Working for peanuts to help cashew farmers

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Former small business owner Dave Peterson is heading back for a second tour in Ghana to try and help develop a cashew processing plant, continuing earlier work as a technical advisor to an asoociation of several hundred cashew farmers. Photo: Neal St. Anthony/Star Tribune

Dave Peterson sold his small food brokerage in Mound a few years ago and is taking on a much larger challenge now in retirement. In Africa.

Peterson, 64, served in the Peace Corps 40 years ago. He returned in 2010-11 to work with a growers' association representing several hundred farmers in southwest Ghana on a plan to improve the maintenance and yields of cashew trees. It's working.

Peterson, who is completing a several-month stay in the United States, leaves this week for the second phase of his project: to execute plans for a cashew-processing plant that would create 500 jobs in Ghana. So instead of shipping the cashew harvest through traders to India for processing, as they do now, the growers in Ghana can process the crop locally and ship it from there to wholesalers.

"I want to help the growers build a strong association and help build a processing facility that will contract with the growers," Peterson said over coffee recently. "The decisions are being made at the grass-roots level. The idea didn't come from Washington. The unemployment rate in Ghana is more than 50 percent."

Peterson and his Ghanaian allies have developed a business plan that calls for a plant and working capital valued at $3.5 million that would process 4,500 metric tons of raw cashews annually. These farmers are poor. He's trying to attract U.S. or other corporate or financial partners interested in a long-term investment.

Peterson, who gets paid less than $475 per month in the Peace Corps, says he has enough money to live modestly "as long as the stock market doesn't take another big hit."

The trim Peterson, father of two adult children, doesn't look a day over 50. Volunteering is good for your health, locally or internationally.

EXPANDING LOCAL PLANTS

Germany-based Turck, which has 375 employees at its U.S. hub in Plymouth, plans to add another 50 people this year thanks to a 50,000-square-foot addition and investments that total about $6.5 million. Turck, which opened here in 1976, has expanded its Plymouth operations to the point where it ran out of space in its 80,000-square-foot building. Ground was broken late last year on the plant that makes electronic equipment and parts.

"The new addition will house a new finished goods area and expanded manufacturing and we're adding equipment and tooling," said Turck marketer Karie Daudt. "Our motto for the year is 'building for the future.'" In addition to Plymouth, Turck has 25-plus subsidiaries around the globe, serving regional markets, and manufactures in Plymouth, Mexico, Germany, Switzerland and China.

JEM Technical Marketing, founded in 1984 by John and Sheryl Menge, has operated from a variety of rented offices and industrial facilities around Long Lake and Orono.

In June, the 90-employee company will start moving into a new, 40,000-square-foot building, and consolidate its sales, engineering, warehouse, assembly and corporate offices on Old Crystal Bay Road in Orono, right in the old neighborhood.

The $3.5 million project will buttress the manufacturer of integrated hydraulic valves serving mobile and industrial equipment manufacturers in the Upper Midwest.

Polly Anderson, a JEM spokeswoman, said the company is expanding to Canada, at the request of a manufacturing partner, and has several job openings.

"Business is good," Anderson said. "We're bullish." 

ECOLAB AND BILL GATES

Ecolab hit an all-time high stock price last Monday after Bill Gates-controlled investment funds announced they would buy up to 25 percent of the St. Paul-based company in a friendly agreement. But not everybody is in love with Ecolab, which closed on its huge, $8 billion acquisition of Nalco last December. The deal doubles the bet on the sanitizing-and-pest-elimination company that's now, by virtue of the Nalco acquisition, also in the industrial-water services industry for paper makers, oil drillers and refiners.

In a note to investors, Carol Levenson of Gimmecredit.com, an independent research boutique, says the Gates-related commitment is a good sign for long-term investors. But Levenson said she is still unsure how this train is going to come together and run. Levenson concedes that skeptics of the mega-merger has been "dead wrong thus far" as investors in Ecolab's stock and bonds have done well so far in 2012. Still, she predicts the company will "underperform" the market going forward.

SHORT TAKES:

Dean Chris Puto of the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business is staying put for a while. Puto, who announced earlier his plans to step down from the dean's post and return to teaching after a decade at the helm, has agreed to stay on for the 2012-13 academic year. His decision means St. Thomas won't have to appoint an interim dean while a new permanent dean is sought. Meanwhile, UST grad Tim Flynn, recently retired chairman of KPMG International, has agreed to chair the executive committee of the Opus Strategic Board of Governors. He will assist Puto on several fronts.

•The Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce will host its second annual golf tournament on May 21 to support its college scholars fund. Student golfers will be paired with business leaders to demonstrate their skills as golfers and practice the art of networking. A buffet and awards reception will follow. More info at www.minnesotabcc.org.

"Our goal is to raise $10,000 this year to support these students and others through college graduation," said chamber president Lea Hargett. The chamber has a partnership with the University YMCA through its Collegiate Achiever Program (Y-CAP) that focuses on college, career readiness and retention practices.

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