March/April 2024

Page 30

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Rice Companies is your local, leading design-build construction services firm that delivers integrated construction solutions, innovative projects, and partnerships. Together, we inspire the possibilities of tomorrow.

Rice Companies is your local, leading design-build construction services firm that delivers integrated construction solutions, innovative projects, and partnerships. Together, we inspire the possibilities of tomorrow.








Many companies entered the remote work world out of necessity. Most are planning to stay.



ADAPT. ADVANCE. The construction industry has faced its fair share of challenges, but local companies are skilled at bracing for whatever comes next.




Main Phone: 320-251-2940 / Automated Reservation Line: 320-656-3826

Program Hotline: 320-656-3825 /

President: Julie Lunning, 320-656-3804

Director of Finance and Operations:

Bonnie Rodness, 320-656-3806

Director of Programs & Events: Laura Wagner, 320-656-3831

Director of Marketing & Communications: Emily Bertram, 320-656-3809

Director of Member Engagement: Antoinette Valenzuela, 320-656-3834

Administrative Assistant/Network Administrator: Vicki Lenneman, 320-656-3822

Administrative Assistant: Shelly Imdieke, 320-656-3800


• 5 Tips to Improve Your Professional Networking

• The Value of Nano-Influencers

• Marketing Must-Have: Short-Form Videos

• The Best Recruiting Platforms for Small Businesses


Main Phone: 320-251-4170

Executive Director: Rachel Thompson, 320-202-6728

Director of Sales: Nikki Fisher, 320-202-6712

Sales Manager: Sumer Hager, 320-202-6713

Sports Director: Craig Besco, 320-202-6711

Marketing Manager: Lynn Hubbard, 320-202-6729

Marketing & Services Coordinator: Olivia Way, 320-202-6713

Administrative Assistant: Melissa Ludwig, 320-202-6770

information designed to guide and educate
BUSINESS TOOLS Useful tips and intelligence on how to continue to grow your business NETWORK
does it take to start a company that produces nationally recognized equipment and employs over 200 people? Loyal employees, a passion for quality, and about 500 square feet.
Tech & Innovation Directory; Meetings & Events
you interested
advertising? Contact
out more! ON DECK
Melinda at
BUSINESS SPOTLIGHT April Mae Good-VanderLinden, AMG Promotions & Apparel

Publisher Julie Lunning // Editor Emily Bertram

Founding Editor Gail Ivers


Gina Acevedo, Erica Scott and Julia Vang, CentraCare

Sarah Cords, Vye

Emily Bertram, St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce

John Decker, Stearns History Museum

Michelle Henderson, BadCat Digital Marketing

Vicki Johnson, St. Cloud Area Planning Organization

Ari Kaufman, freelance writer

Randy Krebs, freelance writer

Lynn MacDonald and Kylee Erickson, St. Cloud State University

Karen Pundsack, Great River Regional Library

Mike Rajkowski, Evenson Decker, P.A.


Associate Publisher/Sales

Melinda Vonderahe, Marketing Consultant

Ad Traffic & Circulation

Yola Hartmann, Hazel Tree Media


Design & Production

Yola Hartmann, Hazel Tree Media

Cover Story Photography

Guytano Magno, Switchboard


Vicki Lenneman, St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce

1411 West St. Germain Street, Suite 101, St. Cloud, MN 56301

Phone: (320) 251-2940

Fax: (320) 251-0081


For advertising information contact Melinda Vonderahe, (320) 656-3808

Editorial suggestions can be made in writing to:

Editor, Business Central, 1411 West St. Germain Street, Suite 101, St. Cloud, MN 56301 or emailed to ebertram@

Submission of materials does not guarantee publication


Nick Bischoff, Design Electric

Ron Brandenburg, Quinlivan & Hughes

Doug Cook, Headwaters Strategic Succession Consulting LLC.

Tanja Goering, Celebrate MN, Board Chair

Joe Hellie, CentraCare, Board Vice Chair

Ray Herrington, Pioneer Place on Fifth

Patrick Hollermann, InteleCONNECT

Hudda Ibrahim, OneCommunity Alliance

Kevin Johnson, K. Johnson Construction, Past Board Chair

Matt Laubach, West Bank

Laurie Putnam, St. Cloud School District 742

Paul Radeke, Creative Planning

Brenda Sickler, Theisen Dental

Melinda Tamm, Ms. Melinda’s Dance Studio

Melody Vachal, Arise Cares

Donella Westphal, Jules’ Bistro

Dr. Jason Woods, St. Cloud State University

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 5
© Copyright 2024 Business Central LLC. Business Central is published six times a year by the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce, 1411 West St. Germain Street, Suite 101, St. Cloud, MN 56301. Phone (320) 251-2940 / Fax (320) 251-0081. Subscription rate: $18 for 1 year. ORTHOPEDICS TO THE EXTREME. Whether weekend athlete or collegiate star, trust our experts to help you reach your peak or get back in the game. For an appointment, call 320-253-2663. Proud sports medicine provider St. Cloud State athletics

Think Outside the Garage

My family garage was once a thrift store. I remember well helping my mom tag and organize hundreds of items, from old toys to clothing to decor. Lined with tables and clothing racks and boxes of used

goods, it’s a far-cry from the vehicle storage that garages are intended for.

A garage is not a glamorous place. It typically serves as a place to keep vehicles and recreational equipment, and maybe the occasional workspace. Growing up, we had a small two-stall garage. A workbench stretched along one side, holding my dad’s toolbox and a variety of power tools. Under the bench were totes full of fun, from softball and baseball gear to winter boots to sets of croquet, bocce ball, and badminton. Across from the workbench was an old orange corduroy couch often occupied by dogs. It served its purpose, and oftentimes more.

Our current garage has helped us become great friends with our neighbors, giving us common ground to stand around a grill and

6 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024 EDITOR’S NOTE
Editor Emily Bertram (R) receives a personal tour from Lois and Dean Virnig, Virnig Manufacturing Editor's
Note photo by Switchboard

Our current garage has helped us become great friends with our neighbors, giving us common ground to stand around a grill and chitchat a Sunday afternoon away.

chitchat a Sunday afternoon away. I hope one day it will host birthday gatherings and graduation parties, just like my family garage did growing up. A shady, weather-protected venue that you only need to semi-clean afterward? It’s a perfect place to party.

When it’s not hosting sales or parties, our garage is a workshop. My husband, Kyle, is pretty handy, and if it weren’t for our garage full of his toys — I mean, tools — the honey-do list would grow even faster. He’s used our garage to work on a spear fishing house, two deer stands, steps for

our patio, new railings for our house, picnic tables, raised gardens, a tiki bar and countless repair jobs for our camper, his tractor, our vehicles and around our home.

When Dean and Lois Virnig of Virnig Manufacturing purchased their first home in Pierz, Minn., I suspect they had no idea how important their garage would be one day. Like the fact that Dean would use that garage as a starting point for a nationally known company that now employs their entire family and over 200 loyal employees. Dean and Lois share more about their journey of growth on page 30.

Garages often provide so much more than what meets the eye. In fact, I met Kyle in a garage in Spring Hill, Minn. That, however, is a story for another note.

Until next time,

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 7


INSIDE THIS ISSUE: People to Know / Digging History / New at the Top / The Trouble with Business


Take Back Your Joy

Prioritize happiness and put up healthy boundaries to get the most out of every hour.

Busy” has become the four-letter word of modern times. You can make more money, but you can never make more time. Mental health in our country has reached a crisis point. For many, the stress of running a business or managing staff is a constant.

Happier Hour is a selfhelp instruction manual for prioritizing your life activities to make every moment intentional and joyful. Author Cassie Holmes is a social psychologist with a doctorate from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. She uses research-based methods to create a path for self-reflection and time management.

The exercises in the book help the reader craft schedules and block time. The author recognizes that technology and social media are new tools that can solve problems or create challenges. She offers strategies on how to leverage

these tools and put healthy boundaries around their use.

The book is easy to read in small bites. Each of the nine chapters ends with a list of takeaways. It includes many evidence-based exercises to help readers focus time in more fulfilling ways. While some of the exercises are not new, the way the author frames them allows for consistent self-reflection.

Five Whys - exploring “Why I do the work that I do?”

Five Senses Meditationa method of mindfulness


“Time poverty is the prevalent feeling of having too much to do and too little time to do it.”

Joyful Activities - reflect on the moments in your week that “sparked joy”

Digital Detox - going offline and reflecting on the experience

The exercises include: Random Acts of Kindnessincreases feelings of connectedness

Get Moving - relieves stress and increase self-esteem

Time Tracking - how time is spent and what parts are bringing the most joy

Time Crafting - eighteen strategies to create a weekly schedule that allow for the activities that matter most

Metro Bus CEO wins safety award

Metro Bus CEO Ryan Daniel is the World Safety Organization’s (WSO) 2023

J. Peter Cunliffe Transportation Award winner. The award recognizes an “active member of the WSO, who has shown above average skills in leadership, and supervision of transportation programs, etc.” and “who exhibits total dedication and commitment to the protection of people, property, resources, and the environment through participation and personal involvement in professional safety activities.”

Over $2 million in capital credits returned Stearns Electric Association returned $2.125 million in capital credits to members in 2023.

Karen Pundsack is the executive director of Great River Regional Library.

“As a not-for-profit electric cooperative, Stearns Electric is jointly owned by our memberconsumers, or electricity customers,” Stearns Electric CEO Matt O’Shea explained. Stearns Electric refunds money above the cost of operations to member-consumers in the form of capital credits.

Got News?

Send news releases, announcements, or anything you think is newsworthy to Emily,, and we will try to include it in Business Central.

8 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024 NEWS REEL
Happier Hour: How to Beat Distraction, Expand Your Time, and Focus on What Matters Most; Cassie Holmes, PhD, 2022, Gallery Books, Simon and Schuster, New York, NY, ISBN: 9781982148805
The book is available for checkout at the public library. Reserve your copy at

Business Central asked: What is your favorite time of day, and why?

Theresa Henning, St. Cloud VA Health Care


I like early mornings, because I enjoy the quiet time to myself before everyone else wakes up.

