Fab areas for Minn. factories? Five, in fact

  • Article by: DEE DEPASS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 22, 2013 - 9:05 PM

Magazine launches list of great places in state for manufacturers to operate.

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A statue of F. Scott Fitzgerald oversees Rice Park in St. Paul, one of the cities in the state considered especially manufacturer-friendly.

Photo: David Brewster, Star Tribune

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A handful of Minnesota cities really know how to show their factories some love. So, Enterprise Minnesota Magazine has come up with an official list of five great places for manufacturers to do business in the state.

Making the cut were St. Paul, Mankato, St. Cloud, the Iron Range and Douglas County, all of which were lauded for their efforts to support manufacturers in their areas. From partnerships with education and economic development to redeveloping land to offering lower-interest financing, these five cities and regions are bolstering manufacturers to ensure future growth, the magazine noted.

"There is a defined strategy within each of them, but the greatest is that they are all working toward a common goal in their community and a focus on the next-generation workforce," said Bob Kill, CEO of the manufacturing consulting firm Enterprise Minnesota, which rolled out its inaugural list of "Five Great Places to Be a Manufacturer in Minnesota" in its online magazine on Wednesday.

He noted that it's common for the St. Paul Port Authority to focus on how factory jobs are being developed or retained. Since 1962, the authority redeveloped 1,200 acres of land into 22 business parks with 500 companies and 17,000 workers. The authority also gave a $500,000 forgivable loan to Brazilian-owned Gerdau Steel for a new metal casting facility, provided it maintains 330 workers.

Up north, the Iron Range Rehabilitation and Resources Board helps direct state funds to improve thousands of mining and timber jobs.

"And there are lots of examples where the president of Alexandria Technical College or Greater Mankato Growth and other economic development groups go out to their businesses to ask, 'What can we do to make this a better place for you to add jobs and make this a better community?'" Kill said.

"It's really a collaboration. These five areas are strengthening their economic base for future growth."

Of the five communities chosen for the list, Douglas County might be the most famous for its uniquely helpful collaborations.

The community, which sits in and around Alexandria, has a small army of manufacturers that crank out giant automated-packaging machines and equipment.

Douglas Machine, Aagard, ITW Heartland, Massman Automation Designs and the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission formed an association to promote their industry, recruit and train workers.

Instead of stealing workers from each other, they work together to bring new people to the area. They agree not to hire each others' workers, because that wouldn't help the community, Kill said.

The Douglas factories frequently work with the Alexandria Technical and Community College and help secure student-training grants from the West Center Initiative community foundation. The goal is to ensure the area has a well-trained workforce.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725

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