Iowa Lakes Electric member is pleased with the co-op's reliability and affordability

Torben Baumann
Torben Baumann, production manager for HiPer Ceramics, stands in the company’s Spirit Lake location that produces materials used for prosthetics, such as hip implants.

About five years ago, Torben Baumann and his wife, Betti, moved over 4,500 miles from Germany to Spirit Lake, Iowa, with their young son. “We moved here with, I think, two suitcases – nothing else – and into my wife’s grandma’s basement for the first year,” Torben Baumann says.

The Baumanns moved to Iowa to start the second location of HiPer Ceramics, a business Betti’s parents started in Germany in 1995. Back then, the business exclusively produced ceramic parts for industrial applications.

“Whenever you want to use parts in an environment that is either in a high-temperature or corrosive environment, advanced technical ceramics is the material of choice because of its superiority over metals in those situations,” Baumann says. His parents-in-law later formed HiPer Medical, which uses advanced technical ceramics in the manufacturing and development of ceramic parts to use in prosthetics like hip implants.

HiPer Ceramics’ Spirit Lake location produces the materials for those implants. “Currently, we’re making the ceramic powders that are used at our German plant to process the finished product,” Baumann says. “And, we’re planning on expanding the business, having some more steps of the whole process here in the United States.”

One might ask why a business would move halfway across the world to set up shop. And why Iowa? Baumann says there are quite a few reasons. One is that Betti’s family is from Iowa, so there are social structures there. And, since it is a family-operated business, having extended family to talk to and help out was a big factor.

Personal reasons played a big part in their decision to make Iowa the location for the American branch of HiPer Ceramics, but the move was ultimately made due to the increases in cost and the decreasing reliability of electricity in Germany over time. Baumann says high-quality, reliable electricity is a necessity for the business, and Germany’s decision to transition away from nuclear and coal to rely almost solely on renewables and natural gas has caused major reliability issues.

“The plant in Germany is currently experiencing spikes in frequency and voltage that cause sensitive electronics to shut down in the middle of the process, causing a lot of damage, and we’re wasting a lot of material because of it,” Baumann says. “It is mainly caused by the lack of thermal power plants at this point, because we need large rotating mass and a lot of inertia to keep the frequency and the voltage level free of spikes. These spikes are causing many problems in Europe.”

Since Baumann has moved to Iowa, natural gas prices across Europe have become volatile due to the war in Ukraine, and the cost of electricity has been up to three times more in Germany than he is paying in Iowa. He says the electricity the plant receives from Basin Electric Class C member Iowa Lakes Electric Cooperative is both reliable and affordable, and he is pleased with the service he receives.

In addition to the reliability and affordable cost, Baumann says he’s been very happy with the degree of personal relationships and support his business gets from Iowa Lakes Electric, saying Jed Skogerboe, Iowa Lakes Electric’s manager of Business and Community Development, has always been very responsive and helpful and even introduced his family to the community.

“We work closely with our members to understand the issues that are important to them,” Skogerboe says. “For HiPer Ceramics, it is ‘no blinks.’ If there is a blink during the manufacturing of raw material to be shipped to the parent company in Germany it creates a significant monetary loss, approaching six-figures. Reliability is key for this member.”

Five years and another son and daughter later, Baumann says he and his family are happy to be in Iowa. “It’s a nice area. Germany is pretty much the size of Iowa and Minnesota combined, while having a population of 84 million. Iowa and Minnesota combined have, I think, under 9 million, so there’s a lot less people in the same space. That’s a big difference,” he says. “Not many people in Europe think about the Midwest or Iowa as the place to go, but there is a certain way of life that we really enjoy. This is a great community with friendly people with good work ethics. We’re happy to be here.”

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