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Steel building co. goes the extra mile: Office soon to open in Dunn Center, 3rd planned in Belfield

FARGO -- Going international hasn't just changed Fargo-based Legacy Steel Buildings, it's changed the world view of its vice president.

Bruce Engkjer has traveled across the globe for the company that was named 2012 Exporter of the Year for North Dakota at the recent Global Business Connections conference.

He said the kind of poverty he's seen during his treks has had a profound effect.

"It can't help but affect you when you see these people and the way that they live," the 65-year-old said. "It's tough."

Engkjer and his brother, Wayne Engkjer, own Legacy, which sells pre-engineered steel structures. Wayne is president.

Fargo is the corporate office for Legacy and serves as "more or less the clearinghouse," General Manager Gary Smith said. Manufacturing of Legacy structures is actually done in Pennsylvania.

The company has an office in Ray in western North Dakota, with another western North Dakota office that's 90 percent complete in Dunn Center and a third planned in Belfield.

Bruce Engkjer has seen a lot. He remembers buying extra meals to give away in Madagascar. He remembers a trip to Zimbabwe and the smiles he saw.

"We took all of our clothes and we gave them to the (people)," he said. "We gave them our boots, we gave them our socks, we gave them our shirts, we gave them everything. But you know what, they appreciate it. And they sincerely appreciate it. Talk about putting smiles on their faces."

Engkjer said the company has "probably shipped to 100 different countries, I would imagine."

Legacy's buildings have been used for a variety of purposes, among them airplane storage, medical operations, churches, mining and strip malls. Engkjer said Legacy will soon be putting up a building in Las Vegas with three stories and an atrium. It has also put buildings in the Bahamas for yacht storage and in the rainforest of Madagascar.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple presented Legacy with the Exporter of the Year Award, which is given by the North Dakota Trade Office.

"I think they're a perfect example of the kind of thing we've been trying to do with the North Dakota Trade Office for the last several years," Dalrymple said. "Their exports last year increased by 70 percent and they expanded into a number of new countries in South America and Australia and Africa."

Engkjer said getting the award was exciting and something he never anticipated in his "wildest imagination."

He tips his hat to the Trade Office and the U.S. Commercial Service office in Fargo, saying Legacy couldn't have done it without their help.

Engkjer enjoys working in exports.

"I actually love the export business," he said. "I enjoy the people that I meet. And I enjoy the people I associate with."

And he enjoys the travel.

Legacy has had success in the international market, but Engkjer said going global doesn't happen without some costs.

"You have to make a commitment to it first, because it's expensive," he said. "It doesn't come without cost. And that's monetary costs as well as human costs. You have to be willing to travel. You have to be willing to go there and sit down with the folks."

It can also come with big rewards. Engkjer said the opportunities on the international side are "terrific."

Dean Gorder, executive director of the North Dakota Trade Office, said Legacy "hasn't been afraid to take roads less traveled in the global marketplace," succeeding "in some of the most-remote parts of the world."

Legacy is a division of a larger company that includes American Steel Span, which markets round-top structures. Legacy markets straight-walled structures.

The company traces its roots back to the mid-1960s when the Engkjer brothers' father and grandfather got into the metal building business.

International trade specialist Heather Ranck, who directs the U.S. Commercial Service office in Fargo, said the Exporter of the Year Award means the company is "doing a lot of things right."

One of the things Ranck believes Legacy does right is understanding the importance of personal relationships in business. She was recently with a group from Africa that was meeting with Legacy officials. After the meeting, someone from Legacy contacted Ranck about taking the visitors out for dinner.

"That went over well with the group," she said. "People like to do business with people that they like."