The recent expansion and hiring efforts at HVAC manufacturer Unison Comfort Technologies in north Minneapolis has strengthened the relationship between the company and the neighborhood, Unison Comfort President Jay Althof said last week.

Fifth Ward City Council Member Blong Yang has been enthusiastic about the $5 million-plus expansion of Unison Comfort’s complex along Interstate 94 between W. Broadway and Lowry avenues. It will accelerate production of high-efficiency heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems for commercial and industrial customers.

The business has increased office-and-manufacturing employment by about 100 since 2014, to 325 workers today. There are still openings for jobs that average $17 an hour plus benefits.

“It’s a super big investment for our business,” said Althof, who has hired some neighborhood residents and worked with a nearby plumbing-supply firm to upgrade their properties.

About 70 of Unison’s employees live in Minneapolis. There will be more. Unison, which operates smaller plants in Tennessee and California, received $480,000 in state and city loans and grants tied to hiring, in-plant training and green technology.

Unison Comfort and several other expanding North Side businesses have embraced the Minneapolis Grow North initiative that provides financial incentives, including down payment assistance for workers who buy houses in north Minneapolis. Commercial and residential redevelopment have lagged on the North Side compared with more-prosperous areas of the city.

“Grow North is an incentive to attract employers and assist North Side businesses in expanding,” said Kristin Guild, business development manager for Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development. “The incentives include a forgivable loan up to $200,000 for capital equipment, which is forgiven at a rate of $5,000 per employee hired [after three years]. The second part of the program is up to $10,000 in assistance to employees who buy a house.”

Muffy MacMillan recognized for global advocacy

Twin Cities native Martha “Muffy” MacMillan joined TV journalist Meredith Vieira, New York Yankees legend Mariano Rivera and several dozen others who were honored for their advocacy of immigration, human rights and philanthropy with the Ellis Island Medal of Honor from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations at ceremonies on May 9.

MacMillan, a descendant of the founding Cargill and MacMillan families and a onetime Cargill employee, now focuses on giving back, including the Cargill Foundation, PACER Center, the Economic Club of Minnesota, Abbott Northwestern Hospital Foundation and Opportunity International, the grass roots microfinance organization that helps finance mostly women-owned small enterprises.

“I’ve raised five kids, and now my career is service,” said MacMillan, “If you have been given the gift of resources and means, such as I have been, well, to whom much is given, much is expected.”

Having a developmentally disabled daughter got the MacMillan family hugely involved in PACER Center.

MacMillan has joined with retired Cargill CEO Warren Staley, also a hands-on volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, to chair a $50 million agricultural-finance campaign for Opportunity International. It works through micro loans and local trainers on village-level programs of water, health, sanitation and improving productivity and profit of tiny farmers.

“I have this legacy of agriculture and food, and Opportunity International is about health and healing and women and families,” MacMillan said. “Nothing makes me feel better than helping others. There’s a huge spiritual component.”

This also is called giving money a good name.

Bob Koppes remembered

Bob Koppes, who died of cancer this month at the age of 58, was a creative businessman who mattered.

A 3M engineer in the 1980s and volunteer Woodbury firefighter and emergency medical technician, Koppes founded Safe Reflections, a company that designs and manufactures reflective material for uniforms and sportswear.

Koppes thought emergency workers needed better reflective material to protect them 25 years ago.

“Bob was modest enough to know what he was really good at and what he was not,” said CEO Chuck Gruber, whom Koppes hired in 2012 to run Safe Reflections. “He was willing to hire people to help him where he needed help. And then get out of the way of those people as they [went about] their task. Many entrepreneurs can learn from him.

“Bob was quick to try things and was so observant to learn from what happened around him. Bob was passionate about everything he did. I have never met a person as generous and caring as Bob. He made sure every employee was cared for. He was there for them at time of need. He paid his employees well and even paid annual bonuses to temporary employees,” Gruber said.

“Integrity was his internal guiding principle. He always took the high road and did the right thing,” Gruber added.

Koppes saved lives with his inventions. Here’s a column from January.

Short takes

• Experts from the Minnesota and German water industries, one of the world’s best, will share best practices and technology ideas in wastewater management, markets and infrastructure solutions at an all-day conference on Tuesday at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Center. The free event is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The Minnesota Trade Office also is involved. Register at the German American Chambers of Commerce: www.gaccmidwest.org/en/water_mn.

• A record 1,300 fledgling businesses and social entrepreneurs in food, health, technology, energy and other areas have entered the Minnesota Cup business plan sweepstakes. More than 10,000 entrepreneurs have received insights and services through the competition, which is designed to light entrepreneurial fires and create great Minnesota businesses. For an update: www.mncup.org.