IrriGreen, an Eden Prairie landscape-irrigation outfit that cuts installation time and water use in half through digital technology, is one of three finalists among 20 participants in the North Central Region of the Cleantech Open business-accelerator program. It will compete next month for $250,000 worth of cash and in-kind services at the Cleantech Global Forum in California.

"This year's group of entrepreneurs are further proof the clean-tech industry is a diverse mix of business models, technologies and products that is much broader than typical notions of renewable energy," said Justin Kaster, director of the regional Cleantech Open. "These companies show Midwest leadership in this space."

The three other regional finalists headed to the national competition are Chicago-based HVET, which makes advanced electric motor technologies; Barasa of Wheaton, Ill., which has a patented process for converting industrial organic waste to topsoil, and SiNode of Chicago, which makes a new type of battery.

The Cleantech Open runs "the world's largest clean-tech accelerator" designed to fund and foster entrepreneurs with big ideas that address today's most urgent energy, environmental and economic challenges. It is supported by Chevron, Wells Fargo, Faegre Baker Daniels and a host of venture funders.

Since 2006, 581 Cleantech Open companies in the United States have raised more than $660 million in capital and created thousands of jobs, Kaster said.

St. Paul-based EarthClean Corp., a 2010 Clean Tech national winner, makes TetraKO, a water-and-cornstarch based fire-retardant alternative to toxic chemical foams used by firefighters. More information:


Minnesota's ethanol industry used nearly 37 percent of the state's corn crop to produce biofuel in 2011, according to new state data.

A state Agriculture Department report said the largest market for corn was export -- 42 percent of the 1.2 billion bushels harvested. Ethanol was the next biggest market for corn.

The corn-to-ethanol percentage overstates the corn consumption for fuel because it doesn't account for the animal feed byproduct made from corn by the state's 21 ethanol plants. That byproduct, called distillers grains, replaces feed corn, especially for cattle.

Minnesota farmers used distillers grains to displace 60 million bushels of feed corn. When that's subtracted out, Minnesota's corn-to-ethanol rate drops to about 32 percent. The actual percentage is a bit lower because ethanol plants also sell distillers grains out of state. Those sales were not tallied in the report.

Overall, the state's ethanol plants took in less corn in 2011, down 11 million bushels to 440 million bushels from the record year of 2010, according to the report by Market Research Director Su Ye.



There's still open seats at Tuesday's Minnesota Chamber of Commerce "Manufacturers Summit," at the Hilton Hotel in Bloomington.

Speakers will take on exporting, ways to tackle the prickly job skills gap and prepare a pipeline of future workers. Increasingly manufacturers are striking partnerships with local technical colleges and others who retrain older workers and new workforce entrants. Despite persistent unemployment, demographers say the nation is headed for a skilled-worker shortage over the next decade as the economy expands and baby boomers retire.

Patrick McHale of Minneapolis-based Graco, a CEO who rose from the factory floor, will deliver the keynote address. Other speakers include Joan Thompson, chief financial officer of Minnesota Wire and chairwoman of the chamber's Minnesota Manufacturers Coalition; regional economist Ernie Goss from Creighton University and Steve Rosenstone, chancellor of Minnesota State Colleges and Universities.

Residents of Riverside Plaza and the Cedar Riverside Neighborhood, as well as a lot of construction workers, can celebrate this month's $132 million renovation-and-refinance of 40-year-old Riverside Plaza, which badly needed the overhaul by Sherman & Associates. Developer George Sherman and a minority partner bought the former Cedar Square West in 1988. The complex, 1,300 apartments and a refurbished, expanded school for 180 kids, is home to college students, working-class immigrants and young professionals. The renovation created 200-plus construction jobs; 90 of them were filled by Minneapolis residents. Sherman tapped public and private financing, including $50 million in pension funds from the AFL-CIO Housing Investment Trust, and $1.9 million from a Minneapolis housing fund. Thirty-three miles of plumbing and heat pipe were replaced as part of an energy upgrade that should cut a third off the complex's $3 million annual utility bill.

Harvesting Hope, the fall wine tasting event that benefits the Greater Minneapolis Crisis Nursery, raised about $280,000 recently in its largest-ever fundraiser. The Haskell's-sponsored event at the Marriott Southwest has netted more than $1 million from eight of these "harvests." The nursery, supported by RBC Wealth Management, Norwest Equity, Best Buy and many others, has sheltered over 50,000 tykes from distressed families, offering medical care, a warm bed and attention from staff and volunteers. It's always open, has a 24-hour hotline and provides counseling for parents.

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