Moffatt Products’ South Dakota story began in 1985 as wild goose chase, when founder Dillon Moffatt was told South Dakota was the place to be. Dave, Dillon’s son, affectionately calls his late father your “typical entrepreneur,” saying he was so independent and single-minded he really couldn’t work for anyone else. Dave remembers his father tinkering in the basement, always building different, handy tools he could use in the family service station in Minneapolis. He developed the products into a business, moved it out of the basement, and eventually all the way to the north woods of Lutsen, Minnesota.“One day, my dad’s friend and insurance agent, Whitey Windahl, called him and told him about this breakfast meeting he’d attended,” Dave recalled. “Whitey said, ‘Dillon, I just got done listening to the President of Twin City Fan say he loved Brookings, South Dakota, so much, he expanded his business, and you know what, I think you should go check out South Dakota, too.’ And that’s where our story begins,” said Dave.In 1985, Dillon decided to take Whitey’s advice and traveled to South Dakota, touring several towns, focusing on Brookings and Vermillion. Dillon immediately fell in love with the culture, the land and especially the people. His goal, Dave says, was to tap into the student population and hire them as staff.“My dad came back from his trip sold—he was ready to move the business to South Dakota,” Dave said. “I didn’t think he was serious, and figured he’d eventually drop it. But he didn’t.”So Dave came up with a scheme, telling his dad he’d make his own visit to South Dakota to see what all the fuss was about. But there was a catch—if he didn’t like it, the plan to relocate had to be dropped.“I came out to kill the move,” laughed Dave. “But my dad knew me too well. He knew that once I got out here, I’d fall in love with it just like he did.Dave phoned a representative from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development (GOED), and asked to go on several community visits.“I told him I didn’t care where we went,” said Dave. “I just wanted this wild idea dead.”Dave ended up doing a whirlwind tour through Madison, Sioux Falls, Aberdeen, Watertown, Mitchell, Yankton and Vermillion.“Our first stop was in Madison,” said Dave. “We went into a back room at a local restaurant, where 15-20 businessmen met us. The rep told me that they wanted to show me a slideshow of why doing business in South Dakota would be the best move for my business.”Needless to say, Dave was shocked; calling it one of the “most powerful things” he could’ve heard. During the last stop, Dave’s rep left him alone with several manufacturers.“I thought that was where I was going to get the straight story, and you know what, I did,” said Dave. “They each spoke so highly of the people—how dedicated they were to their work, and how unselfish their employees were. In fact, they told me to come to South Dakota, it didn’t matter to what community, and they reassured me that I wouldn’t regret it. It was jaw-dropping.”Since then, Dave says he still has a hard time convincing South Dakotans that the culture here is really that strikingly different. But coming from the outside, Dave says those are the kinds of things you notice.Dave called his wife, Dori, when he was done and convinced her to check out South Dakota for herself. She joined Dave for a second trip to South Dakota, and focused primarily on Watertown because of its proximity to the Twin Cities. After their weekend touring the community, the decision was to move was clear.“We broke ground on a handshake and figured out the paperwork later,” said Dave. “We moved into our home before we even closed on the loan. It was reaffirming to be treated so kindly. But the most reaffirming moment came later that winter.”The business was up and running, Dave had hired his staff, but the doubts were still swirling through his mind, he admitted. “It can be very traumatic to uproot your family and completely start your life over.”Not long after settling down in Watertown, Dave was returning home from a business trip late one winter night, still feeling doubtful. But as the door to the plane opened, a voice in the cold darkness said, “Welcome home, Dave.” It was Reid Nolte, an airline employee who had taken the time to get to know Dave. He said it was so powerful, it completely reassured him he’d made the right decision.It’s been 30 years since the Moffatts moved to Watertown and more than 60 years in business, says Dave. The company is still committed to the same foundational product that made them successful: the quality flexible arm used in all their products. Moffatt is a company trusted worldwide in various industries, including metalworking, automotive service, electronics, woodworking, military and medical equipment.“I think what makes us successful is our commitment to making a product that’s built to last,” Dave said. “Our foundation was built on the integrity of good business practices, and that will never change.”For more information about Moffatt Products, visit them online at www.moffattproducts.com.Photo: Dave Moffatt (left) and his son, Mark Moffatt (right).
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