is placed on detail. LeGrand said EIP remains in close communication with customers to make sure the product fits their needs.

“It really is a joint effort with the end user,” he said.