Inside track: Thor execs, Clintons share stage in Haiti

  • Article by: NEAL ST. ANTHONY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 27, 2012 - 9:34 PM
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Ravi Norman, second from left, and Richard Copeland, center, of Thor Construction with Hillary Clinton.

Photo: , Thor Construction

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The brass at Fridley-based Thor Construction were in Haiti last week with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who encouraged foreigners to invest in Haiti as she and her husband, former President Bill Clinton, led what the Washington Post called a "a star-studded delegation" to inaugurate a new industrial park.

Thor won a $17 million USAID contract to build 750 housing units and other work adjacent to the new Caracol Industrial Park, which should create several thousand jobs about 100 miles from the earthquake-ravaged capital of Port-au-Prince. After the 2010 earthquake, President Obama enlisted former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush to lead rebuilding efforts.

Chairman Richard Copeland said a Thor crew of about 25, including skilled Haitians, oversees about 500 Haitian laborers.

"We're training them to build to international building code standards," Copeland said last week. "It's not the way it's typically done in Haiti. The site is about 30 minutes from a large city called Cap-Haitien. It's part of the strategy to get some people out of the squalor of overcrowded Port-au-Prince.

"It's no small task. But we believe in this as a firm. And we are honored to be entrusted by the U.S. government to do a project of this magnitude and importance."

The houses are built of reinforced concrete block with a plaster finish inside and outside. They also have electricity, plumbing and running water.

Actors Sean Penn and Ben Stiller and British business magnate Richard Branson were among the luminaries on hand.

"We learned that supporting long-term prosperity in Haiti meant more than providing aid," Hillary Clinton said at the event. "It required investments in infrastructure and the economy that would help the Haitian people achieve their own dreams ... creating jobs and sustainable economic growth."

Bill Clinton, whose foundation has raised tens of millions for Haiti, is a U.N. special envoy for Haiti. The Clintons and allies say the $300 million industrial facility will transform the northern part of the impoverished country. South Korean apparel giant Sae-A Trading has agreed to create 20,000 permanent jobs within six years and also build 5,000 houses. Backers say the entire park has the potential to generate up to 65,000 jobs, according to the Washington Post.

A paint manufacturer, Peintures Caraibes, became the second tenant in July and will export its paint and that of Sherwin Williams.

Meanwhile, such nonprofits as Trees for the Future are working with local villages on more basic efforts to replenish Haiti's denuded hillsides, which has led to horrific flooding and environmental devastation.

SHORT TAKES

• Low-profile, high-altitude Raven Industries acknowledged last week that the research balloons used by Austrian Felix Baumgartner in his record-setting Red Bull Stratos mission earlier this month were manufactured by the Sioux Falls-based company's Aerostar division, producer of scientific balloons since the 1950s.

 Mark West, Raven's chief technology officer, said last week: "We understand the level of technology, dedication and effort that was needed to return man to the stratosphere in this program. And we are impressed with the professionalism and concern for safety displayed by the entire Stratos team. We applaud their success."

The Red Bull Stratos balloon ensemble boasted a diameter of 425 feet and a weight of 3,708 pounds. Take a look at: www.redbullstratos.com.

• Back at ground level, Chicago Lake Liquors owner John Wolf, who turned a frayed-edge store in a tough neighborhood since 2000 into a respectable merchant in a rebounding commercial area anchored by the Midtown Global Market, will open a 10,000-square-foot, warehouse-style liquor store Nov. 26 in Park Place Shops in St. Louis Park.

Wolf will focus on local and national brands at everyday-low prices. Wolf, who once was a professional sports agent in Chicago, hails from the Applebaum grocery family. He said Liquor Boy will carry 800 wines and lots more. It will compete with a high-volume, low-price business model, with lots of informed help and carry-out service.

• Bob MacDonald, who opened the Twin Cities office of executive recruiter Russell Reynolds in 1987, has published a book about his 40-year passion for good restaurants and wine.

Andrew Zimmern, host of the "Bizarre Foods" show, praised MacDonald and his book, "Knives on the Cutting Edge: The Great Chefs Dining Revolution," for his "complete understanding of the way the world of fine dining works ... a serious palate, an educated approach, a personal connection to food and a globalist sensibility. Bob has all that."

MacDonald, chuckling last week, said he didn't think he'd make a buck on his ambitious writing-and-publishing endeavor about top-rated chefs: "But it's been a lot more fun than I thought it would be. I wrote the book because I have this passion for the greatest chefs of the last 20 years. They changed the way people look at food. They've made fine dining an evening's entertainment. They take risks and do what nobody had done before, and I didn't think anybody had written a book about this."

• Small-business people may apply for up to $500 in export training or up to $7,500 for approved export-development activities through the STEP Export Assistance for Small Business program, reports Jennifer Kocs of the Minnesota Trade Office. The program is open to first-time exporters or those interested in new markets. More info: www.positivelyminnesota.com/step.

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