Scaling up service

In the past year, Minnkota Power Cooperative acquired Great Plains Tower Services in an effort to keep its climbing technicians local.


Kaylee Cusack


June 20, 2024

If you were about to scale a 340-foot-tall telecommunications tower, one 12-inch ladder rung at a time, what would you choose for your soundtrack? On a May morning near Warsaw, N.D., the first song on tower technician Colby Todd’s playlist felt a little too on the nose.

“Dream on, dream on, dream on – dream until your dreams come true,” Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler belted from the smartphone speaker space between Todd and his climbing partner, Scott Francis, as they harnessed up for the climb. Some would say this Great Plains Tower Services crew was living the dream. Others would call this career a nightmare.

Francis has been building, inspecting and maintaining towers for utilities, cellular service providers and telecommunication companies since 2008. That’s a long time, a lot of towns and a lot of towers.

“We were actually out by Minot [N.D.] yesterday and we stripped a 300-foot tower – took all the lines and antennas off that,” he said. “Tomorrow, depending on the weather, we’ll be out towards Carrington [N.D.] or we’ll see what it’s doing out by Roseau [Minn.].”

Technician Colby Todd (right) connects a 40-pound beacon light to his harness to haul to the top of the tower. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

On this day, the three-person Great Plains Tower Services team (led by technician Corey Johnson) would be climbing Minnkota Power Cooperative’s Warsaw telecommunications tower to upgrade the top beacon light, mid-level lights and lighting cables to an LED system. They have had the co-op as a client for years, but at the end of 2023, Great Plains Tower Services became a wholly owned subsidiary of Minnkota in a move that was beneficial for Minnkota, Great Plains and tower owners across the region.

“Things changed a little bit, but not a whole lot. Minnkota still wants us just to do our job,” Francis said. “They want us to keep our customers.”

Great Plains Tower Services technicians Colby Todd (bottom) and Scott Francis follow several safety procedures during every climb. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

Win-win-win partnership

For several years, Great Plains Tower was one of the few tower products and services companies in the region, serving North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and areas of Montana. Around four years ago the owner of the business started making plans for retirement and put the company up for sale. As soon as Minnkota Telecommunications Superintendent Wyatt Stramer heard the news, the wheels in his head started turning.

“I thought, depending on how that goes, if someone snatches them up from out of state, or they are simply dissolved, our costs are going to skyrocket,” he said.

Towers allowing communication between Minnkota’s substations and control center are vital for a reliable grid, and regular maintenance was not something that could be cut from the budget. With more than 40 telecommunications towers to care for, Stramer knew Minnkota was going to have to make a proactive maneuver. When another investor purchased the fabrication side of the business, Minnkota leapt at the opportunity to acquire the services division – now named Great Plains Tower Services – as a wholly owned subsidiary.

“Minnkota wanted to keep this business rate as flat as possible for us, but also for all our counterparts who use this team,” Stramer said. “The goal was to keep them around locally and keep them doing the work that these companies need done into the future.”

Colby Todd (left) and Corey Johnson work together to replace the beacon light at the top of the Warsaw tower. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

The acquisition was finalized in the final days of 2023. Minnkota’s team took on the administrative tasks of the tower technicians so they could focus on what they do best – building and fixing towers. Minnkota also helped hire Colby Todd as the third member of the Great Plains climbing trio.

“Great Plains has always been top-notch – their work, their work ethic, everything. If you have a problem, which is very rare with them, they’ll get after it no questions asked,” Stramer said.

The high life will continue for Francis, Johnson and Todd, who haven’t seen business slow down for a second. There will always be towers to climb; some for a 15-minute repair, some for a 10-hour rebuild.

The entire crew meets in the middle of the tower during maintenance work. (Minnkota/Michael Hoeft)

“It’s multiple times a day,” Francis said. “People don’t realize all of the back work that goes into it, with rigging and raising things, and all the heavy lifting we end up doing. And then all of the work that goes into putting the systems up and stuff. They don’t realize how big everything is,” he added, explaining that an antenna alone can be a couple hundred to a couple thousand pounds.

Even with the backbreaking work, the men of Great Plains Tower Services remember to have each other’s back, always putting communication and safety at the forefront. But that doesn’t mean they can’t take a moment to snap a mental photo of the landscapes of the Upper Midwest. “Everybody has their favorite site that they go on,” Francis said. “It’s not always the tallest, not always the shortest. It’s one of those things where you just kind of take it for what it is.”


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