The state of Minnesota’s economic-development arm is injecting $412,515 into four manufacturing businesses expanding in St. Cloud, Elk River, Bloomington and Buffalo, state officials announced Tuesday.

The Minnesota Job Creation Fund grants have been issued to robotics systems maker Central McGowan Inc. in St. Cloud ($120,000); steel fabricator Distinctive Iron in Elk River ($42,474); the high-pressure spray-gun maker P.A. SpA in Bloomington ($110,619); and lawnmower-blade maker Whirltronics Inc. in Buffalo ($139,422).

The combined awards are expected to create 35 new jobs over the next few years, said officials from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), which oversees the grants.

“I congratulate these four businesses and cities on their expansions,” said DEED Commissioner Steve Grove. “The Job Creation Fund helps ensure that Minnesota remains a competitive marketplace for growing businesses.”

Central McGowan plans to use its DEED award as part of a $1.6 million building expansion in St. Cloud.

Distinctive Iron’s award will help it buy, renovate and expand into an existing building site in Elk River. That total project cost is $1.5 million.

P.A. SpA said the money will help its $5.5 million expansion project. The company is expanding into a 65,000-square-foot building in Bloomington.

Whirltronics is expanding its own facility and adding 12 new workers at a combined cost of $3.9 million, officials said.

Dee DePass


MN Cup winner receives SBIR grant

HabitAware, a 2018 Minnesota Cup entrepreneur sweepstakes grand-prize winner, has been awarded a $225,000 R & D Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to improve its “real-time” awareness solution for those who suffer from body-focused repetitive behaviors, such as nail biting, skin picking or hair pulling.

HabitAware will design and test a wearable sensing system with new sensor technologies that can detect subtle movements associated with body-focused repetitive behaviors and can significantly improve detection accuracy of body-focused related behaviors.

“NSF is proud to support the technology of the future by thinking beyond incremental developments and funding the most creative, impactful ideas across all markets and areas of science and engineering,” said Andrea Belz, director of the division of industrial innovation and partnerships at NSF. “With the support of our research funds, any deep technology startup or small business can guide basic science into meaningful solutions that address tremendous needs.”

The study will seek to improve upon HabitAware’s publicly available awareness bracelet, Keen. It uses patented gesture-detection technology to allow a user to train the Keen bracelet by performing the exact behavior they want to reduce (e.g. hair pulling). Keen continuously monitors the user’s wrist movements, vibrating when it detects the trained behavior. The gentle vibration interrupts the behavior pattern, creating awareness of restless hand movements and allowing the user to make healthier choices to cope with stress, anxiety, boredom or other triggers. With awareness and a willingness to change, an individual can take control as the vibration of the bracelet in real-time allows one to break free of the compulsion to pull their hair or bite their nails.

HabitAware will collaborate on new sensor technologies suitable for mass production that will improve the gesture detection performance of the bracelet and widen its capabilities.

“This project has the potential to be a game-changing innovation for those suffering from these under-addressed disorders,” said John Pritchard, HabitAware’s lead hardware engineer.

Neal. St. Anthony


State SBA award nominations due Dec. 30

The U.S. Small Business Administration’s nomination deadline for the SBA’s 2020 Minnesota Small Business Week Awards is almost here. Submissions for Minnesota state awards must be mailed or hand-delivered to the Minnesota District Office by Dec. 30.

For more than 50 years, National Small Business Week has celebrated the inspiring achievements of America’s small businesses and the countless contributions they make to their local communities, and to our nation’s economy. Each year SBA’s Minnesota District Office participates by recognizing outstanding local small business owners and small business champions who help them start and grow their businesses.

The SBA Minnesota District Office will recognize individuals and businesses in multiple categories. Details on who qualifies for each award and how to apply can be found at

Neal St. Anthony