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Cabinetmakers find stimulus work

Mike Williams sands boards that will be cabinets for a stimulus-funded project in Park Rapids. Williams Construction was awarded the contract using almost exclusively local labor and materials. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

Cleo Williams knew there was a downturn in the construction business. He and son, Mike, felt it deeply. The small business west of Park Rapids needed work.

When Cleo learned of a federal stimulus project for the Park Rapids Housing and Redevelopment Authority, making kitchen and bathroom cabinets, he acted.

"There just wasn't a lot of work out there," he said.

The criteria for obtaining Recovery Act loan and grant money is simple: Buy American, make American.

Cleo littered his workshop with notes from questions he asked about the program. Six months later, pen in hand, he was ready.

He worried along the way. "I'm not a traditional cabinetmaker," he said. But he learned to be and dedicated his entire shop to the efforts. He'd built houses and beautifully crafted wooden canoes.

As local contractors prepare to meet bid specifications for Recovery Act projects, Cleo, owner of Williams Construction, probably best illustrates how it's done successfully.

Williams Construction will be installing hundreds of bathroom and kitchen cabinets in the River Heights apartment complex. Cleo and Mike now maneuver around in a woodshop filled with 6,000 pieces of wood and cabinets in various stages of assembly. The first was installed Tuesday.

Here, in Cleo's own words, is his description of how he planned to comply, and where the stimulus money would go:

"The face frames of the cabinets and vanities will be wood that was harvested from the Smoky Hills, west of Osage. From there the wood went to Jon Cordahl's sawmill in the Dorset area. The lumber was graded and selected as #1 and better.

"The product went from there to Wick's Woods in Akeley. It was air dried there for five months and then kiln dried. That product will be sawed into the dimensions that I will need for the job.

"I will also be using red oak plywood which was manufactured in the state of Washington. The oak veneer that goes on the plywood comes from anywhere in the northern states of the U.S., much of it from Wisconsin and Minnesota. It was then sent out to Washington, shipped back to Renneberg's Hardwood in Menahga. I will be purchasing from them, which meets all the HRA specs.

"These cabinets will be hand-constructed by myself at my shop west of Park Rapids.

"The stainless steel sinks, with the brand name of L.K., are made in Oak Brook, Ill. The bathroom marble vanity tops, made by the company Donahue (Products) in West Fargo. The countertops are manufactured in Fargo by Fabricators Unlimited...

"The mirrors will be purchased at a local store in Park Rapids. The drawer guides and hinges will be American made."

Father and son are busy routing, grinding, sanding and attaching doors to cabinet sides.

Piles and piles of wood are the results of Cleo's efforts, and testament to where the money was spent, and which local workers benefited. Cleo hired a local man just to stain the cabinets. He and Mike were too busy building them.

And that makes Cleo Williams happy.

"There are all these mills and workers around here that can do the work," he maintains.

And those are the businesses and employees the Recovery Act was intended to benefit.