Neal St. Anthony
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Tim Johnson and Mark Anderson just invested $4 million to expand their Impact printing operation on the North Side of Minneapolis.

Impact has doubled employment to nearly 200 over the last decade through organic growth and several acquisitions. Part of that is in a marketing affiliate called Infinity Direct based in Plymouth.

The business has survived as demand for commercial printing shrank amid the rise of digital devices, apps and electronic documents. The owners attribute the success to customer relationships and employees who increase Impact's value using technology.

"I couldn't do many of the jobs in this plant," said Johnson, the company's chief executive. "It takes talent I don't have. I can help shape the culture.

"Most of our people live the values," he added. "We want everyone to benefit. We try to build up each other. And we are struggling less than the printing industry.''

In 2019, Johnson and Anderson spent $1.4 million, helped by long-term tax credits and incentives, on a solar array atop their 150,000-square-foot factory.

The moved lowered Impact's electric costs. And one-third of the installation is part of a "community solar garden" that benefits 36 low-income households and nonprofit businesses in the Camden neighborhood.

Impact just posted another profitable year on revenue of about $50 million, the owners said. Its list of longtime clients includes big Renewal by Andersen windows, Bluestem Brands and the nonprofit Union Gospel Mission.

The two owners said they have tried to build an employee-focused culture. Wages on the factory floor have risen to $20 per hour for new hires and $30-plus for skilled operators.

They have routinely offered profit sharing. And last month, they paid a year-end bonus of several hundred dollars to each Impact employee after the company's "spoilage" budget, which is designed to cover the cost of mistakes and waste, came in way below target.

"We look at people as infinitely valuable and there's a joy in investing in your people," Johnson said.

Johnson and Anderson's approach is rooted in their Christian faith that informs them to invest in the workers and neighborhood.

"It's a great place to work," said Kathe Voss, a 15-year information systems analyst who came to Impact through an acquisition.

"We meet monthly to recognize and celebrate employees," she said. "Tim talks about how the company is doing, and shares financial results and takes questions."

Johnson, 62, and Anderson, 60, grew up friends in Cambridge, Minn. They later became brothers-in-law when Anderson married Johnson's sister.

Anderson was a banker. Johnson began as a high school math teacher. He earned an MBA in management information systems and worked for Accenture as a consultant.

The two bought Impact from Johnson's father in 1989. At the time, Impact had annual revenue of about $2 million, but that fell to $1 million after they sold half the business to a customer.

They acquired a vacant factory on the cheap at 4600 Lyndale Av. N. for $68,000. They leased most of the space to others at first. Impact has since nearly tripled the size of the plant and offices. The business has been valued at more than $10 million.

Johnson and Anderson's technical and financial backgrounds helped Impact transcend mass mailings to targeted work, based on demographic data, Zip codes and other information.

The Impact owners acquired the predecessor to Infinity Direct in 1999. The business added more analytical and marketing firepower for clients of Impact's printing operation.

Executives last year decided to close a small printing plant in Winsted, Minn., as part of the plan to invest in new equipment and expand capacity in Minneapolis. Impact helped place the 25 employees with jobs in Minneapolis, at another printer in Winsted and at other employers.

"Anybody who wanted a job got a job," said Johnson.

The company consulted early with employees and enticed them with extra pay to remain at the Winsted plant until it closed to smooth the production transition to Minneapolis.

"The leadership here serves the employees," said Kurt Schwedler, 60, an Impact account director and printing industry veteran. "We look for what's best for one another as well as the company. That's the fabric of the company.''

Johnson and Anderson are selling the company over the next decade to three employees in their 30s: Infinity Direct CEO Jake Bruhnding, and Bjorn Anderson and Erik Anderson, who are Mark Anderson's sons and also veterans of the business.

"It would be quite easy in this consolidating market to sell [to a larger consolidator]," Johnson said. "It's far preferable to sell to [insiders who embrace the culture]. Mark and I are not going to maximize what we could get. But that's not what's motivating us.''