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David Hanson - Fabcon Inc.

October 2004

Name: David Hanson, Retired President and founder of Fabcon, Inc.

Date of Birth, Place: March 27, 1929, Duluth, MN

College: 1947 to 1952. Graduated from Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, with B. S. degrees in Civil (Structural) Engineering and Industrial Engineering

Family: His first wife Betty died in 1974 after a ten year battle with cancer. They have three sons: Paul is a construction engineer; Keith runs a water utility in Utah; and Bruce is a software engineer. He also raised four more children with his second wife Mimm. Richard is a musician; Susan and Karen are college professors; and Kristin is a lawyer. He has ten grandchildren.

Hobbies: Volunteer work with local church groups. He is property manager and a member of the Plymouth Congregational church; chairman of the Bigelow Chapel Building Committee; and commissioner of the Bassett Creek Watershed Management Commission; and he still skis on snow and water.

First position in Concrete Industry (year and company): Sales Manager of Zenith Concrete Products Co., a producer of autoclaved concrete blocks, eight inch hollow-core precast structural slabs, and machine made concrete pipe based in Duluth.

Present position in Concrete Industry: Retired president and founder of Fabcon Inc., in Savage MN. Continues to act as consultant and recently appointed director of American Artstone in New Alm, MN.

Boards and Committees: Served as the Chairman of the Board of the Precast/Prestressed Concrete Institute in 1988, and is a Fellow of PCI and of ASCE.

Most Significant Mentors: Gordon Butler, the father of a friend growing up who introduced him to the concrete business; Jean Hampstead, his college counselor and college professor who guided him through his two engineering majors; Henry Nagy, Founder of Spancrete in Milwaukee; and Gerald Rauenhorst who believed in Hanson enough to finance Fabcon.

Most Significant Improvement to Precast Industry: Sandwich wall panels.

Challenges for the Industry: Developing new ideas and systems.

Advice to future Industry Icons: Market or perish. “You have to let the public know who you are and what you do.”

More about David Hanson:

A Minnesota Native Finds Success in His Hometown
Normally Dave Hanson would have graduated from college in 1951, four years after he started, but about halfway through his Industrial Engineering degree program he decided take to double major. The Structural Engineering degree added a year to his college experience, but it was worth it for the driven young engineer. “It was incredibly complicated but I learned so much,” Hanson says of his studies.
The year he graduated Hanson was drafted into the Corps of Engineers and served in Korea in a heavy construction battalion as a sergeant, and the experience has a profound impact on his life and career. During his two years of active duty, Hanson built bridges, roads, and rebuilt the headquarters for the 8th army. “I still use what I learned in Korea,” he says.
When he returned, in 1954, he had the engineering education and experience to go anywhere and get a job, and that was what he intended to do. He and his wife, Betty, who he married his last year in college, had both been born and raised in Minnesota but they were ready to move someplace new. Hanson set up interviews with construction companies around the country and they set off, driving down to Florida then up the East coast, stopping along the way to interview for jobs and tour concrete facilities. They saw a lot and learned a lot, admits Hanson, and he was offered a few jobs in heavy construction – but in the end, he turned them down. “It turned out that heavy construction sites were in terrible places and you ended up living in a trailer.”
Eventually Hanson and his wife wound up back in Duluth where he was offered a sales management position at Zenith Concrete Products Co., a producer of autoclaved concrete blocks, eight inch hollow-core precast structural slabs, and machine-made concrete pipe. “In the end this was the best offer,” he says. He took the job and they settled back into their Minnesota life. Soon the first of three sons was born.
He stayed with the company for two years doing sales, marketing, and start up research on mixtures with fly ash and silica sand, but he wasn’t happy with his boss. Then
in 1957, after attending a fraternity reunion in Ames, Iowa, Hanson stopped by the placement office where he found an ad for a sales manager at Midwest Concrete Industries, a producer of architectural exposed aggregate wall panels, and double tees and bridge beams, in West Des Moines IA. He sent his resume and got the job.
“Midwest Concrete was a pioneer in exposed aggregate panels,” Hanson says of his new employer. He spent five years there, until another opportunity arrived that he couldn’t turn down.

A Great Beginning, An Abrupt End
In 1962, an acquaintance owned a company called Spancrete Midwest, in Osseo, MN. The company was floundering after two years, and the boss had fired everyone except his 10 best union guys. He offered Hanson the position of general manager and engineer with the directive to rebuild the business. He took the business over and figured out how to make in work.
Hanson brought one salesperson with him and, “in short order we had it up and running,” he says. By 1967 he had tripled the size of the first plant, added a second plant and had about 350 employees.
Everything was going great until 1970, when the same boss who hired him to turn the company around, came in one day and unceremoniously fired him. “It was the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me,” chuckles Hanson, who says the firing changed his life. Shortly after, one of his best customers, Gerald Rauenhorst of Opus Construction, heard what had happened and was incensed. He knew Hanson was talented and wanted to build a new plant in Minnesota to make floors and wall panels, so he offered him $5 million to start his own company.
Hanson credits much of his career success to Rauenhorst’s faith in him. “You don’t start this kind of business with a pick-up and shovel,” he says. “His credit built that plant.”
After much battling with local communities that didn’t want a messy plant in their neighborhoods, Hanson found a plant site in Savage, MN, and built Fabcon. “I was pretty sure we would be successful,” Hanson says. And he was right.
From the beginning Fabcon did substantial business producing and erecting solid walls and hollow core wall panels for complete apartment buildings. Then in 1974, during the energy crisis, Fabcon invented the insulated sandwich wall panel, which embedded foam insulation within the prestressed panels to provide instant insulation. “Sandwich panels were the greatest boon to the precast business,” he says. The insulated panels are energy efficient, they are faster to put up, and because the insulation is pre-packaged in the panels it can’t be stolen and it isn’t a fire hazard on the construction site. “Sandwich panels are huge in the design build market,” he says. “It’s as close as you can get to an ‘instant building.’”
In 1995 Hanson arranged the purchase of SpanDeck plants in Indianapolis, IN and Columbus, OH. Fabcon doubled the size of each using the rolling bed SpanDeck process in all the plants.
Over Hanson’s years at Fabcon he built more than 5000 buildings in 20 states, including several million-square-foot warehouses. But in all his years, he never went after the giant contracts. Hanson is proud of the fact that, as big as Fabcon got, he never took a job over a million dollars. His business strategy was to stick to traditional small-to-moderate projects, and he attributes that approach to his ongoing success. “One of my goals was never to build a huge stadium,” he says, “because if it fails the company goes broke.”

The Masterpiece Built in Retirement
Hanson retired from Fabcon in March of 1996, just before his 68th birthday. He stayed on for another five years as consultant and director of Fabcon, and a consultant to the President of Master Builders of Cleveland, OH.
“It’s risky to have a old codger as your chief,” he says of his retirement, although he left an impressive legacy in his wake. When he retired, his plants could produce a capacity of 41,000 square feet of wall panels per day.
These days, Hanson uses his construction experience for non-profit work. He spent the last four years chairing the building committee for the Bigelow Chapel at the United Theological Seminary, in St, Paul, MN. It’s just been dedicated and the exterior is precast resembling split travertine stone case by American Art Stone. “The outside is like nothing you’ve ever seen before,” marvels Hanson, who is certain it will win major architectural awards. The open joint construction uses rough stone molded off of 18 inch travertine blocks and cost $700 per square foot to build. “People will come to Minneapolis just to see this chapel.”

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