When light rail trains finally roll into Eden Prairie’s transit station for the first time along the Metro Green Line Extension, it will be due in no small part to an Eden Prairie-based electrical contractor, Gunnar Electric.
Gunnar Electric is a family-owned company established in 1969 by Clay Gunnarson. Siblings Laura Karow and Terry Walters have worked at the company since 2004. In 1985, their parents purchased the business after Gunnarson passed away. In 2014, Karow and Walters bought out their parents, enabling them to retire.
Karow serves as president, while Walters is vice president. Currently, the company employs 40 skilled full-time workers.
Karow emphasized the importance of maintaining separate areas of focus with a business partner but coming together on significant decisions. Her responsibilities include project management, job estimating, administration, and finance, while Walters is responsible for overseeing sites, scheduling crews, and managing the truck fleet and heavy equipment.
“Because we’re both electricians,” Karow says, “it’s easier to come together on big decisions because we both understand electrical work.”
Walters added, “We’re both logical thinkers. We are both very open to change and finding better practices so that open mindedness tends to lead the path to the decision.”
According to Karow, about 90% of Gunnar’s business currently comes from the commercial sector. A case in point is the Metro Green Line Extension, which Gunnar Electric has been involved with for the past five years. Their work on the line has been to install all of the traction power and wiring for all communications and other vital systems required to operate the trains.
In addition to electrical work on the trains, the company has also installed tracks, stations, and related infrastructure.
Having been officially recognized as a “woman owned, minority business,” Karow explained that this has opened many doors to major infrastructure jobs in Minnesota. By virtue of this designation, the company has become an officially approved electrical contractor on all Metro Transit system projects.
Other projects have also come their way, including work on professional sports facilities.
“We’ve worked on every major sports stadium in Minnesota,” said Laura, including the recently completed Minnesota United sports facility.
Thanks to the recent passage of the Inflation Reduction Act by Congress, the next projects on the drawing board will involve building a network of charging stations to support the growing number of electric vehicles (EVs) on the roads in the Twin Cities and throughout Minnesota.
Recently, Karow was honored by Finance & Commerce for “outstanding industry leadership” at their annual Top Women In Construction event, held in March.
But according to Karow, “what we’re most proud of is the things we’re able to do in the community,” most notably mentoring other small minority-owned businesses.
“We’re able to give back,” she says, “and provide our employees with good livelihoods.”
The company has a mission statement that Karow summarizes as “true grit.” This means staying close to their customers and workers, being hands-on, and keeping the organization flat.
When asked about the most challenging aspect of running the business, Laura stated that it’s letting go or laying off workers. “It’s tough,” she acknowledged. “Our workers become like family, and we place a strong emphasis on family values.”
Karow said the most enjoyable aspect of her work is interacting with customers and finding solutions to their problems.
Since Karow and her brother Walters took over, Gunnar Electric has experienced dramatic growth. To them, this has meant wearing many hats, learning on the go, and ensuring everyone at the company works as a team.
“The best part about this job,” Karow says, “is being in the field, close to our customers and solving their problems.”
As Walters explained, “Being the son of the owner, … I guess it’s in my blood. I love the sense of fulfillment and purpose that it gives me.”
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