Materials Processing Corp. (MPC) of Mendota Heights, a big collector of electronic waste, has shut down in the wake of state fines for improper storage of 5 million pounds of crushed cathode ray tubes last year, the loss of a key industry certification that resulted, and the swoon in commodity prices that has hurt the electronics-recycling trade.

Competitors such as OceanTech and Tech Dump say they have been swamped with demand from former MPC customers. Last spring, MPC CEO David Kutoff, who could not be reached last week, said the company had complied with Minnesota pollution authorities by properly disposing of the material and paid a $125,000 fine that was the largest since state law required reuse, recycling or proper disposal of electronic waste. It is not safe for general landfills or incineration.

The last straw may have been MPC's loss of the "e-stewards" industry certification that is the gold standard for such materials-recovery firms, according to coverage in E-Scrap News, a trade publication that covers the resource recovery and recycling industry. MPC was losing contracts with key customers and manufacturers who subsidize product reuse and recycling.

Garth Hickle, product stewardship team leader at the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, said other recyclers, including Dynamic Recycling of La Crosse, Wis., are expanding to pick up the void left by Material Processing.

Mike Satter, an executive of OceanTech, primarily a refurbisher and reseller of corporate IT equipment, said MPC got into trouble because of the storage infraction and too much reliance on recycling. Profit margins have narrowed to the point of disappearing with the drop in commodity prices of materials such as gold, silver, platinum, copper, nickel, cobalt and aluminum, as well as plastic, that are harvested from electronics. Satter said OceanTech continues to expand because it's focused on higher value equipment refurbish-and-resell jobs that subsidize recycling.

Amanda LaGrange, marketing director at Tech Dump said the nonprofit recycler of business and consumer electronics has been hurt by low commodity prices that she expects for the rest of the year.

"We have had to make up the revenue shortfall through volume, increasing the pounds we're recycling, as well as focusing more on our refurbished sales," LaGrange said. "We continue to improve our processes and become more efficient, finding ways to streamline our operation."

Unisex skirt maker scores launch capital

Joe Quarion, a software engineer by day, has learned to design and sew clothing since the captain of his coed ultimate Frisbee team ordered everybody before a game in 2012 to wear skirts. The guys found skirts comfortable.

Quarion has launched and raised enough capital, more than $14,000 from 160-plus backers on, to commence production through a Los Angeles manufacturer of the first run of a "unisex" skirt for men and women.

This enterprise began as a home-design-and-sew project, including 25 prototypes en route to the final product that Quarion said incorporates belt loops and a zipper fly, as well as larger pockets, advocated by his male and female friends.

Quarion said last week he's focused on "skirts for all." The skirt costs $69, is made of a lightweight brushed denim and comes in black or khaki.

"There's no reason for men not to like skirts and women to not like bigger pockets," Quarion said.

Doran begins construction at Depot hotel

Doran Construction has commenced a $12 million renovation of the Depot Renaissance Hotel in downtown Minneapolis.

The owner, CSM Corp., developed the hotel in 2001 after it purchased the dilapidated Milwaukee Road Depot at 300 Washington Av. S. The redevelopment of the train station, which closed in 1971, and related expansion totaled about $93 million, CSM founder Gary Holmes estimated in 2005.

The Doran hotel renovation includes demolition of a water park inside of the hotel that will make room for an additional 110 guest rooms, a fitness center and indoor pool in the fast-growing east end of downtown where Wells Fargo is erecting two office buildings. The project also includes adding a floor — making it a total of six floors and 312 rooms.

Doran CEO Kelly Doran said the hotel is one of three projects in the neighborhood that total $190 million-plus in construction underway this year.

Doran Construction is completing Latitude 45 on Washington Avenue S., a 319-unit, 13-story luxury apartment project for Minneapolis-based developer Alatus. Also, Doran is the general contractor for the Encore, a 122-unit, 12-story luxury apartment project developed by Sherman & Associates on 2nd Street S., near the Guthrie Theater and Gold Medal Park.

Utility plans rate hike request

Minnesota's third-largest natural gas utility signaled last week that it plans to seek a rate hike for 2016.

Minnesota Energy Resources submitted financial data to state regulators, the first step in justifying a planned rate increase. The full filing with more details is expected in one or two months, a company official said.

The utility, a unit of WEC Energy Group, serves 219,000 natural gas customers in 184 Minnesota communities. Its service area includes much of Dakota County and southeast Minnesota, including Rochester, as well as Duluth and scattered northern regions from Eveleth to Detroit Lakes. It now serves Fairmont and other parts of southwest Minnesota after acquiring natural gas assets there from Interstate Power & Light earlier this year.

David Shaffer

Brisk growth for training site

About a decade ago, D.J. Paxton, a marketer, and his wife, a teacher, began an online training business for educators, Professional Learning Board, to keep their licenses in force. Out of that business, they added "Proud to Protect," an online-training business that has grown from $5,000 in revenue in 2007 to $150,000 and that includes 15 Catholic dioceses outside of Minnesota, schools and other organizations where adults deal with children. "Child abuse isn't a problem unique to the Catholic Church," Paxton said. "It can be a big problem in schools, the Boy Scouts, other organizations.

"Anyone that's working with kids has a need. It's important to organizations from a financial perspective. If they want to maintain long-term fiscal viability … they need to do background checks and training. Any organization may find itself in a situation where something bad happens. We help create a level of understanding among adults who work with children, professionals, volunteers, and among the parents, to determine when something doesn't seem right … and when to report to the authorities."

Women brewers

Several women big in the Minnesota craft-brewing trade will gather on Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. at Herkimer Pub in Minneapolis to discuss how they broke into what has been the traditionally male brewing industry.

Panelists will include Deb Loch of Urban Growler, Laura Mullen of Bent Paddle and Jacquie Berglund of Finnegans.

There is a $30 charge. More information at