Having already purchased two class rings — one for high school graduation, the other for passing basic training — First Sgt. Aaron Tyler decided to commemorate his graduation from Park University in Missouri in a different way. He bought the "Uploma,'' a five-pound, desktop sculpture adorned with his name, school, year of graduation, degree, concentration and accomplishments.

"I wanted something different for my university graduation," Tyler said in an e-mail interview from Bagram Air Field in Afghanistan. Besides, he added: "I only have so many fingers."

Made in Dayton, Minn., the Uploma is a personalized, five-sided trophy aimed at college graduates. Uploma was unveiled earlier this year and is sold at more than 100 colleges, universities and military academies, said Chris Deanovic, Uploma's director of operations and business strategy. Uploma is a unit of Titlecraft, a Maple Grove-based company that manufactures and sells trophies.

At a recent two-day grad fair at the University of Minnesota, 19 Uplomas were sold.

That's "an impressive number for a new product. We think it's a winner," said Kari Erpenbach, the University of Minnesota's marketing manager. They cost between $189 and $229.

As Uploma gains a footing, some say the market for graduation gifts is changing altogether. Many high schools have noticed that, as the years go on, fewer students are buying class rings.

"Students are less traditional and the price of gold has gone up," said Dave Brennan, professor of marketing at the University of St. Thomas, referring to reasons for the falloff in class-ring popularity.

Tom Washburn, vice president of sales at ICS Rep Group, the national sales force for Uploma, agreed. "They don't necessarily want to wear a ring, but they want to show that spirit," he said.

David Duckworth, a senior majoring in mechanical engineering, received a Uploma when he graduated from the University of Kansas. Duckworth explained the appeal of the Uploma this way:

"Everyone should get one for working their butt off for four or five years."


Habitat headS for another top year

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, which emerged during the Great Recession as one of the biggest local builders, is heading for another good year.

Last week, Women Build, the all-female crews that raise funds for their specific projects and work alongside working-poor Habitat-selected recipient families, started work on three housing projects, which will involve several hundred female volunteers.

Habitat is on pace to complete 55 new and renovated houses and 125 home-repair projects this year.

In the two-year fiscal period that ends in June, Twin Cities Habitat built or substantially renovated more than 150 homes sold to Habitat buyers; completed about 400 home repairs by partnering with elderly, disabled, veteran and single-parent homeowners, and trained hundreds of families through homeownership classes. The nonprofit also prevented the foreclosure of several hundred homes through education and advocacy work with lenders and owners. The goals for the next couple of years will be announced in June.

Habitat relies on thousands of volunteer laborers and donors who work alongside buyer-families who invest hundreds of hours of sweat equity in their homes. More info: www.tchabitat.org.

St. Paul Foundation originates loan fund for job creation

The St. Paul Foundation has made $2.1 million available for low-interest loans to support job creation in the St. Paul area.

Between 2000 and 2011, St. Paul lost 13.4 percent of its jobs, compared with a 2.2 percent loss of jobs nationwide and a 2.3 percent job loss in the Twin Cities for the same period, according to St. Paul-based Wilder Research.

"We need to create significant new high-quality jobs in the east metro area to help keep our region economically vibrant," said Carleen Rhodes, CEO of the St. Paul Foundation. "Our goal is to help create jobs that can support a household and that have the potential for advancement."

Two nonprofit economic-growth outfits — Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) and Metropolitan Economic Development Association (MEDA) — will receive a loan for slightly more than $1 million from the fund. They will, in turn, lend this money to east metro business start-ups and expansions that are creating employment opportunities. They will focus on businesses ripe for expansion to create jobs for low-income east metro residents, particularly people of color.

"These two exemplary nonprofits work in east metro neighborhoods, where there is great need," Rhodes said. "Injecting $1 million into each will make a considerable difference. The capital will be recycled several times in the next 10 years. As businesses repay their loans, NDC and MEDA will lend it again to other job creators."

In addition to the loans, each of the nonprofits will receive a $300,000 grant to increase their capacity to support loan operations, technical assistance to small businesses and a loan-loss reserve. They also will monitor and report on the economic and social impact of the loans.

The St. Paul Foundation worked with F.R. Bigelow Foundation, the Katherine B. Andersen Fund and the Northwest Area Foundation to create the loan fund.

United Way names campaign leaders

Dave Kvamme, CEO of Wells Fargo Minnesota, and his wife, Sandy, are co-chairs of the Greater Twin Cities United Way 2014 campaign.

"I've already had the opportunity to see how engaged and energized our local companies are in making sure this year's campaign is successful," Dave Kvamme said in a statement. "This truly is a community effort and will benefit so many who find their lives improved and transformed by United Way agency services."

The campaign chairs lead the campaign committee, volunteers who represent a variety of donor groups that develop and implement strategies to meet the yearly campaign's fundraising goals.

"The leadership demonstrated by Dave and Sandy Kvamme during this year's campaign will prove invaluable," said Sarah Caruso, United Way president and CEO. "With Dave and Sandy's enthusiasm and leadership combined with the continued support of Wells Fargo team members throughout the region, [United Way] is poised to make major strides in meeting campaign goals."

Kvamme, a 30-year financial services veteran, also serves on the boards of the Itasca Group, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

3M donates land to Maplewood

3M Co. has donated a parcel of land to the city of Maplewood that is under construction for a new fire station and police station.

The new building, at 600 McKnight Road, will replace an existing fire station at 1177 N. Century Av., and will include a police substation.

3M officials said they decided to donate the land after the city re-evaluated its fire protection needs.

"It's good for the residents of south Maplewood, and it's good location to serve the city," said 3M spokeswoman Donna Fleming Runyon.

Dee DePass