A Japanese manufacturer is the latest sign that a bet placed years ago by the St. Paul Port Authority on conversion of a petroleum tank farm near the Mississippi River is paying off.
Matsuura Machinery USA held a ribbon-cutting Tuesday in front of 300 spectators for its new U.S. headquarters, which opened last month in a new 38,000-square-foot building at the Port Authority’s River Bend Business Center. And local officials bent over backward to underscore how happy they were to have them.
Katsutoshi Matsuura, president of Matsuura Worldwide, unwrapped a book of Minnesota photographs from state Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Katie Clark Sieben and received a framed local magazine story on the company from Port Authority President Louis Jambois.
From Mayor Chris Coleman, he received a picture of Mickey’s Diner and the ultimate St. Paul gift: a six-pack of Summit beer.
“I’m overwhelmed by your hospitality and welcome,” Matsuura said. “Thank you for all you have done to make this a positive experience for me and our company.”
The seeds for that experience were sown a couple decades back in the rocky beginnings of what would become the River Bend park, in the West End between Shepard Road and the river.
First planned as a manufacturing park once the old tank farm was scrubbed, River Bend evolved into an office and warehouse center with its first tenant in 2007, Internet Broadcasting Systems. The Service Employees International Union Local 113 and the Minnesota Nurses Association followed.
Now Matsuura occupies most of River Bend’s third building, constructed on spec in 2011 with private financing and some tax-increment financing proceeds. There’s only space enough in the 22-acre business park for one more building, Jambois said.
Although the Port Authority was late to discover the company was scoping out the Twin Cities, once the two connected River Bend proved practically perfect, Matsuura USA President John Schwartz said.
“We liked the location, close to downtown St. Paul and on a direct line with the airport,” said Schwartz, who grew up in New Brighton and graduated from Irondale High School. “The majority of our visitors fly here.”
Matsuura USA, a wholly owned subsidiary of Japan-based Matsuura Machinery Corp., was formed recently after working through a U.S. distributor for 40 years. The company, which had worldwide sales of $170 million last year, designs and develops high-quality machining centers.
Matsuura wanted to locate somewhere in the central part of the U.S., with quick access to either coast. Chicago was an early front-runner, along with other Midwestern cities. What sold the company on the Twin Cities was local facility costs, estimated by Schwartz to be about half of what they are in Chicago and less than other places.
Although the River Bend building’s ceiling is a tad lower than they would like — it would be easier to move machines inside with a crane than a fork truck, Schwartz said — they liked the space well enough to ink a 10-year lease with an option to buy. Company officials believe that nearby redevelopment, trails and green space will only boost business interest in the River Bend area.
Jambois, on the other hand, believes that Matsuura’s new presence in St. Paul will itself prove a draw.
“If you land a company like Matsuura that has global reach, they become an attraction for other companies to locate nearby,” he said. “This will open doors. It’s a great opportunity to show off St. Paul and showcase the entire Twin Cities.”