Weathering the Storm
Business activity never stopped in Minnesota, even during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
Minnesota certainly didnâ€™t escape the recession, but the state has weathered the storm better than many places, thanks in part to a diverse economy that includes a strong mix of private and public corporations. The stateâ€™s publicly traded Fortune 500 companies include Target and Best Buy (retail), Hormel, General Mills and Land Oâ€™Lakes (food products), Thrivent, Ameriprise and U.S. Bank (banking and financial services), and Medtronic (medical devices).
Minnesota ranks second, only behind the District of Columbia, for the most Fortune 500 companies per capita in the country and is a leader nationwide in privately held companies, such as Cargill, Carlson Cos. and Schwan Foods.
Even during the worst of the recession, business activity never really stopped in Minnesota. In the past year, state officials worked with a significant number of business prospects that were interested in expanding or relocating in the state.
One business that chose to expand here was McQuay International, which opened a $52 million research and testing center in the Minneapolis suburb of Plymouth in May. The company, which specializes in making heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems, will develop energy-efficient commercial air conditioning systems at the facility.
About 70 people will work at the 49,000-square-foot research/testing complex, which McQuay officials say will be the most advanced heating, ventilation and air conditioning research center in the world.
Meanwhile, residents of northeastern Minnesota are hopeful that the region is on the cusp of an economic renaissance, thanks to the Essar Steel project. Site preparation is under way on the $1.7 billion taconite-to-steel facility that is expected to be operating within two years north of Nashwauk.
The project represents a major shift in an Iron Range region that historically has mined taconite but shipped it elsewhere for steel production. The Essar facility will be the first complex in North America where iron-ore mining, processing and steelmaking are handled on a single site.
Not to be outdone, southeastern Minnesota lured Moventas Inc., a Finnish builder of gear boxes for wind-power turbines. The company is planning an 80,000-square-foot manufacturing facility that will employ about 100 people in the community of Faribault, about 45 miles south of the Twin Cities in Rice County.
Moventas is a good fit for a state that is developing a major wind-power sector. Wind turbines are sprouting like trees in the Buffalo Ridge area of southwestern Minnesota, thanks to some of the steadiest breezes on the continent in that region. The state ranks fourth nationally in capacity for wind-energy production and generates a larger percentage of its energy from wind power than any state in the country.
Other projects in Minnesota in the past year include:
â€˘ iQor Inc., a New York City-based company that provides call center services for companies around the world. iQor opened a new call center in November that will bring hundreds of jobs to Plymouth.
â€˘ NuCrane Manufacturing, which broke ground recently on a manufacturing plant that will build specialty cranes for nuclear power plants. About 50 people will work at the facility in the community of Hutchinson, about 60 miles west of the Twin Cities.
â€˘ Xccent Inc., a maker of playground equipment, decking, outdoor furniture and other products that is moving to the suburban Twin Cities community of Wyoming. The company plans to hire 100 employees in 2010 and perhaps another 100 in 2011.
â€˘ St. Jude Medical, which opened a 180,000-square-foot office, research and manufacturing building, significantly expanding its corporate campus in the Twin Cities suburb of Little Canada. The new facility will house up to 600 employees, including about 350 new hires.
Hoping to encourage continued economic development elsewhere in the state, officials introduced the Shovel Ready Site Certification Program this past fall. Under the program, planning, zoning, surveys, title work, environmental studies, soils analysis and public infrastructure engineering will be completed before sites are offered for industrial and commercial development.
Sites that are certified shovel ready are more attractive to companies and site-selection consultants because they save time and increase the efficiency of new development. Three Minnesota citiesâ€”Brainerd, Dayton and Rosemountâ€”joined the program in the first year and many more have expressed interest for 2010.
Another resource that businesses can tap for guidance is a newly designed Web site by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the stateâ€™s lead business development agency. The agency unveiled an easy-to-navigate site recently that outlines state programs and services for businesses, job seekers and local units of government. Go to www.PositivelyMinnesota.com to see it.