The state of Minnesota approved its first five grants worth $2.27 million to manufacturers as part of the new, $24 million Job Creation Fund. The fund hopes to attract scores of companies to Minnesota and to encourage firms here to stay and expand in the state.

The new fund replaces the JOBZ program that recently expired.

While JOBZ mainly relied on tax credits, the new fund promises approved companies up to $1 million in grants provided they first add at least 10 full-time workers in Minnesota and spend more than $500,000 to expand or update factories, warehouses or technology facilities in the state.

So far, the state has approved grants to Axis Clinicals in Dilworth ($779,988), Heraeus Medical Components in White Bear Township ($498,100), Bluegrass Proteins in Dawson ($650,000), Harmony Enterprises in Harmony ($215,000) and Valmont Industries in Farmington ($129,000).

Combined, the five companies plan to add 240 jobs in Minnesota.

The state's biggest draw to date is Axis Clinicals, an India-based clinical-trials laboratory that decided to open a new $12 million facility in Dilworth with 100 employees.

Kentucky-based Bluegrass Proteins will bring 56 jobs to Dawson, a Lac qui Parle County community near the South Dakota border. Bluegrass plans to invest $18.2 million to buy and retrofit the Associated Milk Producers' raw milk plant, which was shut down about a year ago, displacing more than 100 workers.

News of the grant thrilled county and company officials, said county economic development director Pamela Leh­mann. The creation of "56 jobs is very critical to what is going on here, and we are very excited that [Bluegrass] will becoming to our community," she said.

The entire county's population is just 7,000 people, "so 56 jobs will have a huge impact," she said, noting that the new hires will include maintenance and line workers, managers and lab staff. Renovation of the old milk plant will begin as soon as financing is secured in the next few weeks.

Heraeus Medical is expected to use its $498,000 state grant to add 55 workers. It plans to spend $7.8 million to renovate its existing plant in White Bear Township.

One of the state's smallest grants will go to Harmony Enterprises, which makes waste compactors and recycling balers. Its plans include 14 new hires and a $1.1 million plant expansion.

Valmont, an aluminum pole maker with operations in Minnesota, Indiana and Canada, will add 15 workers and invest $1.1 million in its Farmington factory.

While small, the grants are seen as an important economic development tool that can make the difference between a company choosing to expand in another state or country, state officials said.

In a statement, Gov. Mark Dayton praised the new program as one that can continue to drive the state's recovery from the 2009 recession. "We still have more work to do to continue our state's economic growth and create more good-paying jobs for Minnesotans," he said.