Keith Pudwill, Chiropractic Performance Center

Mornings, because I love a good sunrise.

Tricia Schleper, Schleper Coaching

I like mornings the best because that’s when I am most productive.

Kim Loesch, St. Cloud State University

I like mornings because it’s a new start to the day with a beautiful sunrise and another chance to get things right.

Elizabeth Anderson, Holiday Inn & Suites

4:30 a.m. is my favorite because it’s quiet and you can plan your day ahead.

Jason Mortland, Legends Bar & Grill

I like 5 p.m. because the work day is over and now you can relax.

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Anderson Trucking Service provides $1 million in assistance

The Anderson Assistance Foundation is funded by the Anderson Family of Companies and employee contributions. Founded in 2019, the foundation helps drivers, independent contractors, warehouse staff, and office workers overcome adversity such as damage from a natural disaster, emergency medical treatments not covered by insurance, and unexpected funeral expenses. More than 400 families in the U.S. and Canada have received help since 2019, totaling over $1 million.

StanleyWoidyla joins Apex Engineering

Georgina StanleyWoidyla joined the Apex Engineering Group in St. Cloud as a senior transportation engineer. She is a professional engineer licensed in Minnesota and North Dakota with 21 years of experience in the transportation sector. Stanley-Woidyla is well-versed in rural and urban designs for cities, counties, and MnDOT.

Liebl named GeoComm CEO GeoComm appointed Jeff Liebl as president and chief executive officer. He succeeds John Bryant who will transition to chair of the GeoComm board of directors. Liebl was hired as GeoComm’s president and chief operating officer in the summer of 2022, bringing over 25 years of high-tech industry leadership and experience in technology, product management, marketing, sales, and executive leadership in both Minnesota and Silicon Valley.


The Non-Compete No-Can-Dos

As of July 1, 2023, most non-competition agreements in employment contracts have been banned in Minnesota. Here’s what that means for employers. By

Anoncompetition agreement is a contract that many employers put into place when they hire new employees. It prohibits the employee from competing with the employer should the employee leave the company. Generally, these agreements are used to protect trade secrets and other proprietary information, such as client lists. Now, in the state of Minnesota, these agreements have been banned.

The new statute, Minn. Stat. §181.988, includes agreements that restrict an employee after terminating employment, from working for another employer for a specified period of time, for working for another employer within a certain geographical area, or from working for another employer in a capacity that is similar to work the employee did for the employer listed in the agreement. The statute does not prohibit nondisclosure agreements, agreements to maintain trade secrets, and

nonsolicitation agreements. Employers should also be aware that the statute includes independent contractors.

The statute pertains to employment agreements that were entered into on or after July 1, 2023. Employers who entered into noncompetition agreements on or after July 1, 2023 should have their legal counsel review the agreements and discuss options that may be available. Using nonsolicitation agreements might be one option for some employers. For example, nonsolicitation agreements prevent the employee from using client lists to contact or solicit the employer’s customers. Injunctive relief is still the only relief available for nondisclosure and nonsolicitation agreements and the statute permits employees to seek attorney fees.

The statute states that if a covenant not to compete is agreed upon during the sale of a business by the buyer and the seller, the covenant

is valid and enforceable. However, the geographical area restrictions or the length of time of the covenant need to be ‘reasonable’. Also, the statute states upon (or in anticipation of) a dissolution of a partnership, limited liability company, or corporation, the partners, members, or shareholders may agree that all or any number of parties will not participate in similar business within a reasonable geographical area where the business has been transacted. Noncompetition agreements that were entered into before July 1, 2023, are still valid in Minnesota, but it is uncertain how the new statute will impact a court that has to decide the validity of such an agreement. Minnesota courts have a long-held policy of “blue penciling” agreements, which means courts will modify or taper agreements. The courts in Minnesota look to the reasonableness of the time restrictions put in place in the contract, as well as the reasonableness of the geographic restrictions. The “blue penciling” policy will still be used when determining the validity of post July 1, 2023, noncompetition agreements that deal with the sale or dissolution of a business. If any provision of an agreement is found to be unlawful and void, the remaining provisions

NETWORK UP FRONT 10 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024

of this section are still to be considered valid.

Finally, the statute prevents an employer from making an employee agree to a provision in an agreement that requires an employee, who primarily resides and works in Minnesota, to bring an action


or arbitration in a different state, nor can the employer limit or restrict the protections of Minnesota law.


BadCat Digital Marketing (320) 217-8883

Chair, Chamber Connection

Mike Rajkowski is an attorney at Evenson Decker P.A. specializing in civil litigation, business, real estate, and estate and trust law.

Chamber Connection is the premier networking event for businesses in Central Minnesota. Hosted by a different Chamber member every Friday morning, Chamber Connection attracts 75 - 120 people each week to network and share information about their businesses, all for the price of $1 at the door.


North Creative Co. (320) 249-2027

Chair, Chamber Open

The Chamber Open is an annual networking and fundraising event for the Chamber. Volunteers organize the day’s activities, sell sponsorships, and help the day of the Open.


Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Minnesota (320) 252-7616

Chair, Top Hat Ambassadors

The Top Hat Ambassadors welcome new members, congratulate members who have expanded or relocated, and serve as greeters and hosts at Chamber events.


Thrivent Financial (320) 253-4382 ext. 104

Chair, Connectors Committee

Chamber Connectors are a group of experienced Chamber members who serve to engage new members and representatives through events, mentorship and advice.

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 11

Rinke Noonan adds staff, shareholder

Rinke Noonan welcomed two new attorneys to its staff in 2023. Al Walz specializes in the areas of business, construction, family, and real estate law as well as litigation. Zachary Hennen focuses on appeals; litigation; and construction, environmental and real estate law.

Bethany Cross is a new shareholder at Rinke Noonan law firm. Cross joined the firm in 2017 and specializes in business law, estate planning and real estate law.

CentraCare Birth Center earns recognition

The Birth Center at CentraCare – St. Cloud Hospital is ranked as high performing in maternity care by U.S. News & World Report. The “High Performing” rating indicates results that are well above average on a range of objective quality measures, such as rates of unexpected complications, C-sections, and exclusive breast milk feeding.

St. Cloud Hospital was also designated as a Maternity Care Access Hospital, a new designation by U.S. News & World Report that recognizes hospitals providing quality care to areas of the United States that, if not for that hospital, would be maternity deserts.

A Sign of the Past

Over 100 years later, the site of the Gannon Elevator still services the needs of Central Minnesota farmers.

The one-sided, embossed tin sign is approximately 16 feet in length and two feet high with two square tin signs flanking it that read NK Northrup King Seeds. The signs have a painted, white background with green trim with both green and red lettering and are located on the north side of the remaining Gannon elevator.

Situated along the Canadian Pacific Railroad tracks at 40 Linden Avenue West in Kimball, Minn., the Gannon Elevator dates back to the late 1880s. Formerly known as Kimball Prairie, the granary formed after the Minneapolis & Pacific Railway (later known as the Soo Line) built its tracks through the southern part of Stearns County. By the early part of the 20th century, area farmers were selling their grain to two large elevator companies: Osbourne & McMillan and

the Atlantic. In 1917, the privately owned Atlantic Elevator Company was sold to local farmers as the Farmers’ Cooperative Equity Elevator Company. In 1918, the cooperative built the elevator structure that currently stands at the Kimball Prairie site.

By the 1940s, the Farmers’ Cooperative and Osbourne & McMillan elevators were consolidated and sold to private individuals.

In June 1951, the Bob and Mary Gannon family arrived in Kimball from North Dakota. Bob became a partner and operator of the Farmers’ Elevator, and by 1953 was the sole owner. He made some significant improvements over the next 20 years, adding the first batch dryer, new grain legs, wider driveways, an attached office building, and the purchase of a Quonset building to store grain and fertilizer.

In 1972, Bob Gannon incorporated his elevator business and renamed it the Gannon Elevator Company, bringing in his wife, Mary, and their son John as officers. Bob retired in 1974 and sold the elevator to his three sons: John, Paul, and Mike. John and Paul became sole owners in 1978 and ran the business until 2005. During that period, the Gannons made significant improvements, including a new Butler steel bin, a large outdoor scale and computer systems for testing and record keeping. They also expanded their semi-truck grain hauling, and bought the former Fullerton Lumber building for seed and grain storage. Dennis Libbesmeier is the current owner of the elevator and bins and uses them for drying and storing grain.

John Decker is a retired archivist and current volunteer at Stearns History Museum in St. Cloud.

12 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024
Photos courtesy of Stearns History Museum

You do What?

Have you ever tried to explain your job to a neighbor, friend or family member? Some professions are easy grasp: I’m an accountant, a construction worker, a nurse. Others can be harder to explain. In this new section, we will take a look at some of the more “off the radar” jobs around Central Minnesota and learn a little about the opportunities in our community. So, tell me again: You do what?

Previous work experience

(1-2 positions): Editor and writer of Saint John’s University alumni magazine.

What drew you to your current position? I always loved history and was drawn to historical stories. I grew up in a third-generation family business that’s now 70 years old, where history is an important part of our culture. I really didn’t know that corporate archivists existed, but there are several in Minnesota. Archivists are responsible for collecting, organizing, preserving and sharing information that tells the story of an organization. I’d been doing that my whole life!

What does an average workday look like for you?

I can usually be found in the archives on the lower level of the CentraCare Plaza. I’m usually managing volunteers, often responding to questions



and requests, and always have something else to scan, sort or organize.

What is something unexpected about your job? I’ve always been a people person, and I was worried I’d be in a dark basement sorting papers by myself all day. That couldn’t be further from the truth! I have lots of interaction with employees, volunteers, retirees, researchers, and I do many presentations. And our basement has bright lights.

What is your favorite part about your job? I enjoy shining a light on under-told stories or people who made significant contributions to our work, but were never famous in the traditional sense. I also love when people donate something to us and are gratified that their item will be preserved and has historical value.

