Chrissy Klocker, laid off from a St. Paul engineering firm during the Great Recession of 2008-09, was waiting tables at a St. Paul restaurant when she was invited by a hiring manager at Donaldson Co. to interview as the company was starting to ramp up production of industrial filtration products in 2010. Klocker was featured in a hopeful column I wrote about the economy and employment that got parlayed into a nationally broadcast piece on NBC Nightly News.

It took longer than hoped, but the state reported in September that Minnesota employment has risen to 2.79 million jobs, 5,100 higher than the previous peak month of February 2008. Klocker and many other Minnesotans are in a better place than they were four years ago.

Klocker, 28, a civil engineer out of North Dakota State University, recently was promoted to applications engineering manager. She has the good people skills as well as technical skills.

“It’s a great group of seven application engineers and we get along very well,” Klocker said last week. “We’re all hard workers and we know when to ask for help and we like working as a team together.”

Maybe we need to send Klocker to Washington to help develop a long-term federal debt reduction deal and avert the next fiscal crisis early next year.

Adviser Marks still believes in independent investing model

Some old colleagues believe Ben Marks, the Minnetonka investment manager who likes to chide Wall Street, is a pot calling the kettle black. They were irked by last week’s column about Marks and the growing ranks of independent registered investment advisers (RIA) as the number of registered representatives at traditional brokerage houses shrinks.

Before launching the Marks Group in 2008, Marks moved among three Wall Street brokerages, each time collecting the “waffle” — a forgivable loan of up to two times trailing-year compensation to compensate the broker for bringing over clients to the new firm. Big brokerages use them to lure top performers. Reformists are pushing regulators to require ship-jumping financial advisers to disclose such payments to clients.

And Marks was sanctioned, along with others at Piper Jaffray, for selling the late Worth Bruntjen’s derivatives-laden Piper bond fund as a conservative investment 20 years ago to hundreds of individuals and institutions who sued Piper for hundreds of millions when interest rates rose in 1994 and the fund crashed in value. The downfall of once-golden Bruntjen at Piper Capital Management was the securities industry flop of the decade in these parts.

“I was named in a case that the City of Mound brought against Piper Jaffray for the product failure of the Short Term Institutional Government Income fund [that resulted in an $800,000 settlement],” Marks said last week. “Piper indemnified me, paid all legal fees … the marketing materials for the fund misrepresented the risks to both the brokers and the clients.”

Marks said he is not part of an arbitration proceeding brought by clients against UBS over the sale of (since-bankrupt) Lehman Brothers structured notes.

“That said, we did have some clients who owned UBS-issued Lehman structured notes,” Marks said. “We have been diligent the past five years in communicating with those clients the status of the bankruptcy proceedings and all current and pending class-action settlements. The Piper fund and the Lehman notes are perfect examples of why I believe the traditional Wall Street model is challenged. Increasingly, [investors] seek the advice of local independent firms that are not affiliated with Wall Street institutions that create the products.”

The Marks Group is a fee-based manager of $500 million-plus for more than 200 clients.

Solar garden launches

The first planned “solar garden” in Minneapolis opened to subscribers last week amid uncertainties about how such deals will work under a 2013 state solar energy law.

MN Community Solar began offering subscriptions to Xcel Energy customers to share in the output of a new solar panel array planned atop a Lake Street business. Each subscription unit is called a leaf, consisting of half the output of one, 410-watt solar panel over 20 or 25 years. Subscribers get credit on their monthly bills for their share of output.

CEO Ken Bradley said that by Friday six customers had made partial, fully refundable subscription payments on the system to be installed on the roof of the Northern Sun retail store.

State regulators haven’t yet defined some of the rules for solar gardens, including the length of subscription contracts. But Bradley said his company opened up subscriptions — subject to refund if customers don’t like the final terms — so the project can get underway when the rules are known next year.

“Otherwise, the project won’t be ready,” Bradley said.



• Mark Sellner, independent tax adviser and adjunct professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, reports that Minnesota Vikings seat licenses are not tax-deductible for business purposes. “The amount deductible for any sports ticket used for business entertainment is limited to the face value of the ticket,” Sellner said. “This rule kicks out seat licenses and scalper fees. The IRS allows a tax break for seat licenses at college sports, but not for professional sports.

“In the case of a corporate skybox lease, the amount allowable as a deduction may not exceed the sum of the face value of non-luxury box seat tickets. That doesn’t mean that some of those costs won’t sneak through an expenses report as marketing expense, but it’s not right.”

• Minnesota is more than halfway toward a statewide goal of 1,000 “Energy Star” certified buildings and has more than doubled the number of certifications since 2010, according to a new report by the Great Plains Institute (, which works with diverse interests on energy and environmental issues. “Energy Star-certified buildings in Minnesota have grown from three buildings in 1999 to 561 buildings in 2013,” said report author Amir Nadave. “Since 1999, the Environmental Protection Agency has recognized the most efficient buildings in the country with an Energy Star.

• The Autism Society of Minnesota will host a forum on “Autism & Employment” on Thursday at Cargill Excelsior Crossings. Jon Ander Badiola, president of Cargill Foods of Venezuela, will deliver the forum’s keynote presentation on developing social and occupational skills in people with intellectual, physical and sensory disabilities. Participants will include hiring managers, business owners, family members and local employers; employees with autism will speak about their employment journeys. More information at:

• Carmichael Lynch Spong boss Doug Spong has won a lifetime achievement award from the Public Relations Society of America. Earlier this year, Carmichael was named “Creative Agency of the Year” by trade journal The Homes Report. Carmichael Lynch Spong is one of the 25 largest U.S. agencies.

David Phelps