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Passing the test: Twin Ports Testing sold to employees after 45 years

Project engineer Jim Johnson organizes soil samples with engineering intern Dan Sundquist on Thursday at Twin Ports Testing in Superior. The company employs 26 people full time. Mike Krebs / mkrebs@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Non-destructive testing technician Brandon Carl demonstrates magnetic particle inspection on Thursday at Twin Ports Testing in Superior. This process is used to inspect metal for cracks. Mike Krebs / mkrebs@duluthnews.com2 / 2

After serving Northland industries for the past 45 years, Dick and Millie DeBolt have passed on Twin Ports Testing to a new generation of owners to handle the next 45.

A group of seven employees, all 37 or younger, bought the firm at the end of June and intend to build on the foundation the DeBolts provided.

"These kids are all professionals," Dick DeBolt said. "They're at the top of their game, and they know what they're doing."

The company offers nondestructive testing, environmental consulting, industrial hygiene and chemistry and other services that the new owners say won't change a bit.

"The makeup of Twin Ports Testing hasn't changed," said Ryan Malich, director of business development. "We're heavily invested in the future, starting now and for decades to come."

'Dirt engineers'

Based at 1301 N. Third St. in Superior, the sign in Twin Ports Testing's window gives an apt description for what the company does: "We support mining."

The company also supports construction, oil and gas companies, universities, engineers and many others.

"It's probably easier to list the industries we haven't been involved in," Malich said. "In a typical construction project, we can be involved from beginning to end."

The company was founded in 1972 to test pipelines, but DeBolt added more and more services throughout the years, such as geotechnical exploration and fuels testing.

New company president and principal engineer Mike Haapala, who jokingly called himself a "dirt engineer" last week, said that while other businesses provide similar testing and consulting services, Twin Ports Testing provides a breadth that others don't match.

"Dick was really good at identifying opportunities in the marketplace," he said.

There is room for further growth, perhaps including satellite offices on the Iron Range or elsewhere, but the group of seven is still settling into their roles running the business.

"We're still dotting the i's and crossing the t's," Malich said about their growth plan.

Maintaining relationships

DeBolt, 71, was confident the team that emerged to buy the company would do well by the way he built the business.

"Ninety percent of our business relationships we've had, we've kept into the future, rather than just running to the next one," he said. "We've kept those relationships."

Malich said the change is more of a continuation than a new beginning.

"It's so exciting to have people who are already experienced in place," he said.

Haapala and Malich own Twin Ports Testing alongside Stephen Sundeen, chemistry laboratory manager; Joe Berger, construction materials testing field and laboratory supervisor; Brett Carlson, geotechnical engineer; Jim Johnson, geotechnical engineer; and Pat Kelleher, nondestructive testing manager.

The owners didn't disclose what they paid for the business.

DeBolt said that while he and his wife transition into retirement, he remains grateful he was able to be a "glorified shop teacher" for so long.

"I want to make sure I thank every one of our loyal customers and our dedicated group of professionals," he said. "We're just thankful it worked out this way, and had a wonderful career."

Brooks Johnson

Brooks is an investigative/enterprise reporter and business columnist at the Duluth News Tribune.

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