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Rockford father-son duo combine experience with enthusiasm in manufacturing business

ROCKFORD, Ill. -
A Rockford business takes a father's 40 years of experience and combines it with his son's youthful enthusiasm and innovation to carry on a family tradition.

Co-Lin Metals Fabricating, Inc., at 5295 28th Avenue, is the only job Mike Hedlund has ever had.

"I started here when I was 15," he said.

Mike truly started at the bottom of the totem pole. "I was sweeping floors, washing machines, doing burn parts, drilling holes, just little menial stuff that they were so busy, they needed somebody just to do the little things that needed to be done."

40 years later, Mike runs the place, as one of the owners.

Mike bought Co-Lin in June of 2015, in a transaction that changed everything for him.

"I went from being an employee to, all of a sudden, now I had seven guys that I had to make sure were going to get a check every week and support their family," he said. "So, that was my biggest -- I don't want to say fear -- but that definitely weighed on me. I was like, man, I gotta make the right decisions, because if I don't, it's going to not only affect me only, it's going to affect the other people that are working for me."

Mike isn't doing it alone: his son, Stephen, is his partner. Stephen is president of Co-Lin.

"I moved up quick! Let's see how those four decades rate when it comes to the executive level!" he said.

Like his dad, Stephen started at Co-Lin as a teenager, working summers during high school, doing whatever was needed. Mike was his boss.

Mike laid him off, once.

"I honestly didn't plan on going to college," Stephen remembers. "I was just going to keep working, 'cause I liked it so much. But, that's why my dad laid me off. He goes, 'No, you're going to collge.'"

So, Stephen did go and earn his engineering degree.

He remembers the day his dad told him about the opportunity to buy Co-Lin.

"Honestly, I always wanted to. That was my goal since I worked at Co-Lin, was to run it or start my own. That was my mindset," Stephen said. "So, I think I was two days in, I just graduated college, and I think I just started my new job and I was two days into it. So, then he was like -- I remember coming home, he says, 'hey, I gotta ask you something.' And I was like, 'What?' And he goes, 'You wanna buy Co-Lin?' And I'm like, 'Well, yeah! What the heck do we do now? Where do we start?'"

Six months later, they owned the business.

In 2018, Co-Lin bought a new building and moved in about two months ago.

As the name implies, Co-Lin Metals does a lot of metal work. Most of its work is in creating custom made pieces. The company is involved in a wide range of industries, including creating pieces to refurbish antique cars.

Co-Lin is also connected to the aviation industry.

"Just in our park alone here, aerospace stuff is insane," Stephen said. "It's just cool what we make, and to see where all this stuff goes, that's actaully pretty awesome. That's why I love it."


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