DO YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW HAVE A JOB THAT IS OUT OF THE ORDINARY? To be considered for this section send your ideas to Business Central Magazine Editor Emily Bertram at

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 13
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Gulden named vice president

Holly Gulden is the new vice president of the CentraCare Foundation. Gulden previously served as the interim vice president for major gifts and advancement at Tulane University in New Orleans, La.

Over $6,000 donated to Soldier’s 6 Stearns Electric Association employees, along with a $1,000 match by the Stearns Electric Board of Directors, raised $6,426 for the nonprofit organization Soldier’s 6. Funds were used to provide specially trained K9 ‘Battle Buddies’ to honorably discharged veterans, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, 911 dispatchers and correctional officers throughout the state. To have someone’s 6 is to have their 6 o’clock position – their back – which is what these battle buddies do for their soldiers.

Crew Carwash named Best Place to Work

Crew Carwash placed 11th in the country on the Glassdoor Best Places to Work 2024 list among large companies. Winners are determined using Glassdoor’s proprietary awards algorithm, and each employer’s rating is determined based on the quantity, quality and consistency of Glassdoorapproved company reviews submitted by U.S.-based employees between Oct. 18, 2022 and Oct. 16, 2023.




Executive Director, Tri-County Humane Society

When did you start at Tri-County Humane Society (TCHS)?

Before returning this past November, I worked at TCHS from 1998-2018 – just shy of 20 years.

Previous positions at TCHS: I worked part-time during college as a kennel cleaner and customer service staff. I began working full-time after I graduated (with a Biology degree), first as the animal care manager, then volunteer and humane education coordinator, then special events and fundraising coordinator, and finally as the director of philanthropy.

What is something that you really enjoyed in your previous positions?

I held many positions in my nearly 20 years at TCHS, and I enjoyed them all for different reasons. I love animals and always knew I wanted to work with them. I also love building relationships with people, and I’ve discovered that people who love animals have such huge hearts and

are easy to connect with. We share a common bond and there’s no shortage of stories to talk about when you start asking people about their pets! When I was the volunteer and foster care coordinator, and then in the development work I did for the shelter, I met so many wonderful people who generously give their time, talent, and treasure to the Tri-County Humane Society – not to mention the lifelong friendships I’ve created with people I have worked with.

What are you looking forward to the most in your new position?

I’m looking forward to connecting with other animal welfare professionals throughout the nation to learn what is working well for them, share what is working well for us, and find out how we can help each other. There are so many great people in this field, and we can learn so much from each other!


Blaze Credit Union launches

Age: 44

Where did you grow up?

St. Cloud near Hester Park. My children and I live in the house I grew up in.

What are your hobbies?

Spending time with friends and family, singing as a member of the Great River Chorale, playing in my garden, rock picking, camping, hiking, canoeing/ kayaking, photography, and traveling.

Fun fact about yourself: I am very service-oriented and cause-driven. When I was in high school, my mom gave me little magazine clipping with the quote, “Service is the rent we pay for our time here on earth.” It resonated deeply with me, and I still have it in a little frame. Being able to pair my love for animals and people with my passion for serving a greater cause in a nonprofit organization whose mission I believe in… it’s an absolute dream.

SPIRE Credit Union and Hiway Credit Union merged to form Blaze Credit Union. As part of the merger, both Minnesota-based credit unions combined assets, liabilities and capital, as well as their boards and management teams.

NEWS REEL 14 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024
Slim Chickens, restaurant, 4181 2nd Street S, St. Cloud. Pictured: Patrick Hollermann, Kris Renowski, Ryan Block, Eric Johnson. Emotion In Motion, paint splatter and rage room, 730 S Benton Drive, Sauk Rapids. Pictured: Brady DeGagne, Leah Beack, April Diederich. Bolton & Menk Inc., public infrastructure solutions, 3721 23rd Street S, Ste. 102, St. Cloud. Pictured: April Diederich, Chuck DeWolf, Robin Caufman, Jared Voge, Debbie Clausen. Regency Park, apartment complex owned by Centerspace, 1615 15th Ave. SE, St. Cloud. Pictured: Jenna Binsfeld, John Aschenbrenner, Julie Lunning, Michelle Hemmings, Jenn Ulmer, Aliene Miller, Sue Picotte, Sara Fink, Anna Merdan, Shawma Schreifels, Brady DeGagne. Oak Tree Law Firm legal services, 916 River Ave. S, Sauk Rapids. Pictured: Patrick Hollermann, Yasin Alsaidi, Jenna Binsfeld. St. Cloud Live, local news. Pictured: Brady DeGagne, Mary Jo Hotzler, Stephanie Dickrell, Abdulla Gaafarelkhalifa, Donna Roerick.
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MN HOSA-Future Health Professionals, international organization for students interested in the healthcare profession. Pictured: Brady DeGagne, Summer Hagy, Kris Nelson.

Managing (to Get) Online Reviews

Online reviews are an effective marketing tool, but getting them requires some work.

Businesses used to control almost every aspect of what we knew about their brand. By having sole power over the information shared, businesses could craft an image and repeat that message without any contradiction.

Customers or clients could have experiences with a business that were not reflective of how the business wanted to be seen, but customers’ power was limited by

their inability to communicate that experience to others.

Things have changed. The internet gives customers power by providing a platform for sharing their experiences that is more lasting, more visible, and more effective.

Online review platforms like Yelp and Google My Business provide an incredible service to consumers. If you’re traveling and want to choose between three different hotel offers, reviews can help you decide.

If you’re looking for a special event restaurant in a new city, reviews can help. And if you are trying to decide between five different lawn mowers, cars, or kitchen towels, product reviews are there. Robust consumer reviews are essential for building

and Yelp – are essential to ranking well on those platforms. Plus, responding to all reviews shows that your business is engaging with customers and cares about your online reputation. And, of course, when your best customers and clients

Robust consumer reviews are essential for building customer trust in an online transaction world. We can’t see it, touch it, feel it, or try it before we buy, but we can read the reviews of those who have.

customer trust in an online transaction world. We can’t see it, touch it, feel it, or try it before we buy, but we can read the reviews of those who have.

While reviews are great for customers, businesses and brands often approach reviews with fear. Why? Because consumers can bend the truth. There’s no mechanism that ensures all online reviews are accurate. Because of this, large consumer brands focus on getting large numbers of reviews. The large quantity means it’s easier for people to miss the worst reviews and dismiss opinions that seem unreasonable or disproportionate.

Small businesses, especially those in business-to-business industries, have been slow to embrace online reviews. However, positive online reviews – especially those associated with search engines like Google

review you consistently well, the overall positive response outshines the occasional negative review.

How do you get your best customers to review you?

1 Ask. Repeatedly.

Ask in your email signature. Ask on your invoices. Then pick up the phone and make a personal request. You’re asking a customers to take time out of their day to help you. If it’s worth their time, it’s worth yours.

2 Ask for Specifics.

Chatting with someone about the excellent work your team just turned over? Ask them to share it on Google while their experience is fresh in their minds.

3 Give a Reason.

Because Shop Small Saturday is coming. Because the team needs

16 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024
Contributor Michelle Henderson is the owner and founder of BadCat Digital, a digital marketing firm in St. Cloud.

a pick-me-up. Because there are a ton of tourists heading into town for Hockey Day. Our requests are more likely to be heard if we give a reason.

4 Set and Measure Goals. We’re consistent with things that matter when they’re top of mind. Goals matter. Ask 10 people for a review and you will get three. If every team member asked 10 people a week, how many reviews would you get?

5 Engage.

Turn on the notifications and respond to everyone. Thank people. They’re more likely to review again on a different platform and more likely to revise a negative review if you engage in the conversation they’re starting.

6 Remember it’s NOT about you. Our businesses are personal to us. And when someone is not happy or is unkind, we get hurt and defensive. But when engaging and responding to reviews, remember that everyone has a bad day once in a while. Work to de-escalate the review and move the conversation offline. This is the same response as you would have in public. Leave the ranting for happy hour with friends when you can blow off steam. Potential customers may dismiss a bad review or two among many positives, but they will not dismiss an angry or defensive response to a review. Online reviews give power to individuals to share their version of their experiences with our businesses. Asking and listening is up to us.

Inspiring and celebrating Granite talent. Granite Partners is a private investment and holding company founded in 2002 in St. Cloud, Minnesota, with a mission to grow companies and create value for all stakeholders. As trusted partners, innovative leaders, and responsible stewards, we are committed to 100-year sustainability, and we aspire to world-class wellbeing for all people in and around the Granite community.

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 17
growing companies, enhancing communities 320.217.2678 1411 W. St. Germain • St. Cloud PUBLIC RELATIONS | PUBLIC AFFAIRS | ADVERTISING | RESEARCH HANDLING THE TOUGH STUFF FOR CLIENTS SINCE 2005.


18 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024 MORE ON EVENTS: For information on these or other business events, call 320-251-2940 or visit and click on “Calendar.” NETWORK CENTRAL GROW | NETWORK | PROFIT EVENTS AROUND THE ST. CLOUD AREA
was “Ugly
day at Chamber Connection, hosted by Green Thumb, Etc.
Alexis Demuth, Mother Nurture, and Colin Soderholm, Katie Hennen, Capital One (L), and Cheryl Hochhalter, Jacobs Financial Rebecca Trelfa, ConnectAbility of MN, and Mike Imholte, Black Diamond Auctions Jeff Yapuncich, YuppyPhoto (L), and Todd Myra, Todd Myra Photography Emily Bertram, St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce (L); Meghan Pflipsen, Gate City Bank; Ashley Green, Green Thumb Etc.; Casey Krafnick, United Way of Central Minnesota; and Reva Van Vleet, Hoffman Insurance Agency
MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 19
Kelly Doss, Resiliency Coaching (L); Dexter Hanson, Central Minnesota Mental Health Center; and Rachael Sogge, Eyecon Graphics Kyra Rudnicki, Jake Everson, Ashley Oberg, Caleb Oberg, and Nick Keller with Oberg Roofing Doug Cook, Headwaters Strategic Succession Consulting (L); Chad Houg, Nelson Sanitation and Rental; and Dustin Guggenberger, Gabriel Media Meagan Simonson, Lamar Advertising, and Brad Hoelscher, Gallagher Insurance Randy Weiher, Erbauer Built (L); Matt Westlund, N2 Company; and Becky Iverson, Smart Organizing Solutions Joan Schatz, Park Industries, (L) and Lori Kloos, SCTCC Chris Hauk, Coldwell Banker Realty, (L) and Jim Gruenke, Traut Companies St. Cloud Technical and Community College (SCTCC) hosted Business After Hours in December. Oberg Roofing hosted Sauk Rapids Chamber in December. Angela Sieben, Minnesota Computer Systems (L); Sheri Moran, Gabriel Media; Michelle Henderson, BadCat Digital Marketing; Chris Richardson and Ashley Williams, Ashley’s Yummy Rollz; Kelly Halverson, SCTCC; Jeanne Blonigen, ConnectAbility of MN; and Shelly Imdieke, St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce Sarah Hansen, SCTCC; Abdi Daisane, Blooming Kids Child Care Center; and Denny Smith, Dennis Smith Training and Development


INSIDE THIS ISSUE: Management Toolkit / Entrepreneurism / Economy Central by Falcon Bank

The User Experience

The key to a winning website is putting the user experience first.

