'The stars kind of lined up': New owners of Hawkeye Molding keep jobs in Roland

Ronna Faaborg
Ames Tribune
Ryan Gruhn and Lana Leander, the new owners of Hawkeye Molding in Roland and Albia, pose in front of an injection molding press at the Roland facility.

Ryan Gruhn and Lana Leander are the new co-owners of Hawkeye Molding, which has facilities in Roland and Albia.

With the purchase this April, the married business partners likely saved jobs at both locations, which together employ about 30 people, according to Ames Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Dan Culhane.

Hawkeye Molding was the plastics division of Innovative Lighting, a Roland-based manufacturer of LED lighting. Owned by Jerry and Janet Handsaker, that company remains in business, focusing on its lighting products.

“I think one of the reasons the purchase worked out is they could sense that Lana and I really wanted to build off the foundation that’s there,” Gruhn said. “There are a lot of terrific employees that we’ve inherited with the acquisition, and we’re really excited to build to the future with the team that we’ve got in place.”

Hawkeye Molding has been successful at retaining its employees in the past, with the most recent hire taking place five years ago and an average of about 15 years on the job for the company’s workers, Leander said.

The company has 18 employees in Roland and about a dozen in Albia.

“I think Innovative Lighting was looking for the right buyer for their plastics division, and the stars kind of lined up,” Gruhn said. “There were probably other opportunities for Innovative Lighting to sell off their plastics division, but it could have gone a different direction where they sold to maybe a competitor that didn't have any interest in keeping these current two Roland and Albia facilities open — where they would have just moved the work to an existing manufacturing facility elsewhere.”

Hawkeye Molding is located at 109 Progressive Drive in Roland. The injection molding company was recently purchased from Innovative Lighting by Ryan Gruhn and Lana Leander.

Leander and Gruhn most recently owned three monument companies. They sold Des Moines-Winterset Memorials, Winterset Monument Company and Atlantic Memorials in 2019 and were looking to move to Ames.

Culhane told Gruhn and Leander about the opportunity with Hawkeye Molding, and with Gruhn’s background in injection molding, “it seemed like a good fit,” Leander said. “Dan was absolutely fabulous in his role of connecting us with this company.”

“There are a couple different roots to the current tree that is Hawkeye Molding now,” Gruhn said. “There’s been a Hawkeye Molding in Albia since the 1970s, so that has its own history.

Then Innovative Lighting, which has been in Roland for about 20 years, bought Hawkeye Molding in about 2008, he said.

Innovative Lighting had its own in-house injection molding operation in Roland already and the 2008 purchase was an opportunity for the company to expand its molding business, Gruhn said.

“We purchased Innovative Lighting’s plastic molding division from them, and we bought the facility here in Roland,” Gruhn said. “And Innovative Lighting is leasing the east wing of the facility here in Roland.

“They inhabit their own area of the building we purchased, and they’re a good customer of ours. We still mold a lot of plastic parts for their lighting.”

Leander and Gruhn are focusing on growing Hawkeye Molding’s customer base. One of its main customers historically was Electrolux, which had a manufacturing plant in Webster City. That Electrolux plant closed several years ago and most of it was relocated to Mexico.

“As new owners, we’re just really excited for an opportunity to really focus on the plastics business and look for some new, interesting customers,” Gruhn said. “We’re trying to build the business back up to what it had been in the past.”

Hawkeye Molding does work for a number of Iowa companies, Gruhn said, and keeping it local is good for those companies' supply chains.

“There are definitely opportunities out there because, during the past year with the pandemic, there have been supply chain challenges that a lot of U.S. manufacturers have experienced,” Gruhn said. “So right now, it’s kind of a unique time. There are a lot of companies that maybe 10 years ago or 20 years ago decided to have some of their plastic products made overseas, and they’re kind of thinking about that strategy.

“A lot of companies are bringing some of that work back to North America to protect their supply chain.”