U.S. steps in to help pork producers
 
U.S. pork producers, devastated by low hog prices and high expenses, got good news Thursday when the Department of Agriculture promised to buy $50 million in surplus pork for school lunches and other federal nutrition programs. The announcement follows letters from Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn.; Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and others urging that the federal agency step in to help stabilize the industry, which is on track to lose as much as $3.5 billion this year. The federal purchase is designed to help shrink pork supplies, which would boost market prices paid to producers.

H.J. CUMMINS

Twin Cities rental housing market

With home prices still dropping, the Twin Cities rental housing market continues to show signs of improvement.

During the first quarter of 2008, the average vacancy rate in the Twin Cities metro area declined to 3.9 percent from 4.2 percent the previous quarter and 4.4 percent from a year ago, according to a report released Thursday by GVA Marquette Advisors in Minneapolis. Stronger demand for apartments is pushing rents up. During the first quarter, the average rental price in the market rose to $908, up 3.7 percent over the past 12 months and 1 percent from the previous quarter. More detailed data can be found at www.startribune.com/homes.

JIM BUCHTA

Stearns Inc. to close Grey Eagle plant

A central Minnesota company that makes water-safety and outdoor equipment is merging with a larger company and cutting 166 jobs.

Stearns Inc. says it will close its Grey Eagle manufacturing plant and cut jobs in Sauk Rapids. The company will do business as the Coleman Co., and will transfer responsibilities to its headquarters in Wichita, Kan.

Stearns sold products under several brands, including Stearns, Sevylor, Sospenders, Hodgman and Mad Dog Gear. Employees whose jobs are being cut will be offered severance packages, the company said.

ASSOCIATED PRESS