Your website is more than just an online brochure. It’s your brand’s digital handshake — and a crucial first impression that can make or break sales. In just 50 milliseconds, visitors decide if your site welcomes them with open arms or shoves them out the door.


How can you make sure your website delivers a positive and memorable experience?

By focusing on User Experience (UX).

UX is the invisible architect of your website, ensuring every interaction feels smooth, intuitive, and enjoyable. With good UX, you’re not just building a pretty storefront.

You’re creating a seamless shopping experience that keeps visitors engaged, happy, and coming back for more.

Building a website that works – your UX checklist

Creating a great user experience requires careful planning and execution. Here are four key aspects to evaluate and improve your website’s performance and appeal:

Speed: Fast loading times are essential to keep visitors engaged. Monitor your site’s speed, bounce rates, and conversion rates for any signs of sluggishness.

Navigation: Intuitive site maps help visitors find what they want easily. Listen to your user feedback, track your exit rates, and use heatmaps to see if there is any frustration or confusion.

Visual Appeal: Good design builds brand confidence and usability. Analyze your visitor numbers, time-on-site metrics, and user feedback to see if your design is outdated or cluttered.

Frictionless Interactions: Smooth and natural interactions encourage users to complete their goals. Use visitor

recordings to spot any issues with menus or forms.

The power of routine UX checkups

Just like a car, a website needs regular care and maintenance to work well. If you ignore small problems, they can snowball into bigger issues that negatively impact your UX. Every three months, you should do a UX checkup to prevent problems from hurting your website’s performance and user experience. These checkups look at data like how many users leave or buy, ask users for feedback, and see how users navigate your site. Users always want better and faster websites, and you need to keep up with their needs. A UX checkup helps you improve your website’s health and make your visitors happy.

The bottom line

You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make it count with a website that impresses your visitors from the start. A great user experience can increase your revenue, retention, and reputation.

20 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024
Sarah Cords is the vice president of client experience & strategy at Vye.

Just Google (circle) It

The term “Googling” something has become synonymous with looking it up online, regardless of the means. Now, Google is taking it a step further. Rolled out in test mode onto some Android phones, Google Circle allows users to circle something that they’re seeing on their mobile screen and prompt search results. For example, if your friend posts a photo on social media in front of the Eiffel Tower, you can circle the tower to learn more about it. This AI capability is in testing phase right now, but has the potential to change how we use internet search. Want to know more? Google it. Source: CNN

Construction requires a multitude of tools and capabilities to be effective, and there’s another tool that is proving vital: , are:

… saving on costs by using software that requires fewer workers in the field to operate machinery.

The possibilities for emerging technology in construction are endless. All you have to do is visualize them! Source:


MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 21
With over 20 years of knowledge and experience, Shawna is helping businesses thrive in an everchanging digital environment. Shawna Hanson, Marketing Expert | 320-309-3609


Common Ground

Employee resource groups are a simple and effective way to support and strengthen your staff.

What is an ERG?

ERG stands for Employee Resource Group. ERGs are voluntary, employee-led groups focused on promoting a culture of inclusion and belonging within an organization and serve as a resource for employees and the company. Typically, ERGs are comprised of individuals who share a common interest, identity affiliation, shared lived-experience, and/or want to be allies for those in their workplaces.

Who can benefit from ERGs?

ERGs are beneficial for both employees and organizations:


Employees – ERGs provide a safe space for employees to connect and discuss issues unique to them. They allow employees to freely share their experiences, ideas, and feedback in a supportive environment, which helps them feel heard and valued. Also, ERGs are a valuable resource for employees’ personal and professional development. Employees can learn from each other, exchange knowledge, grow their professional network, and develop new skills that can help them progress in their careers.

Organizations – ERGs can provide great insights and feedback on issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion that can inform and drive

All employees of CentraCare, Gina Acevedo is an administrative assistant, Erica Scott is a diversity specialist and Julia Vang is a DEI program manager.

ERGs allow employees to freely share their experiences, ideas, and feedback in a supportive environment, which helps them feel heard and valued.

change to organizational policies, practices, and strategies. In addition, ERGs are helpful with attracting talents to companies and retaining employees by helping keep them happy, engaged and committed to the organization.

How do you implement an ERG?

At CentraCare, there are seven employee resource groups: HOLA, Single Parent, African American, Veterans, Millennials, LGBTQ+, and Women’s– all of which were employee driven efforts. Employees took notice of the importance of bringing together groups of employees with common interests and forming pockets of communities to provide support within the organization. What started off as one ERG has now expanded to seven, and this number is expected to grow as the workforce changes over time. If your organization is interested in creating an employee resource group, here are some steps you can take to get started.

1 Gather data and complete an internal audit of your organization. Before you begin

any work, it’s important to get a pulse for how your employees are feeling. Get a baseline measurement of your employee experience and identify if there are gaps among groups of employees in your organization.

2 Gauge interest from your employees. Once you have identified your gaps, share it with employees. Ask them how they feel about the idea of starting an ERG. Also, this is a great opportunity to identify employees who can serve as leaders for the group.

3 Involve your leadership team. Communicate your intent to start an employee resource group with your leadership team. Getting support early in the process will help the group when you need to communicate requests and/or initiatives.

4 Develop an ERG business plan/charter. An ERG should establish its mission and vision as a group. What’s the purpose of the group? Why is it important? What are the expectations and guidelines to follow as a group to ensure that your group is successful.

5 Invite others to join.

22 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024

Deep Tech, Defined.

Shallow tech is a simple technological advancement, such as adding online ordering capabilities or offering digital downloads. This is the type of technology we are most familiar with. Deep tech, on the other hand, is a term used to describe highly sophisticated technological advancements that are based on scientific principles and engineering. Some examples of deep tech include artificial intelligence, quantum computing, and biotechnology. Because deep tech requires highly specialized skills and expertise, it is often challenging to find employees. In other news, NASA is hiring! Source:

Shop With Confidence

When you purchase something from Amazon, how much time do you spend reading reviews and information to ensure the product will work for your needs?

What if a chatbot could do that research for you? Soon, it can. Amazon is rolling out an artificial intelligence tool on its mobile app that allows shoppers to ask questions about specific items. It then returns answers within seconds, summarizing information from reviews and the listing itself. “Generative AI is going to change every customer experience, and it’s going to make it much more accessible for everyday developers, and even business users, to use,” Amazon CEO Andy Jassy told CNBC. Can it also do my grocery shopping, please? Source: CNBC

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 23
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Leverage the Logistics Pros

When it comes to logistics, outsourcing to a third-party provider can save money, cut time, and reduce workload.

Mindful business owners quickly realize fulfilling orders is an indispensable part of their operations. With the growth and success of a given business, it’s likely that fulfilling customer orders in-house does not always remain feasible.

According to the International Organization for Standardization — a non-government organization that has long measured and developed international standards for various industries — companies can reduce their costs roughly 15 percent when they outsource. With the changing world of e-commerce,

companies often do not have the capital or time needed to grow their businesses.

That is where third-party logistics (3PL) comes into play.

Third-party logistics is essentially the outsourcing of e-commerce logistics processes to a third-party business. This broad term can include a number of logistics tasks, including:

Transportation Services: The shipping and trucking of freight on behalf of another company.

Warehousing and Distribution: Storage, inventory management, order fulfillment

and cross-docking, which involves moving product from one mode of transportation to another.

Order Fulfillment: Picking and packing, e-commerce fulfillment and retail fulfillment services.

Supply Chain Management: Managing vendor relations, procurement services and demand planning.

Value-Added Services: Packing and labeling, kitting and assembly, and product returns management services.

Also included in 3PL are technology solutions, reverse logistics, and freight brokerage.

Using 3PL providers generally allows companies to accomplish more each day, because businesses will possess the tools and infrastructure to automate their retail order fulfillment. Some businesses began trending toward outsourcing their inbound and outbound logistical services to third parties a half-century ago, but with the beginning of e-commerce in the late 1990s — and its ensuing rapid growth — 3PL has become omnipresent, and they have expanded services.

Located in St. Joseph, Brenny Transportation has been a third-party company since its beginning 27 years ago.

“We help companies find quick and safe solutions to move their freight. We want to make sure that we are available when customers need us and can get their freight moved when they need it,” Business Development Specialist Shantell Smith said. “We have a vetting process before using any other carrier to move your product to ensure that we work with trustworthy companies.”

Smith explained how thirdparty logistics companies like Brenny help provide additional access to various trailers to move freight quickly. “If a customer calls and needs a load moved tomorrow, we can find

24 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024 ENTREPREUERISM

“We help companies find quick and safe solutions to move their freight. We want to make sure that we are available when customers need us and can get their freight moved when they need it.”

an available carrier and get it moving for them,” she said. “We also take care of contacting all shippers and receivers for them to verify all hours, and that they are expecting a truck to come in. We do all the communication and tracking so the customer doesn't have to worry about it.”

