The Son’s On-the-Job Training
Following in his dad’s footsteps—somewhat—
Stephen went to class for part of the day during his
senior year and then went to work at Co-Lin for the
rest of the day.
Timing plays a very important role in so many
tales, and Stephen’s was no different. Upon graduation in June 2009, Stephen was ready for full-time
work, but the manufacturing downturn at the time
made that difficult. That’s when he decided to attend the University of Wisconsin at Platteville and
pursue a major in manufacturing technology management. That’s where he got his first taste of 3-D
modeling. He also worked summers at Co-Lin and
other nearby manufacturing companies, where he
learned the craft in a way that can’t be replicated in
a classroom, such as welding in 100-degree heat.
Upon college graduation in December 2014, he
went to work for a Rockford, Ill., metal fabricator for
which he had been an intern from January to August in 2013. The fabricator was only a few blocks
“That’s where I learned all the real-world stuff,
like what’s a flat pattern that you send to a laser cut-
ting machine, designing in 3-D, and interacting with
a customer,” Stephen said. “I did all of the quotes
there for a while. I was in charge of some pretty big
Stephen was taking advantage of an opportunity.
His employer was in transition as the fab shop had
experienced some turnover in its programming
department. Stephen became the go-to person for
machine programming, part design, and training
new engineers—just three months after graduating
“That’s where I learned how to think on my feet
and to do something like this,” he said. “That was
my biggest turning point.”
Michael wasn’t surprised when he heard about
Stephen’s tenure at the other metal fabricating
company. He had noticed that his son was quite ca-
pable of leading a business. It probably didn’t hurt
that Stephen actually wrote a paper about wanting
to run a fabricating shop for a scholarship after high
“I knew he wanted to have his own business because he’s always been independent, since he was a
baby,” Michael said. “I knew that it would be in some
kind of business. I didn’t know it would be this.”
Time to Buy a Business
On Jan. 5, 2015, Michael went to work at Co-Lin and
noticed that the owner’s son wasn’t at work. When
he asked where the young man was, the owner replied that he had quit and wasn’t coming back. That
got Michael to thinking: If the current owner wasn’t
interested in changing business operations to grow
the company, and the son wasn’t interested in taking over for the father’s business, maybe this was an
opportunity for him and Stephen.
That night Michael went home and had a three-hour chat with his son. By the end of the evening,
they had decided to pursue business ownership.
“So I came into work the next morning and about
10 minutes after arriving, I went to see my boss and
said, ‘I’ve got something to tell you. Stephen and I
want to buy the place,’” Michael recounted. “And he
said, ‘OK. Now what do we do?’
“I don’t know, but I’ll find someone who can tell
us,” Michael said.
That led him to the local Small Business Develop-
ment Center (SBDC) at Rock Valley College in Rock-
ford, Ill. Brian McIntyre, the program director, actu-
ally grew up on the same street with both parties.
“It’s good when the buyer and the seller want to
work together,” McIntyre said. “What I told Mike and
the seller at the beginning is this: ‘I will help you put
together a deal and get the thing financed. Here is
what I am not going to do: I’m not going to decide
what the price is. I’m neutral. You guys figure out the
price and we’ll get the deal done.’”
The parties came to a price, which the Hedlunds de-
clined to reveal, and the deal came together quickly
thereafter. McIntyre said the father and son brought
together different skills and talents that made the fi-
nancing of the purchase deal easy to secure.
“Mike has spent more than 30 years there, so he
had insight about the business, and he had an extreme amount of technical knowledge. Steve worked
there part-time, so he understood what it took. He
also has an education in that type of business, and
he was singularly determined and focused to be a
small-business owner,” McIntyre said. “All of those
things combined made it a lot easier.”
These cabinets are an example of the diverse jobs Co-Lin Metals Fabricating performs.
This not-yet-completed pressure washer cabinet (left)
is a good example of life before and after at Co-Lin Metals Fabricating. The original prints for this cabinet dated back to the 1990s. Some of the original dimensions
weren’t detailed on those prints, and Michael Hedlund
wasn’t familiar with the cabinets because he didn’t work
on the fabrications when Co-Lin did the original work.
Stephen Hedlund took pictures of the original cabinets
and began modeling them in 3-D. After making some adjustments, such as how to fabricate the movable table
inside the pressure washer cabinet (above), Stephen
saved the plans in a digital file. The next time it needs
to be built, the company can call up the plans and get to
work right away.
“Everyone out there can run
every machine, can weld,
and put stuff together.
We can hand most of the guys
any kind of print and let them
have at it. That’s rare these days.”
Co-Lin Metals Fabricating Inc.