The Star Tribune is again teaming with Pennsylvania research firm WorkplaceDynamics to identify Minnesota’s Top Workplaces. Nominations are now open for our sixth annual issue.

Nearly 59,000 employees at 314 organizations participated in last year’s survey. They were asked to respond to 22 survey statements aimed at measuring three critical elements of the workplace: organizational health, the employee’s job and engagement.

Last year’s survey identified 155 companies where responses generated scores that exceeded a national standard established by WorkplaceDynamics based on survey efforts in more than 40 metro areas, including Chicago, Boston and Atlanta. From that, 100 top companies were ranked.

The upshot from last year’s survey results: Employees at the top workplaces in Minnesota were more positive about where they work than employees at top workplaces around the country. Will that stand this year? It’s time to find out.

If you know of a company or nonprofit organization with 50 or more employees that deserves to be considered for this year’s Top Workplaces ranking, submit your nomination at www.startribune.com/nominate. The nominations must be submitted by Feb. 20. Employees at participating companies will be surveyed between January and April by WorkplaceDynamics.

In June, results will be published online at StarTribune.com and in a special print section. Last year’s section is available at www.startribune.com/topworkplaces.

Veteran donates home to vet in need

Bob Karlstrand, a Vietnam-era veteran, has a heart as big as his house.

Karlstrand, 65, is dying of cancer. And he recently concluded a legal agreement with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity that will transfer ownership of the Maple Grove house he bought in 1976 to the nonprofit. The Habitat housing group plans to renovate it and sell it a discounted price to the family of a qualified veteran under a recent Habitat veterans initiative.

“I’ve got a terminal illness and I don’t have a family,” Karlstrand said. “I’ve received world-class medical treatment at the Veterans hospital in Minneapolis. I thought the least I could do was to sell my house and give the money away and then I heard about the Habitat program to rehab the house and sell it to a veteran. It’s sometimes harder for veterans to find a job and a house.

“I’ve had a good life,” Karlstrand said. “Never sick until two years ago. I still feel good, but I run out of breath quickly. I live in a great house in a great neighborhood. It cost me $37,900. It’s appraised about $200,000. It needs updating. Still has the [1970s] orange countertops.”

Mike Nelson, Habitat’s land acquisition manager, said Karlstrand is one of several people annually who make plans to donate their house to Habitat every year.

“Bob has a big heart, a tremendous heart,” Nelson said. “It’s a great house in a great neighborhood. Close to schools. Wonderful for a family. This is very special.”

Karlstrand served in the Air Force in Thailand during the Vietnam War. After college, he worked for small insurers in administration and claims adjustment. A frugal fellow who doesn’t own a TV, he was able to retire at 50. He spent most winters since retirement traveling, living among locals and volunteering on community projects in Southeast Asia and Latin America.

Karlstrand’s cancer was detected during a colonoscopy at the V.A. Hospital in Minneapolis. His colon cancer has spread to his lungs. Under his agreement with Habitat, Karlstad can stay in his house until he dies or needs to leave for nursing care.

Lutsen Mountains Plans More Expansion

Co-owners Charles Skinner and Tom Rider, brothers-in-law whose families have owned 120-year-old Lutsen Mountains since the 1980s, are doubling down on recent investments.

The owners plan to invest $7 million in a new gondola and expanded chalet atop Moose Mountain, on top of a high-speed lift that was installed at a cost of about $6 million last year.

Skinner and Rider also plan negotiations to expand ski operations onto 400 acres of adjacent federal land in Superior National Forest. Most major ski destinations have at least some of their runs on land leased from the U.S. Forest Service. Skinner said last week that Lutsen must expand ski runs if it is to survive as a major and more economical alternative to Rocky Mountain resorts.

The new gondola replaces a unit in operation for nearly a half-century and will increase capacity from 300 visitors per hour to 2,400 per hour. No more lines on Moose Mountain.

Lutsen Mountains, which generates an estimated $29 million of the $159 million in annual tourism business in northeastern Minnesota’s Cook County, also is the largest employer.

The average Lutsen skier stays 2½ nights and spends an average of $350 per day on food, lodging and other goods and services in the area. Skinner says his business needs to grow to survive. The industry has shrunk by 300 to 470 resorts over the past 30 years as many small resorts closed.

Lutsen Mountains promotes a four-day, four-person skiing package at $1,500 vs. the $5,000 estimated cost of a Colorado resort for four, including airfare and related travel fees.

The owners indicated that they and their bankers are prepared to invest about $30 million over the next several years to expand and upgrade Lutsen Mountains.

 

Irish “Death Tax” and Medtronic-Covidien

Local investment managers and their lawyers have come across another tax implication that probably won’t make U.S. shareholders in Medtronic excited if the $42.9 billion acquisition of Ireland-based Covidien passes shareholder muster later this month.

They’ve dubbed it the “Irish death tax.”

On Page 156 of the inch-thick prospectus, there’s discussion of an Irish “capital acquisitions tax” of 33 percent on shares gifted or inherited. Although gifts to children of up to $450,000 may be exempt from the tax, Medtronic is advising shareholders to consult their tax advisers.

Medtronic, the larger company, plans to acquire Covidien and move the consolidated legal headquarters to Ireland. The corporate tax rate is a third of the maximum U.S. rate of 35 percent.

The new company will retain “operational” headquarters in Fridley. Medtronic has pledged to invest and add jobs in Minnesota.