Scott Jensen is senior director and general manager of

Granterion, a St. Cloud-based 3PL provider. Granterion offers business-to-business and directto-customer fulfillment, kitting and small assembly, storage, reverse logistics, transportation and more.

“Leveraging our robust warehouse management system, engineered standards, and warehouse automation allows

us to scale clients’ businesses and save them time and money,” Jensen said. “Anyone looking to grow their business or who finds themselves wanting to invest large capital for that growth should consider 3PL services.” Granterion works on logistical challenges so clients can focus on growing their own core business.

When businesses want to expand operations, the barrier to entry can often be too much for small to mid-size companies. By using a 3PL, companies effectively benefit by leveraging buying power — in supplies,

systems and transportation — and passing those savings on to clients.

“The pandemic impacted supply chains everywhere and spotlighted the need for organizations to minimize disruption,” Jensen said. “Partnering with a 3PL enables this to happen.”

A former schoolteacher and historian, Ari Kaufman has worked as a journalist since 2006. He has published articles in a dozen newspapers and written three books.

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 25
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The Economics of Friendship

The value of friendship goes beyond the mental health benefits to affect socioeconomic status.

Friendship has long been recognized as a vital part of our lives. While we may be used to thinking about the mental health benefits from friendships, there are some tangible health and economic benefits from friendships as well. Friendships enrich lives and improve physical health, according to the Mayo Clinic. In fact, “adults with strong social connections have a reduced risk of many significant health problems, including depression, high blood pressure, and an unhealthy body mass index.” Perhaps more surprisingly, friendship can also be a significant indicator of one’s income.

A team of economists led by Harvard University’s Raj Chetty have spent a decade trying to understand what factors affect economic mobility, which is the extent to which children are

able to rise to a higher economic status than their parents. This research has led to some important findings, such as how the neighborhood you grow up in actually influences your future outcomes and income. As the team of economic researchers continued to dig into this topic, they found that economic connectedness (friendship) is the single most important predictor of economic mobility.

Using data on Facebook friends, Chetty and team found that economic connectedness impacts income mobility.

According to the 2022 study “Social Capital and Economic Mobility” published by Opportunity Insights, “Growing up in a more economically connected county causes low-income children to have higher earnings as adults.” It’s not just any friendship though.

Economic connectedness refers to when friendships are made across socioeconomic status. When high income individuals are friends with low-income individuals, it improves economic outcomes for those with lower incomes. This relationship has also been shown to apply to children's future income. “Children who grow up in communities with more cross-class interaction are much more likely to rise out of poverty,” according to the Opportunity Insights study. Areas with more economic connectedness have greater upward income mobility.

Social connections that cross income levels can introduce people to ideas, opportunities, and possibilities that they wouldn’t have easily been made aware of within a social group made up only of individuals with similar incomes to themselves. There is a tendency for people to spend time with, and be around, others who are of the same socioeconomic status. For example, high-income individuals tend to have a social circle made up of those who are also high income. The same is true for those of low income. The researchers refer to this common experience as friendship bias.

Friendships are often forged at work, in recreational settings, and through religious organizations. Some communities and organizations are working to help foster these connections to mitigate the effects of friendship bias. For example, InnerCity Weightlifting, a gym in Boston, recruits people who

are of low socioeconomic status to be trainers and pairs them with clients who are of higher socioeconomic status. Jon Feiman, the CEO, founded the gym to provide opportunities for “people at risk of poverty and incarceration.” He has seen an increase in economic mobility for their trainers. Some gym clients offer job opportunities for their trainers and some clients provide opportunities for their trainer’s kids to attend summer camp with their own kids.

The benefits of friendship extend far beyond just emotional support and companionship. Economic connectedness — friendships that cross income lines — play an important role in opening up possibilities for low-income individuals to rise to higher income levels. The Opportunity Insights study states: “Growing up in a more connected community may improve children’s chances of rising up through a variety of mechanisms, from shaping career aspirations and norms to providing valuable information about schools and colleges to providing connections to internships and job opportunities.” Individuals, communities, and businesses may be able to help foster these connections and along the way, help increase economic mobility.

Kylee Erickson is a master’s student of applied economics and Lynn MacDonald, Ph.D., is an associate professor of economics at St. Cloud State University.

26 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024 Economy Central presented by ECONOMY CENTRAL




MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 27 $0M $20M $40M $60M $80M $100M December November October September August July June May April March February January 2023 2022 2021 Residential Building Permits 6 COMMUNITIES - ST. CLOUD, SAUK RAPIDS, SARTELL, WAITE PARK, ST. AUGUSTA, ST. JOSEPH $0 $500k 2023 2022 2021 Food and Beverage ST. CLOUD 0 500 1000 2023 2022 2021 Home Sales Closed ST. CLOUD $0M $50M $100M $150M $200M $250M December November October September August July June May Apr Mar Feb Jan 2023 2022 2021 Commercial Building Permits 6 COMMUNITIES - ST. CLOUD, SAUK RAPIDS, SARTELL, WAITE PARK, ST. AUGUSTA, ST. JOSEPH TOTAL: $84,561,804 TOTAL: $88,202,416 TOTAL: $215,772,443 TOTAL: $154,000,633 TOTAL: $153,245,951 TOTAL: $97,227,327 $0M $20M $40M $60M $80M $100M November October September August July June May April March February January 2023 2022 2021 Residential Building Permits 6 COMMUNITIES - ST. CLOUD, SAUK RAPIDS, SARTELL, WAITE PARK, ST. AUGUSTA, ST. JOSEPH $0 $500k 2023 2022 2021 Food and Beverage ST. CLOUD 0 500 1000 2023 2022 2021 Home Sales Closed ST. CLOUD $0M $50M $100M $150M $200M $250M December November October September August July June May Apr Mar Feb Jan 2023 2022 2021 Commercial Building Permits 6 COMMUNITIES - ST. CLOUD, SAUK RAPIDS, SARTELL, WAITE PARK, ST. AUGUSTA, ST. JOSEPH
$154,000,633 TOTAL: $153,245,951 TOTAL: $97,227,327 St. Cloud, MN MetroSA Minnesota United States -2.0% -1.5% -1.0% -0.5% 0.0% 0.5% 1.0% 1.5% 2.0% D N O S A J J M A M F J D N O S A J Non-Farm Jobs 2022-23 -% CHANGE St. Cloud Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota United States Unemployment Rates 2022-2023 1.5% 2.0% 2.5% 3.0% 3.5% 4.0% D N O S A J J M A M F J D N O S A J Source: Source: Sources: Building departments for the following cities: St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Sartell, Waite Park, St. Augusta, and St. Joseph. BUILDING PERMITS BY COMMUNITY Commercial 2021 2022 2023 #/$ #/$ #/$ St. Cloud 282 275 357 $105,238,005 $139,287,507 $67,461,058 Sartell 158 174 319 $18,230,359 $31,707,799 $9,832,316 Sauk Rapids 56 65 38 $12,310,906 $11,765,992 $15,098,018 Waite Park 122 170 181 $11,691,421 $21,617,182 $18,061,711 St. Augusta 12 10 20 $2,774,220 $300,363 $18,685,035 St. Joseph 44 96 81 $3,001,040 $11,093,600 $24,862,496 BUILDING PERMITS BY COMMUNITY Residential 2021 2022 2023 #/$ #/$ #/$ St. Cloud 777 612 977 $31,498,210 $24,252,325 $42,525,857 Sartell 477 1,350 740 $28,930,350 $15,624,339 $12,214,677 Sauk Rapids 252 994 421 $9,116,510 $21,072,914 $11,929,607 Waite Park 54 49 38 $2,766,805 $1,155,337 $1,132,493 St. Augusta 113 110 202 $11,360,899 $12,380,467 $16,019,991 St. Joseph 162 181 126 $4,529,642 $10,076,422 $13,404,703 $80M December November October September August July June May April March February January WAITE PARK, $0 $500000 $1000000 $1500000 $2000000 December November October September August July June May April March February January 2021 2020 2019 Food and Beverage Tax Collection ST. CLOUD 0 500 1000 1500 2000 December November October September August July June May April March February January 2021 2020 2019 Home Sales Closed in St. Cloud Area 6 COMMUNITIESST. CLOUD, SAUK RAPIDS, SARTELL, WAITE PARK, ST. AUGUSTA, ST. JOSEPH $200M December November October September August July June May Apr Mar Feb Jan WAITE PARK, $78,621,465 $63,885,721 $137,532,948 $12,581,424* $178,724,272 TOTAL: 1868 TOTAL: 182* TOTAL: 1823 TOTAL: $1,287,691 Data not released at time of print TOTAL: $1,604,677 $3,716,523* Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec COLOR KEY: Economy Central presented by ECONOMIC INDICATORS & TRENDS Compiled by Shelly Imdieke, St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce Totals represent data reported as of 2/5/24






Nothing But Net

On March 19th, the first four games of the 2024 March Madness tournament will begin. Held annually to close out the college basketball season, March Madness is the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I men’s basketball tournament. This singleelimination tournament includes 68 teams that compete in seven rounds, culminating in the Final Four and eventually the national championship. Each year, March Madness impacts not only the economies of towns that are represented in the tournament, but the nation as a whole in many different ways. Here’s a look at some of the numbers from the 2022 and 2023 tournament.



