Benishek visits Calumet business

CALUMET – U.S. Representative Dr. Dan Benishek found himself in some like-minded company when he visited REL, Inc. in Calumet Thursday.

Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, is well known for his desire to repeal the Affordable Care Act, while REL’s top leaders say the act, sometimes known as Obamacare, is increasing the cost of insuring their 20-some full-time employees, and making that cost harder to plan for.

“We just went to a group health plan and our cost went up 40 percent for next year,” said REL Vice President Adam Loukus.

“There’s lots of uncertainty, and it makes it hard to decide whether we’re going to hire new employees or not,” added Robert Loukus, Adam’s father and the company’s founder.

Benishek, a former practicing physician, said he doesn’t know that the Affordable Care Act will improve care either, regardless of cost. However, he doesn’t foresee a repeal without significant personnel changes in Washington.

“To get changes we have to win some elections,” he said.

After a discussion with REL leadership in the company’s office, Benishek was given a tour of the company’s production floor, where REL creates high-tech materials, sometimes a combination of metal and ceramic, to build products as varied as lightweight brakes for motorcycles, armor for military vehicles, custom materials testing and analysis equipment, and automated machine-building equipment.

A Daily Mining Gazette reporter was not allowed on that portion of the tour, with Robert Loukus citing the confidential nature of some of the company’s processes, but Benishek was impressed with what he saw.

“These guys are on the cutting edge of technology for materials,” Benishek said. “They’ve solved problems that multiple builders said couldn’t be done, and the company’s potential for growth is amazing.”

He also noted that many of REL’s engineers were educated close to home at Michigan Technological University, and said he’d do everything he could to use his contacts to help the company.

If he succeeds, it wouldn’t be the first time REL had worked with the federal government.

Company President Josh Loukus, also Robert’s son, said NASA sought REL’s help when it was working to get back into space after the Columbia space shuttle disaster. NASA was seeking help with insulation for space shuttle panels, and REL invented a new type of compressive thermal processing to create that insulation.

“We got a letter that said we saved the space program,” Josh Loukus said.

In a brief interview after the tour, Benishek commented on Washington’s recent actions to raise the federal debt limit. He said he voted against a bill earlier this month to raise the limit, despite the possibility of a government shutdown if the bill had failed, and despite his vote several months ago to raise the limit.

“I voted for it in the past, but we got something with it,” he said, referring to spending cuts that were attached to the earlier bill. “This bill made no steps forward at all in cutting spending.”