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Inside Track

A look at what’s behind today's Minnesota business headlines.

AURI says it's boosting Minnesota food companies

The Minnesota Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI) points to small, growing food-and-fiber companies as evidence of recent success.

They include names such as Amazing Chickpea and its chickpea-based, gluten-and-nut free spreads; Lou Lou Foods protein and energy bars, and working with EarthClean on new uses for its cornstarch-based fire suppressant.

AURI CEO Shannon Schlecht said in the most recent report to stakeholders companies assisted by AURI invested $89.9 million and realized sales of $76.9 million between 2010 and 2016 as they created or retained a total of 603 jobs.

The feedstock for the growing list of local food companies is provided by Minnesota farmers who seek new and expanded markets for their corn, wheat, soybeans and assorted specialty crops. 

AURI, based in Crookston, Mn., worked on more than 200 projects, including 114 initiated in fiscal 2016, particularly in the food industry. AURI also works with farmers and food makers on uses for agricultural byproducts and wastes, and alternative energy products through its laboratories and business consulting.

AURI, which last year received $3.64 million of its $4.4 million in revenue from state appropriations, also operates facilities in Marshall, Waseca and St. Paul.

Former Arthur Andersen employees leave bright legacy

The Minneapolis office of the former Arthur Andersen accounting firm had a great reputation for top-notch work and professionalism.

And the reputation is only getting better--fifteen years after the national accounting firm shut down as a result of federal charges against Andersen’s Houston office and headquarters that resulted from the financial fraud that brought down energy-trader Enron.

About 160 former Minneapolis employees of Arthur Andersen, who still gather for social and charitable events, quietly raised about $1.5 million of the $4.75 million capital campaign to build the new fitness and wellness center for folks with disabilities at the Golden Valley campus of the Courage Kenny Rehabilitation Institute, the merged Courage Center and Sister Kenny Institute.

Fittingly, it’s called the Arthur Andersen Minneapolis Alumni Fitness & Wellness Center.

People with disabilities have difficulty finding accessible facilities and exercising at the level expected for the general population, said Jeanne Olson, manager of aquatics and fitness at Courage Kenny.

And the 6,300-square-foot facility, twice the size of the one it replaced, is one of only six nationally that is part of the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation NeuroRecovery Network that also focuses on exercise for improvement in the lives of people with spinal cord injuries.

Courage Center, Sister Kenny and Andersen relationships date back to the 1960s, said Duane Kullberg, a retired Andersen Minneapolis managing partner.

CFO Steve Polacek of Capella Education, the last Minneapolis managing partner of Andersen, said the former Minneapolis partners and staff  who organized the effort “wondered if we could raise a million bucks.

“And we ended up with over $1.5 million,” Polacek said.

About $500,000 will go to a scholarship fund for people who need financial assistance to use the facility.

Polacek, Kullberg, Jack Jasper, another former Minneapolis managing partner, and Jerry Schwalbach, also a one-time partner, were among the ringleaders of this effort.

Andersen’s demise was sealed after federal prosecutors charged it criminally in the Enron financial fraud, although most Andersen offices had nothing to do with Enron. Clients fled. Several years later, in 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Andersen's federal conviction for shredding Enron accounting documents.

Virtually all of the Minneapolis partners joined other firms, businesses or otherwise.

They also kept the Minneapolis-Andersen culture alive.