$16.3 billion

Corporate losses due to unproductive workers during March Madness


Percent of Americans who are willing to call in sick or skip work to watch March Madness


Percent of employees who say celebrating March Madness at work boosts morale

$1.14 billion

Annual revenue for the NCAA in 2022

$270+ million

Estimated economic impact on Houston from March Madness 2023 (site of the Final Four)

14.7 million

28 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024 GROW BUSINESS TOOLS $60M $80M $100M February January $0 $500k $1M $1.5M $2M 2023 2022 2021 Food and Beverage Tax Collection ST. CLOUD 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 $100M $150M $200M $250M December November October September August July June May Apr Mar Feb Jan Building Permits CLOUD, SAUK RAPIDS, SARTELL, WAITE PARK, TOTAL: $215,772,443 TOTAL: $154,000,633 TOTAL: $153,245,951 TOTAL: $1,587,656 TOTAL: $1,601,886 TOTAL: $1,420,811 $0 $500k $1M $1.5M $2M December November October September August July June May April March February January 2023 2022 2021 Food and Beverage Tax Collection ST. CLOUD 0 500 1000 1500 2000 2500 December November October September August July June May April March February January 2023 2022 2021 Home Sales Closed in St. Cloud ST. CLOUD
1569 TOTAL: 1274
$1,601,886 TOTAL: $1,420,811 Housing/Real Estate sources: St. Cloud Area Association of Realtors, Lodging Tax Dollars ST. CLOUD $0 $500k $1M $1.5M $2M 2023 2022 2021
$1,602,430 Source: Tax Collections – City of St. Cloud Source: Tax Collections – City of St. Cloud Sheri s’ Foreclosure Auctions STEARNS AND BENTON COUNTIES 0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70 80 2023 2022 2021 TOTAL: 67 TOTAL: 72 TOTAL: 31 SHERIFFS' FORECLOSURE AUCTIONS Residential 2021 2022 2023 Stearns Co. 17 55 50 Benton Co. 14 12 22 ECONOMIC INDICATORS & TRENDS $80M December November October September August July June May April March February January WAITE PARK, $0 $500000 $1000000 $1500000 $2000000 December November October September August July June May April March February January 2021 2020 2019 Food and Beverage Tax Collection ST. CLOUD 0 500 1000 1500 2000 December November October September August July June May April March February January 2021 2020 2019 Home Sales Closed in St. Cloud Area 6 COMMUNITIESST. CLOUD, SAUK RAPIDS, SARTELL, WAITE PARK, ST. AUGUSTA, ST. JOSEPH $200M December November October September August July June May Apr Mar Feb Jan WAITE PARK, $78,621,465 $63,885,721 $137,532,948 $12,581,424* $178,724,272 TOTAL: 1868 TOTAL: 182* TOTAL: 1823 TOTAL: $1,287,691 Data not released at time of print TOTAL: $1,604,677 $3,716,523* Jan Feb Mar Apr May June July Aug Sept Oct Nov Dec
Number of fans who watched the final game of the 2023 tournament between the Connecticut Huskies and San Diego State Aztecs Source: WalletHub
Commercial Construction Financing Experts Manea’s Meats | 14,000 sq. ft. expansion Utilized USDA Loan Program Koronis Place Assisted Living Paynesville Care Center Addition of a 51-bed skilled nursing facility Wobegon Crossing owned by GCRE Melrose, LLC 72-unit multi-family project to be completed Fall of 2024 Troy Cameron 320.230.9248 St. Cloud Kyle Knudson 320.227.2742 Richmond Brandon Voit 320.968.2007 Foley Alex Cameron 320.230.9261 St. Cloud Bri Torborg 320.230.9263 St. Cloud Austin Ironi 320.281.0757 Richmond St. Cloud | Richmond | Foley | Maple Grove | Ham Lake | Isanti • Helping build strong communities in Central Minnesota and beyond.



What does it take to start a company that produces nationally recognized equipment and employs over two hundred people?

Loyal employees, a passion for quality, and about 500 square feet.

Situated in a two-stall garage on a 5-acre lot in Pierz, Minn., Virnig Manufacturing and Welding opened its doors in 1987. “We did kind of everything,” founder Dean Virnig said of the early days. “Repairs, custom fabrication, trailers, attachments.”

By 1990 they needed more space, adding a 40-by-60foot shop. “It was a big move,” Dean said. “It took all of a Sunday afternoon to move everything to the new shop.”

Today Virnig Manufacturing occupies over 110,000 square feet in Rice, Minn., and another 62,000 square feet in Pikeville, Tenn., a far cry from the roughly 500 they started with. Despite the exponential growth,




Co-owner, Virnig Manufacturing

Age: 57

Hometown: Pierz, Minn.


St. Cloud Technical and Community College

Work History: Chiropractic clinic and nursing home in Central Minnesota


Co-owner, Virnig Manufacturing

Age: 56

Hometown: Pierz, Minn.


St. Cloud Technical and Community College

Work History: Construction company in the Twin Cities and welding repair shop in Sobieski, Minn


Bryan, Alyssa and Raychel

Hobbies: Together they like to travel, enjoy the pontoon on the Mississippi River, and spend time with friends.


Dean and his wife Lois remain humble about their success. “It’s just neat to be driving down the road and see a Virnig product on a truck,” Lois said. “It’s pretty cool.”

Getting Attached

Growing up on a small farm in Pierz, Dean knew that farming wouldn’t be in his future. According to his high school career planning course, he should have either been a welder or a computer programmer. Dean took up welding. “I enjoyed making things,” Dean said. “Mechanically it’s pretty fun. I was always doing some kind of project.”

Dean went to St. Cloud Technical and Community College for welding, then worked construction in the Anoka area for a few years. Dean and Lois married in 1987 and began looking for a house and job closer to their hometown of Pierz. Dean started working at a small welding repair shop in Sobieski, and

they purchased a home on 5 acres of land. In November of 1988 the welding shop shut down, and Dean found himself unemployed while Lois worked at a local nursing home. He began to work in his garage on a small scale, advertising locally and taking on the type of jobs that the repair shop had done. “And it kind of took off,” Dean said. By 1990, they built a bigger shop on their property.

Four years after moving into the new shop, they doubled their space again. They added a paint building in 1998 along with some offices. Gradually, they started doing fewer small repair and fabrication jobs, and by 1997 they shifted all their energy to attachments. (An attachment, in the case of Virnig Manufacturing, is a piece of equipment that is constructed to attach to a machine, such as a tractor, skid loader, or other construction machinery.) Lois was doing all the bookwork at the time, eventually leaving her job at the nursing home to

32 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024 COVER STORY


“Appreciate the good days and keep going on the hard days; stick with your passion, and don’t be afraid of failure."

work for Virnig full-time. Dean and Lois are 50/50 owners of Virnig Manufacturing.

“We kind of ran out of room by 2000,” Dean said. They knew that they wanted to keep their current employees, but also wanted to broaden their hiring pool by moving closer to St. Cloud. “That’s how we decided on Rice,” Dean said. “We broke ground on April 20th of 2001, and we moved in on October 20th of 2001.” Additional facilities and expansions occurred in 2010, 2014, and 2021 to house their growing product lines and services.

“It really started taking off in 2010,” Dean said. At the time, they had about 60 employees and Dean and Lois were doing most of the operations work themselves. “I’ve done almost everything in the business,” Lois said. “From painting to fabricating to all of the bookwork.” They added staff and departments for accounting, operations, engineering, and sales and marketing. That allowed Dean and Lois to look ahead and plan for the future of the company.

In 2021, Virnig Manufacturing purchased a second facility in Pikeville, Tenn. to help meet growing demand and to service new markets. “When we started the plant in Tennessee, logistics was the biggest reason,” Dean said. Virnig manufactures and labels products for a company in Georgia and was shipping everything from Minnesota. It made sense to establish a facility in the middle to cut down on freight costs. The Tennessee facility also does some of the smaller Virnig branded products as well.

Digging In

While Virnig originally started by building attachments for the agriculture industry, the company has since expanded into servicing the construction, landscaping and forestry industries nationwide. Products they produce range from pallet forks or buckets to attachments like brush cutters, snow blowers, grapples and sweepers.

Business Description: Virnig Manufacturing, Inc.

a familyowned and operated premium attachment manufacturer supplying North America and beyond. Virnig offers 100+ attachments for skid steers, compact tractors, and mini skid steers.

Total Employees in Minn. and Tenn.: 202 Chamber Member Since 2023

BUSINESS PROFILE VIRNIG MANUFACTURING 101 N Gateway Drive, Rice, MN 56367 (800) 648-2408
Tyler Monson (L), Alyssa Monson,
MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 33
Dean Virnig, Lois Virnig, Raychel Virning and Bryan Virnig



Dean and Lois both graduate from SCTCC.


Dean officially starts Virnig Manufacturing and Welding.


Virnig moves into a new 40-by-60-foot shop on the same property. Lois starts working for Virnig fulltime.


The shop is doubled in size.


The focus of the business shifts entirely to attachments.


Virnig adds a paint building at the Pierz location.


Virnig Manufacturing relocates Rice; the company now occupies 30,400 square feet, of which 24,000 is production space.


Virnig increases work space by adding a 14,000 square foot building in Rice.


An 28,000 square foot expansion includes the powder coat paint system.


Virnig Manufacturing purchases 62,000 square foot facility in Pikeville, Tennessee.


Adds an additional 24,000 square feet to Rice facility for welding and a separate 6,500 square foot building for engineering and office space.

Ben Meyer takes pride in fostering a workplace that is both clean and safe.

“We never want to be the people that you have to call us first before you stop in,” Meyer said. They run a floor sweeper in all the shops every night. In 2015 they switched to all LED lights. In the fall of 2022, the whole air system was upgraded and now includes air conditioning. Plus, the air in the shop is cycled and filtered seven times per hour to keep dust and pollutants down.

Around 1997 Virnig was approached by a sales representative who worked with different equipment product lines. With the growing popularity of skid loaders, he was looking for an agriculture-focused line of basic attachments. “So we went on with him and we really grew throughout the Midwest,” Dean said. “In 2005 we hired our first Virnig sales employee and now all of our sales are internal.”

As Virnig gained recognition in the industry, other brands took notice of its quality and capabilities. Now, about 20 percent of what Virnig produces is original equipment manufacturer (OEM) labeled. Virnig does private label manufacturing for companies like Toro, Manitou and ASV, producing Virnig attachments, but labeling them as the other brands. “For the most part they use our products,” Dean said. “They like our designs, and they don’t have that going in their business, so we put their stickers on our products.”

Lifting Up

The team at Virnig is not content to settle. They look at a project and ask, “how could this be better?” A lot of time is spent trying to ease customer pain points. “There’s a lot of conversation with the end-users,” Lois said. “What do they like, what could be better, what do they want to see.”

