Opinion — The big picture: Location, location, location

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If your community has been around for a while, you've probably encountered your share of celebrations and cliffhangers. So it is with some of the firms that serve you.

Consider the recently rechristened Joerns Health Care, based in Stevens Point, WI. The firm's roots trace back to 1889, when brothers Charles, Paul and Frederick Joerns launched a high-end furniture company out of St. Paul, MN. Since then, Joerns has survived a fire, several relocations, two near-closings, new product lines, mergers and acquisitions.
These days, the manufacturer of beds, furnishings, repositioning equipment and wound management products is in expansion mode. At an April 10 meeting, however, the firm officially announced that one thing will stay as is: The firm will keep its headquarters in Stevens Point, the dead center of Wisconsin geographically, where it has had a presence since 1927.
"We debated a number of locations but really felt that this was our home," said Mark Ludwig, president and CEO. A management buyout completed in December carved the long-term care division of Sunrise Medical into its own company, with the energetic Ludwig at the helm. A look around the crowded Sentry Theater, where the announcement was made, revealed why the choice to stay put makes good business sense.
Other locales may offer more temperate weather and better tax concessions. But where else are you going to find people like this?
Whether it's the waitress serving up breakfast at the International House of Pancakes or the factory guys assembling beds, the people here have a solidness that's as remarkable as it is common.
Many of the former and current employees attending the announcement wore the patient faces and strong hands that come from a life spent making useful things. For them, friendliness is a given. And when they come to work, they come to work.
These days, it's not too hard to find settings that have more characters than character. Stevens Point isn't one of those places.
Raymond Nass was at the helm of Joerns for 18 years. He still speaks glowingly about the caliber of the employees who helped build the company. He pointed out that they are the same people who willingly took pay cuts twice because that's what was needed to keep the company alive during tough times.
Gov. Jim Doyle, who attended the announcement, marveled at the work ethic seen among so many people in these parts. Doyle said that when he was a child, the highest praise a person could receive from his father was to be called a "hard worker."
Now there's a guy who knows his audience.

John O'Connor is vice president, McKnight's Long-Term Care News. Contact him at john.oconnor@mltcn.com.