By John Lauritsen

THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. (WCCO) — During the pandemic, a northern Minnesota company has developed a unique problem — they can’t hire people fast enough.

Digi-Key is an electronic components distributor in Thief River Falls.

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They’ve grown quickly and are now processing over 5 million orders a year with clients across the globe.

“The thing I like to say is if you take your iPhone and smash it all over the ground and open it up, the little tiny things in there, we sell things like that,” said Shane Zutz, vice president of human resources.

Digi-Key got its start in 1972 when ham radio operator Ron Stordahl got the idea to sell electronic parts. Today, they are one of the biggest companies few people have heard of — outside of the Thief River Falls area. They operate like Amazon with next day delivery.

“What we’ve seen right now in 2021 is absolutely explosive. We are blowing at the seams here,” said Zutz.

Growth was expected but not like this. Digi-Key sells to the military, plus health care and engineering companies.

When COVID hit, they got involved with parts for medical devices like ventilators and thermometers. As a result, some months they’ve hired 50 to 100 people just to keep up with demand.

“I’ll be the first to admit when we started hiring people I was very nervous. Having the space, the ability to distance to give confidence to our employees,” said Becky Kofoed, senior manager, employee relations.

And it’s been working. One of their goals is to keep unemployment in the area low and bring employees to this town of about 8,800 people just south of the Canadian border. They don’t expect the market to slow down anytime soon but they do anticipate that hiring at this rapid pace will eventually taper off.

“We’d hire 150 people a month right now if we could on the front end of the year,” said Zutz. “We knew it was going to grow but not at this rate or at this level.”

Because of the company’s growth, the Thief River Falls airport has flights to Louisville and Memphis for package deliveries.

Digi-Key said they consistently have about 250 resumes in their application pool. They currently have 4,000 employees working in Thief River Falls.

John Lauritsen