The quality of their work comes down to every last detail, from the ability to fulfill replacement part orders in-house to the cleanliness of the shop. Virnig’s Plant Manager

Alyssa Monson, Virnig’s company relations manager and Dean and Lois’s daughter, reflected on the effects of 2020 and the economic upswing in manufacturing. “The spike I think caused everyone to look at efficiency,” Monson said. “Our manufacturing and engineering teams put a lot of time into figuring out how to be more efficient and how to help our people make things faster.” Engineers are able to make changes to blueprints in the office that update in realtime to display screens in the welding bays. There are currently eight robotic welders in use at the Rice location, each with different capabilities.

The production floor runs nearly 24 hours a day. “We pride ourselves on uptime.” Dean said.

Virnig is able to stay on top of a changing industry by offering what others generally don’t. Better componentry, more value-add,” Dean said. “As this market is getting more mature, a million people make what we did 30 years ago for cheap.” Much of what Virnig manufactures is not something people could build in their garages – it’s specialized, complex, and of the highest possible quality.

Welder Jennifer Koering joined Virnig in 2022 and works primarily in the power division. Koering takes pride in creating equipment that farmers and construction workers need and use regularly. “I see everything as quality craftsmanship – like a piece of art – that’s what you’re doing when you build something like this,” she said.

Taking Off

Part of delivering on that promise of high quality comes down to the people. The employees at Virnig are Dean and Lois’s

34 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024
ORIGINAL PROPERTY Virnig Manufacturing and Welding started in 1989.

greatest source of pride. “I love people, I love hearing their stories,” Lois said. “We’re not just employing people, we’re employing their whole family.”

The longevity of much of the staff is evidence of their dedication. “There are probably about seven people who are still here from Pierz,” Dean said. Of their 202 employees, 35 have been with Virnig Manufacturing for over 10 years.

Virnig Manufacturing encourages employee growth and development. Some employees have held a number of different roles within the company over the years. Dean and Lois are happy to help their employees move into new positions that interest them, instead of losing them, so positions are first posted internally.

The opportunity for growth has allowed valuable employees like Jessica Durkee to get even deeper into her manufacturing career. Durkee, a production planner at Virnig, has been with the company for three years. She originally started at Virnig as a welder. “I love that this place allows people to move up,” she

said. She previously worked at Electrolux, and noted the day and night difference of moving from a large company to a family owned operation. “Dean and Lois go above and beyond for each employee.”

Not only do Dean and Lois treat their employees like family, many of the employees are their family. Their son, Bryan, is vice president of sales, marketing and IT. Their daughter, Alyssa, is company relations manager, and her husband, Tyler, is a product manager. Raychel, their youngest daughter, is an accounting assistant. Dean’s brother, Darin, is vice president of engineering. Lois’s sister, Karen, is freight coordinator. Growing up, though, there was no expectation that any of their children would follow in their footsteps. “I’m proud that our kids are all here and happy to be working with us,” Lois said.

As with any family business, Dean and Lois work hard to keep work and family separate. “Business is kept here,” Lois said. “With the kids, too – raising them and even now.” They




acknowledge that leading the company as a couple has its challenges, but they’ve never really known anything else. “I think we’ve both grown up in it,” Lois said. “We’ve been doing it for over 35 years, and we’ve both done everything.”

Dean and Lois are immensely proud of their journey. “From starting in a two-stall garage to where we are today – the longevity of our people, the footprint we have, and the scale,” Dean said. He said it’s been surreal to know that he’s not the one creating the end-product anymore, and to have the final product be of such high-quality is really rewarding. “For me it’s the pride of what we do – the product and the people we watch move up the ranks,” Dean said. “Visiting another state and seeing a Virnig piece, that’s a good feeling.”

We’re making progress to increase the presence of women in manufacturing, but there’s more to come.

Thanks to technological and workplace advancements, an industry that is typically known for being physical, dirty and demanding is now a more appealing work environment for everyone, including women. That said, there is still room for improvement. Since 2010 “the share of women in manufacturing jobs rose in every working-age category up until 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started,” according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the United States Department of Commerce:

• Women make up about 47 percent of the American workforce, but only 30 percent of women work in manufacturing.

• Women who work in manufacturing make on average 16 percent more than the median income for women, but still only 72 percent of the median salary of their male counterparts in the industry.

• One in four manufacturing leaders are women.

Emily Bertram is director of marketing and communications at St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce and editor of Business Central Magazine.

By 2030, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that there will be 4.6 million manufacturing jobs in the United States. That volume, combined with the retirement of baby boomers, leaves over 2.2 million manufacturing jobs up for grabs.

While the manufacturing industry has come a long way, steps can still be taken to help women feel more comfortable in manufacturing roles. Female representation in the hiring process helps applicants feel welcome. A family-centric culture fosters better work/life balance that everyone – not just women – value. Creating employee groups, or allowing female employees to join women-centric manufacturing associations, helps female workers feel supported.

The companies that work the hardest to attract and retain female workers will benefit from the different perspectives, ideas and skills that they bring to the table, just like many of these local organizations.

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 35
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Many companies entered the remote work world out of necessity. Most are planning to stay.

It’s been nearly four years since COVID-19 came on the scene and drastically altered everything about our lives. And while many of the restrictions have been lifted and things have returned to business as usual, one thing that has not fully transitioned to prepandemic behavior has been, well, business.

In the wake of the pandemic, the rush to return to the office hasn’t been as widespread as some had originally thought. If this past summer’s push by major corporations such as Amazon and Facebook’s parent company Meta, or even the U.S. Government is indicative of future trends, it is unlikely that

a permanent return to the office five days a week will be the new normal in this postpandemic world.

Instead, many firms are opting to embrace hybrid working schedules for those positions that allow for remote working capabilities – requiring employees to return to the

38 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2023

office a few days a week. Global analytical research firm Gallup found that of U.S. employees with remote working capabilities, 52 percent were working in a hybrid situation as of November 2023. Approximately 30 percent were exclusively working remotely and just over 20 percent were working on-site during that same time period.

In fact, the work environment for employees with remote capabilities is anticipated to continue to favor hybrid situations. By 2025, Gallup estimates 60 percent of remote-capable employees will expect and/or prefer to work in hybrid situations, while those who will be expected and/or preferring to work on-site will drop by 13 percentage points.

In the years since the onset of the pandemic, Minnesota’s remote workforce has continued to hold strong. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) estimated that about 25 percent of the state’s workforce worked

Gallup found that 52 percent of remote employees were working in a hybrid situation as of November 2023. Approximately 30 percent were exclusively working remotely and just over 20 percent were working on-site during that same period.

from home at least three days a week in February 2023, and there’s no reason to think that will stop.

Hybrid is working for local employers

Stone fabricator machine manufacturing firm Park Industries used to be one hundred percent onsite for all employees. COVID changed that. “Throughout the pandemic, we found a new way of working,” Alyssa Cross, Park Industries’ vice president of human resources, said.

While about half of its 350 employees work on the production floor or do installations requiring them to be onsite fulltime, the remaining employees can work remotely if they choose. This includes the company’s office staff, marketing team, HR, customer service, and finance departments. “A majority of our team found that this model fit well with their lifestyle,” Cross said. “They loved the flexibility and found it really rewarding. And now, if we were to go back to mandating everyone in the office, it would cause major problems.”

Anecdotally, the trend of adopting a hybrid workforce in Central Minnesota is something Gail Cruikshank, talent director with the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp., said is becoming more common for those firms with remote capable positions. “I’ve heard a bit about some employers mandating a return to the office,” Cruikshank said. “But that hasn’t been across the board. In fact, I’ve been hearing and seeing that most everyone really wants to be in the middle of the road, allowing hybrid work if possible.”

According to Gallup, most firms adopting a hybrid workweek schedule are opting to require employees to come into the office two or three days a week. Most employers typically favor those days to be Tuesdays, Wednesdays,

and/or Thursdays. This allows employees to collaborate on team projects or use resources that are only available onsite.

“We tend to leave the decision of hybrid working schedules up to our associates,” Cross said. “There are individuals who want to come into the office a few times a week. Others, a couple of times a year. Our engineering department tends to come into the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays for hands-on work. But every situation is different.”

And understanding those situations is key to executing a successful hybrid workweek Cruikshank said. “Employers are learning that you don’t have to offer the same options for everybody,” she said. “But you do need to make sure that you are offering some benefits to everyone. For example, if you must have onsite production people, what sort of benefits are you offering to them? Open communication between employers and their employees is key.”

Navigating a changing workforce

Keeping the lines of communication open between employees and employers who allow for remote work has been one of the biggest balancing acts in managing a hybrid or remote workforce. At Park Industries, Cross said, senior leadership develops clear company goals for departments and ensures employees understand their tasks in both how they relate to their position and the company. “We aren’t measuring productivity like we used to,” Cross said. “It is less about the time you arrive or the time that you leave. It’s more about establishing clear goals and objectives and developing milestones — be it monthly, quarterly, or annually — that we need to hit.”

While some of the major corporations have touted the decline in productivity as the

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 39
“Vitality is not driven by downtown. It’s driven by all the elements that make up a downtown.” — Gail Cruikshank

reasons why they are mandating a return to the office, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has found that productivity has been increasing. In fact, nationwide, productivity increased 5.2 percent in the third quarter of 2023 compared with the second quarter for the non-farm business sector. Looking at the non-financial corporate sector, productivity saw a 2.2 percent increase during that same time.

For Cruikshank, forcing a full-time return to the office for remote-capable positions is less about ensuring productivity and more rooted in insecurity. “If you have a strong team and a strong company culture, your employees will feel obligated to do their job

and do it well,” she said. “If you need to spend your time micromanaging your employees, that tells them that you don’t have faith in them. At the end of the day, it’s not about how many keystrokes that you make, it’s about what are the goals and expectations you have for your employees and holding them accountable for those goals.”

This is especially important as many employers, like Park Industries, are seeking talent outside of their home office base. Cross said the flexibility of hybrid and/or remote working has allowed the company to expand its recruiting efforts outside of Central Minnesota. “Just recently we hired 53 new

associates,” Cross said. “Of them, half are based in other states. It’s allowed us to widen our pool of talent.”

