While driving down Highway 10, it’s impossible to ignore the drastic changes taking place at the future home of Tri-County Health Care. What was once a simple farmstead is now the beginning stages of construction on a healthcare facility that will serve thousands of people. Buildings have been removed, trees taken down and earth moved. One may think, who is behind this massive undertaking? Well, it may be interesting to hear that it’s a local and homegrown business – Kern & Tabery.

Kern & Tabery knows a thing or two about serving the local communities. They have been in the business dating back to 1953 when Simon Kern and his son-in-law, Don Tabery, started the business. Names and faces have changed over the years, but two things have not – the company has stayed in the family and remained local.

Brad Kern, president of Kern & Tabery in Wadena.
Photo courtesy Tri-County Health Care
Brad Kern, president of Kern & Tabery in Wadena. Photo courtesy Tri-County Health Care

Don’s kids – Ken, Keith and Kevin – purchased his share of the business in 2000. Simon retired in 1991, leaving his share of the business to his son Frank. When Frank passed suddenly in 2008, his son, Brad, stepped up. When Kevin retired in 2020, his nephew Ryan purchased his shares of the business and now serves as vice president next to Brad. Throughout the years, several of the Kern & Tabery kids worked for the family business in the summers.

Ryan Tabery, Kern & Tabery vice president.
Photo courtesy Tri-County Health Care
Ryan Tabery, Kern & Tabery vice president. Photo courtesy Tri-County Health Care

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Projects have changed over the years as the company adapted and expanded. Kern & Tabery boasts the ability to manage and complete a wide range of projects – large and small. Formerly, they did a lot of mass grading for road construction, but now their staple is re-grading of existing roads for state and county entities. Other projects include mine reclamations in North Dakota, constructing city lagoons and water treatment facilities and projects like driveways for private residences.

Then there is, of course, the large local project for Tri-County Health Care. Kern & Tabery’s bid consisted of demolition of existing buildings, clearing out all the trees, mass grading, stripping the black dirt, cutting, filling and importing sand material to get to the designed elevations, putting in all the sewer piping, storm sewer, sanitary sewer, building the access roads, digging the footings and backfilling them, putting in the aggregate base for underneath the sidewalks, curbs, gutters and parking lots, and re-spreading all the topsoil and temporary seeding and mulching.

If that sounded like a lot of work, it’s because it is! This hospital project won’t be one where they come in, finish their work and move on to the next project. The 10-12 people on the Kern & Tabery team assigned to the project will be there for the duration of the project.

“We always joke as the earthwork people that we’re the first people in and the last to leave,” said Ryan Tabery, Kern & Tabery VP. “We’re hitting it hard for 1-2 months to get ready for pouring concrete, then we’ll maintain roads for cranes and concrete trucks, and be back to build the gravel road and eventually finish topsoil work for the final landscaping in 2022.”

While Kern & Tabery is located in Wadena, their projects send them to Montana, the Wisconsin border and everywhere in between. That means being on the road for several months out of the year. Completing a job that keeps them close to home and benefits the community makes the work extra special.

“We’re all WDC graduates and lived in this community our whole lives, so to be able to build this hospital for our community means a lot to us,” Ryan said. “We’re excited to be part of this important project and be able to say we played a part in it.”

Economic impact from construction

The construction cost of Tri-County Health Care’s rural health care center of the future is budgeted for $61 million. Based on nine employees per $1 million in construction cost, that means 550 people will receive wages and benefits as a result of this work, valued at over $19 million. As those wages and benefits are spent on goods, services and housing, over $43 million will be spent in our region above and beyond the cost of the construction.

Tri-County Health Care’s new facility is scheduled to open in the spring of 2023 and it has been estimated that 48 new jobs will be created. An additional $4.4 million in new wages, salaries and benefits will be added to the organization as it expands its service lines. As these dollars cycle through the local economy, more than $9.6 million of incremental dollars will flow through various organizations and businesses every year.