Vision-Ease Lens, which pulled back from an initial public offering as the stock market tanked in 2008, is growing nicely, but plans to remain a private company, CEO Doug Hepper said recently.

Vision-Ease, a spinoff years ago from the former BMC Industries, expects to grow sales about 6 percent to $110 million and is hiring at its 350-employee headquarters and factory in Ramsey.

“We’re too small to go public in today’s market,” said Hepper, who employs about 1,000 total in the United States, Europe and Asia. “The owners look at us and say … we’re worth more in the future than today, as we continue to innovate our products and services and grow our business.”

Vision-Ease makes thousands of different types of eyeglass lenses for hundreds of customers, including Wal-Mart and Lenscrafters clients, who want same-day product shipping.

Vision-Ease recently was named to the 2013 InformationWeek 500 of top U.S. technology innovators.

“Most of the companies that get this recognition tend to be pretty big, so this is important,” Hepper said. “We view ‘IT’ as extremely strategic and integral to our business. IT helps with our business processes, quality and efficiency. We used to get almost all of our orders over the telephone. Now 75 percent of our orders come to us over electronic media. That’s better for the customers and makes us better. Less is lost in the translation and it’s more efficient.”

The company also manufactures at modern plants in Thailand and Indonesia.

“More than 50 percent of our value comes from our Ramsey factory,” Hepper said. “We make high-value products, polarized and photochromic [lenses] that change from light to dark in the sun. From 2007, we’ve had annual raises and maintained benefits. The company has been surprisingly stable through the recession and recovery.”

Insight Equity and Rosewood Capital of Texas have been the principal owners of Vision-Ease since 2004.


Cellulosic ethanol plant rising in Iowa

One of the nation’s first plants for making ethanol from inedible parts of the corn plant is in the thick of construction in Emmetsburg, Iowa.

About 300 workers are on site at the cellulosic ethanol refinery being built by Poet-DSM Advanced Biofuels in north-central Iowa. Major parts of the plant are completed, including the biomass receiving structure and fermentation tanks, the company said. The opening is planned for 2014.

The $250 million plant, known as Project Liberty, is a joint venture between Sioux Falls, S.D.-based Poet, the nation’s second-largest ethanol producer, and Netherlands-based Royal DSM, which produces enzymes used in the process. The plant will use corn stalks and cobs, but not corn kernels, to make fuel.


Xcel’s giant generator restarts

Xcel Energy’s largest power generator in the Midwest is going back online.

The company said its coal-burning Sherco 3 unit, which was badly damaged in an accident nearly two years ago, will resume generation on Monday, and ramp up to full power after final testing. Tests have been underway since early September, when the 900-megawatt plant in Becker, Minn., briefly went online at partial output.

The repairs, largely covered by insurance, have cost at least $146 million, though customers have paid an extra $64 million to purchase higher-cost replacement power, the utility has said. The Southern Minnesota Municipal Power Association, which owns 41 percent of the unit, also had to buy replacement power, but covered the cost with reserves.



Hunger-Free Minnesota plans to capture up to 1 million pounds of newly harvested surplus sweet corn to be delivered fresh to low-income families in up to 20 other locations in the United States. The largest single rescue of agricultural surplus to date is the result of Hunger-Free Minnesota funding and assistance provided by Cargill, food processors Seneca Foods and Pinnacle Foods Inc., and General Mills.

The corn, starting last month and continuing through October, will be harvested, cooled, packed and shipped in 40,000-pound truckloads to food banks that have preordered the corn through the Feeding America network. While food banks are working to increase their capacity to handle and distribute fresh produce, the sophisticated logistics of managing a huge volume of surplus food is beyond the resources of a single organization. The September corn rescue included months of planning following a 2012 pilot program. There’s much donated harvesting and labor along the way. More info:


John Van Dine, the founder who’s stepping down this month as CEO of Faribault-based Sage Electrochromics, said he raised about $300 million in equity and debt capital over nearly 25 years before Sage’s 2012 sale to French building-products giant Saint-Gobain for an unspecified sum. That included an initial funding of about $35 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, the Pentagon and joint-development programs with 3M and other energy-researching companies

Sage Electrochromics in June shipped its first large order of energy-saving, variable-tint glass from its new, $150 million Faribault factory. The 170-employee company could grow to 250 workers as production ramps up. The new plant allows Sage to produce larger-sized, lower-cost electrochromic glass for major commercial buildings.