Eureka Recycling driver Mourssalou Boukari last week delivered the one-billionth pound of recyclables to the company’s northeast Minneapolis processing plant, just as he delivered one of the first loads of glass, aluminum, paper, cardboard and plastics when the plant opened in 2004.

Eureka, a nonprofit business formed in 2001, has grown markedly as municipal and commercial customers increased recycling for the environmental and economic benefits of avoiding landfills and incinerators, as well as selling recycled goods as a growing feedstock for new products.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency last week estimated that conversion of recycled material to new ones last year meant 60,215 jobs and $3.4 billion in wages. State recycling-industry jobs, at companies such as Eureka, have doubled in the past two decades, to 18,000 last year.

The bad news lately is that cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul, that generally have enjoyed payment for their recyclables as industrial demand and prices grew, had to subsidize the likes of Eureka, thanks to the dramatic drop in global commodity prices, from oil to steel to paper.

Tim Brownell, co-founder of Eureka in 2001 and an economist who has worked in the recycling industry since the 1980s, has seen the industry surmount commodity-price cycles before. He believes in a future of rebounding prices, growing public will to reuse, reduce and recycle and the creativity of innovative manufacturers that make more products from refurbished and recycled stuff.

Eureka also faces a key short-term challenge: It will learn later this month whether it has fended off huge Waste Management Inc., the nation’s largest garbage hauler, for five-year contracts in Minneapolis and St. Paul to handle 46,000 tons of recyclables annually worth more than $7 million.

The biggest contract, worth $6.3 million last year with St. Paul, is collecting and processing recyclables from residential and municipal buildings. The city usually splits revenue with Eureka from recycling profits. Last year it had to pay Eureka $45,000 because of depressed prices for recyclables.

Eureka is benefiting from a hometown lobbying effort by citizens who support its sole commitment to cutting waste and increasing reuse and recycling through its business and education endeavors. Minneapolis city staff already have recommended the City Council switch from Waste Management to Eureka for material processing. City staff in St. Paul have yet to recommend a provider.

Eureka, which employs more than 80 and generates revenue of about $10 million, pays premium wages of $15 to $22 an hour to full-time drivers and production workers in a trade known for low-paid, part-time help.

“Waste is completely preventable,” asserted Brownell. “And we can’t get to ‘zero waste’ without recycling. And we look at these cities as being real opportunities for what we’re trying to effect: the benefits of recycling vs. the benefits of waste. These contracts are very important to us.”

Gray Plant Mooty reaches a milestone: 150 years

Gray Plant Mooty, the Minneapolis-based law firm, may not have the global imprimatur, size and span of neighboring Cargill and General Mills.

But it is celebrating, like the huge food companies, its rare 150th anniversary this year. And the 180-lawyer firm, the fifth-largest in Minnesota, looks a lot different from the one-desk shop that Charles Woods opened the year after the Civil War ended.

Nearly 40 percent of the lawyers are women and 21 of 26 attorneys hired last year were women and minorities, said Managing Partner Sarah Duniway.

“We are a place of excellent work, constructive thought, collaborative and a lovely, diverse group of people,” she said.

Gray Plant’s roster over the years has included: the late John Mooty, a pillar of the franchise-law practice that is still a strength of the firm. He also helped turn around International Dairy Queen in the 1970s and became its chairman. Frank Gray battled Ralph Nader in the courtroom over the safety of the GM Corvair, which was the subject of Nader’s 1960s epic: “Unsafe at Any Speed.” John Crosby, a law firm partner in the early 1900s, was an incorporator of the Washburn Crosby Co., a predecessor to General Mills. Crosby became general counsel of General Mills. Gray Plant is home to several former Hennepin and Ramsey County attorneys and is the former workplace of U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar.

Taft will retire from RBC this spring

CEO John Taft of RBC Wealth Management plans to retire in May.

Taft, 61, a veteran Twin Cities money management executive, joined the firm in 2000 and was named head of U.S. wealth management in 2005.

The Minneapolis-based unit of Canada’s RBC Financial conglomerate has grown to be the seventh-largest brokerage firm in America, with 1,900 financial advisers in 41 states and more than $273 billion in assets under its administration.

“Over the 10 years I was CEO, I would say I had several different mandates, but rolled together, it was to build the best wealth management firm in America for RBC,” Taft said. “That’s the way I articulated my mandate. We measured it by growth in advisers, client assets, third- party recognition and profitability metrics. I wanted to build a wealth management firm that everybody would be proud of. I believe we accomplished that.

“We focus on revenue-per-adviser and that has more than doubled over the decade. Our productivity numbers are in top quartile, significantly above industry average.”

Taft said he has “one more chapter in my career. … I have lots of ideas but I haven’t decided on anything. I have lots of different interests. And I want to make a difference.”


Entrepreneur contest overview is Feb. 23

Paul Taylor, a mentor to fledgling entrepreneurs over the years, reports that the sixth annual Minnesota Entrepreneur Kickoff is scheduled for Feb. 23 to introduce early-stage business innovators in a variety of fields to the numerous start-up competitions throughout the year that also provide business-plan advice, other support services to competitors, public exposure, and, sometimes, investments in top finalists.

The program, hosted by more than 20 organizations that comprise the Minnesota Entrepreneur Network, also will include representatives from the business competitions such as Minnesota Cup and Cleantech Open, InovateHer and Idea Competitions.

Presenters will include several veteran entrepreneurs, including CEO Alexandra “Ali” Farnsworth of Technology Solutions Group, Matt Ronge of Astro HQ and Bob Thorbus of Arc Suppression Technologies.

More information: