Valspar Corp., a cornerstone Minnesota company and one of the state's best-performing stocks over the last five years, also has been investing at its corporate campus at 3rd Street and 11th Avenue S., a couple of blocks east of the Vikings stadium site.

Late this month, about 270 corporate employees will move into a refurbished headquarters building on the Valspar campus into which the coatings and paint maker has invested more than $40 million for a new corporate and research center. The building will house a total of 400 employees.

The five-story, red brick structure was placed on the National Register of Historic Places last year. It opened in 1903 as the home of the Minnesota Linseed Oil Co., a varnishes and paint manufacturer that merged with Valspar in 1970.

That building is one of four that constitute Valspar's global headquarters campus. Since 2009, Valspar's headquarters was leased space in the Ameriprise Financial building downtown.

The board and senior management decided to consolidate activities in a unified corporate campus.

"The mix of rich history, aggressive new development and a very active environment is a great fit for Valspar," said Tony Blaine, Valspar's senior vice president of personnel.

In recent years, Valspar, which generates about $4.5 billion in global annual revenue, has benefited from the economic recovery and the return of the U.S. housing industry.

Employment grew from about 8,700 in January 2012 to 10,500 today due in part to recent acquisitions and retail partnerships.

CEO Gary Hendrickson in November reported record earnings and sales. Valspar has rebounded smartly with the housing and construction industries. Earnings rose 23 percent on a 10 percent increase in sales in the last fiscal year thanks to volume and productivity increases, and new initiatives.

Valspar has been one of the top 15 stocks to own since 2010 in the Bloomberg-Star Tribune 100 index of Minnesota's largest public companies. It provided a total annualized return of 28 percent.

Bell State Bank of North Dakota Grows in Minnesota

Richard Solberg, a banker from Finley, N.D., and Fargo-area farmer Thomas "Buck" Snortland founded what is now Bell State Bank & Trust more than 30 years ago in Fargo, N.D.

The little bank has become a growth company, in part by diversifying away from its home state and in part due to the mercurial oil-and-gas boom.

"We have chosen to grow east for 15 years so we are more like a Minnesota firm," said Michael Solberg, a veteran banker and son of Richard Solberg who became CEO of Bell State last month. "We have a large correspondent network with community banks in western North Dakota [through loan-and-services relationships], so we participate in the oil business. But we also needed bigger markets. And I would say that nearly half our business is in Minnesota.

"We start in the Red River Valley and head southeast through the Central Minnesota lakes region and into the Twin Cities. We've got a growth strategy."

Solberg, 42, who is also an attorney out of William Mitchell College of Law, presides over a profitable franchise that, at $3.3 billion in assets, also is one of the largest independent banks in the Upper Midwest.

The main business is commercial lending. However, Bell State accelerated its growth when it acquired Bell Mortgage of Golden Valley in 2011, just in time for the housing-and-mortgage market recovery. It also has added a smaller Twin Cities bank with 15 Twin Cities and Florida offices. The growing mortgage business is the nucleus for expanded relationships with new and existing customers.

"We originated between $1.5 billion and $2.5 billion in mortgages in each of the last three years," Solberg said last week.

Solberg, who lives in Fargo but is in a Twin Cities office regularly, said the company just concluded what will be its fifth record year of financial performance in a row.

The bank is owned largely by the Solberg and Snortland families and employees.

"Private ownership is huge," Solberg said. "We don't have to worry about this quarter's earnings."

Nominations Still Open for Ethics Awards

The Minnesota Business Ethics Awards (MBEA) steering committee reports that it will take nominations through Jan. 23, after which nominated companies will have until March 25 to complete the entry materials. Marvin Windows, the Minnesota winner in the big-company category of more than 500 employees, last year went on to win the national competition.

The MBEA recognizes Minnesota businesses that exemplify and promote ethical conduct in the workplace, the marketplace and the community. Since its founding in 1999, the MBEA has recognized 46 Minnesota-based businesses, ranging in size from less than 10 employees to more than 150,000. The MBEA was founded by the Twin Cities Chapter of the Society of Financial Service Professionals and the Center for Ethical Business Cultures (CEBC) at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business. The National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors also is a sponsor.

More information on the competition and past award recipients:

Fallon's BMW Ads are Classics

The landmark feature film shorts produced by the Minneapolis ad agency Fallon for BMW have been selected as one of the top 15 ad campaigns of the 21st century by Ad Age.

Ranked at No. 3, the BMW films were called "the first great example of branded content in the 21st Century" by an Ad Age judge. The project include eight film dramas running about 10 minutes apiece. Famed Hollywood directors such as Ang Lee and John Frankenheimer directed the pieces and star performers included Clive Owen, James Brown and Don Cheadle.

At the center of each story was a hard-driving BMW. The campaign was called "The Hire." Click here for a free ride:

David Phelps

Hearings Will Shed Light on Solar Project

The Minnesota Public Utilities Commission has scheduled public hearings about 24 possible sites across the state for Aurora Distributed Solar, a large solar project planned by Geronimo Energy to serve Xcel Energy electric customers.

Chisago City: 11 a.m. Feb. 9, Chisago City Community Center

Pipestone: 11 a.m. Feb. 10, Pipestone Performing Arts Center

Montevideo: 6 p.m. Feb. 10, Montevideo Community Center

Faribault: 11 a.m. Feb 11, Buckham Public Library

Montrose: 11 a.m. Feb. 12, Montrose Community Center

Paynesville: 6 p.m. Feb. 12, Paynesville High School

David Shaffer