The impact on downtowns

While hybrid and exclusively remote work have transformed the traditional office worker’s 9-to-5 business day, many other businesses that rely heavily on the foot traffic office workers used to bring, have been forced to adapt to the new reality.

Minneapolis Downtown Council Director of Communications and Research Mark Remme said during the height of the pandemic, downtown Minneapolis (which had 216,000 downtown workers) lost almost 90 percent of its day-to-day workforce. “That number has since risen back to 65 percent of our day-to-day workforce returning to the office, but the impact is still significant,” Remme said. Of

40 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024 FEATURE

the top 15 largest employers in downtown Minneapolis, nine have some form of a return to office policy. “But we also know that companies that have not implemented a specific return to office policy still have more and more workers returning regularly,” he added. “And while we continue to be an advocate for return to office for employees, we understand that businesses do need to make decisions on what in-office and hybrid models make the most sense for them.”

To counter some of the dip in officeworker related foot traffic, Remme said the council convened leadership from across downtown Minneapolis to participate in collective engagement events for the downtown. This included events like the 2023 “Summer’s Better Downtown” initiative which featured coordinated communication about downtown happenings. “Summer’s Better Downtown also included a major “Downtown

Thursdays” initiative that featured food trucks, entertainment, giveaways, activities, and more, stretching 10 blocks along Nicollet in our city’s core,” Remme said.

Similar to Minneapolis, leaders in St. Cloud have expressed a desire for remote capable workers to come back to the office. However, as St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis said in a July 2023 interview, it is unlikely that many employers will opt for a full-time return to the office. “It’s clear to us that if downtown is going to thrive, we need to do something different.”

Together with the Downtown Alliance, the City of St. Cloud’s Economic Development Authority and the local business community, the City of St. Cloud is working to revitalize downtown. To do this, they are relying less on office workers coming back full time, than on expanding what downtown has to offer. “Vitality is not driven by downtown,”

Cruikshank said. “It’s driven by all the elements that make up a downtown.”

Doing things differently

It is unlikely that the scenery for many remote-capable employees will be a cubicle or downtown office in the near future. Time will tell if the pandemic has left a permanent mark on the traditional five-day workweek or if this will just be a blip on the radar. But for many employers who have embraced the aftereffects of the pandemic on their workforce schedule, it has been well worth the change.

“At Park Industries we have a culture of trust, integrity, and respect,” Cross said. “It is those company values that allow us to lead in a way that promotes hybrid working. And this new way of working is working for us.”

Vicki Johnson is the senior transportation planner with the Saint Cloud Area Planning Organization.

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 41

Learn. ADAPT. Advance.

The construction industry has faced its fair share of challenges, but local companies are skilled at bracing for whatever comes next.

Like so many industries, Central Minnesota’s construction companies have been on a wild ride the past handful of years. While it hasn’t always been a bad ride, the ups and downs that some longtime commercial and residential builders experienced leave them asking one overarching question: will 2024 be the new normal?

That’s a fair question, considering March marks four

years since COVID-19 sparked then-President Trump to declare a national emergency and Minnesota Governor Tim Walz to implement unprecedented peacetime restrictions.

Now, even with the COVID-19 pandemic officially declared endemic almost a year ago, it’s still impossible to answer if 2024 will be the new normal for Central Minnesota’s construction

industry. It is clear, though, that the past few years taught many companies the importance of adapting to change and meeting new and ongoing challenges head on.

“In the last handful of years, it’s harder and harder to create some sort of benchmark as far as what’s normal with COVID-19 and then coming out of the pandemic,” Rachel Gruber said. Gruber owns Dale Gruber Construction, which

focuses largely on commercial and residential remodeling.

“For the remodeling industry, it’s pretty strong right now. We had a good summer and fall, which are our busier seasons. Time will tell, but for 2024 we hope it will be strong across Central Minnesota.”

According to Jack Brandes, vice president of Lumber One Avon and president of the Central Minnesota Builders Association (CMBA), the past

42 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024 SPECIAL FOCUS

several years have been excellent for home building. “Now we’re seeing a little bit of pullback with higher interest rates and the rising cost of labor. Still, when you talk to contractors, most have not missed a beat yet because many larger homes or larger projects are still being done.”

W. Gohman Construction Co. provides general contracting and construction management services in the St. Cloud market for industrial, commercial, retail and institutional projects. Company President Michael Gohman offers similar perspectives about the past few years and what’s ahead for 2024.

“Interest rates have made things a little more challenging now, but that can be planned and structured. The hardest part of the COVID years was the inflationary side of it,” Gohman said, recalling how prices for some supplies jumped as much as 50 percent from when a contract was first written to when the project was completed, often 12 to 18 months or more later.

“Now prices have stabilized for most materials, which can help with locking on prices and doing better planning,” according to Gohman, whose family-owned company also specializes in developing resort/recreation properties in the Brainerd area.


Those rapid price increases the past few years came handin-hand with supply chain challenges that took root in Central Minnesota and the nation from the pandemic. Suddenly many construction companies found they needed new approaches to acquiring the building supplies they needed.

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 43
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“We had to make some big changes in how we would approach different parts of projects that take 10-15 months,” Corey Gerads, acting president of Alliance Building Corp., said. Alliance Building Corp. focuses on multifamily and senior housing. “Instead of ordering a few months ahead, we had to take products when we could get them. We had to come up with creative ways to get the product when we needed it. We had to say we’ll take it whenever you can get it. That didn’t make it easy, but we just had to adapt.”

Gruber echoes the importance of adapting to the supply chain challenges. “It was wild times there for a while,” she said. “We learned it was important to control what you can control. We found it valuable to advise consumers ahead of time on any supply chain challenges. Now we continue to be mindful of potential supply chain issues as well as quality control and guide and communicate with our clients throughout the construction process.”

Among the solutions companies developed were putting more focus on acquiring supplies, adjusting timelines of projects to accommodate supplies and buying products well ahead of time and storing them until needed. Even now, though, it still can take 12 to 24 months to acquire supplies like transformers and parts common to larger projects.

“It’s better but not back to normal,” Gerads said. “I’m optimistic it will continue to get better.”


Pandemic or not, one challenge the industry continues to face in Central Minnesota is finding

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Manea’s Meats and Bradbury Stamm Construction form a solution-oriented partnership to build an important expansion

“We needed to do something.”

During the past five years, production was becoming inefficient. New equipment had been purchased and processes reassessed. But it became clear – there was simply not enough space.

Manea’s Meats owners, Donald Manea, Alina Manea, and Juan Castellanos, recounted their decision to build a 12,000 square foot expansion to their facility. “We’ve been so cramped, we have actually been turning down business…We tried to squeeze as much out of this building as we could, but it was getting so inefficient, we needed to do something.”

locations to unforeseen material delays. When Juan was asked about his initial fear of an operations and shipping disruption, he noted, “It’s our busiest time of year, and they navigated us through it without having one issue. It’s really cool to see it happen.”

However, the decision to expand posed a significant risk – a construction project could cause a devastating lull in operations. “We’re so busy, and we don’t have a lot of

Construction. Bradbury Stamm – under its previous name, Winkelman Building Corp. – built the first phase of Manea’s Meat’s current facility in 2007. Castellanos noted, “We had a very good experience with them, and I’ve known the team members at Bradbury for many, many years. I reached out to them right away.”

Not only has the team been able to keep the loading dock open through the entire project, but they have also successfully overcome various daily challenges, from unexpected utility locations to unforeseen material delays.

storage area. We need our trucks coming in daily.” They further explained that food safety relies on their shipping process operating smoothly. Even briefly closing the loading dock could result in major losses.

In the face of this threat, Manea’s Meats owners relied on an established relationship with a trusted builder: Bradbury Stamm

Since the July 2023 groundbreaking, Manea’s Meats has worked with Bradbury Stamm Project Manager Lee Gruen and Superintendent Bruce Schreiner. Not only has the team been able to keep the loading dock open through the entire project, but they have also successfully overcome various daily challenges, from unexpected utility

Castellanos said of team’s problem-solving success, “You run into problems, which is just going to happen… Everybody works through it, and progress keeps going.” Gruen echoes this team approach. “Our approach is to be upfront about the issue and work to the solution with the entire project team. This includes the owner.”


Juan Castellanos believes the most important factors when choosing a construction manager are “having confidence and trust in them. You know good people who have done work for you. You know if there’s a problem, they’ll fix it.”

This sentiment seems to resonate with countless other Bradbury Stamm partners, evidenced by 85% of their business coming from clients who have had multiple projects with the company. Project Manager Lee Gruen says, “We rely on the trust we earn, and we take that really seriously.”

The partnership between Manea’s Meats and Bradbury Stamm Construction is not only an important step for Manea’s but also a testament to business relationships built on trust, strong communication, and a shared commitment facing challenges head-on. •

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qualified workers. “Our difficulty in hiring labor has not changed since 2013,” Gohman said, citing a shortage in the construction workforce rooted in recessionary times around 2008.

As the industry struggled, fewer people went into the trades. Then as the economy began to strengthen in 2013, the shortage emerged and has remained for a decade. “It’s not gotten any harder or easier over the past 10 years to hire workers,” Gohman said. “It just is what it is — and maybe that’s normal.”

Developing a more robust workforce is a passion for Gruber, who chairs Tools for Schools, a CMBA program that raises funds and then donates to more than a dozen Central Minnesota high schools’ industrial tech programs.

“We provide grants to area schools to foster and sustain their industrial tech programs,” according to Gruber, who’s been part of Tools for Schools for seven years. “We want to make sure schools continue those programs.”

Wanda Schroeder, executive director of CMBA, said the goal is simple: Build the next generation of builders and trades workers. “We know the hiring market,” she said. “We try to stay involved with the schools and the students and share the message that construction and the trades provide good-paying, year-round work.”

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The good news, Gruber said, is there is growing interest in earning two-year degrees in the trades, especially nowadays when trades graduates earn an average of $75,000 annually plus benefits — and enter the workforce with minimal or no educational debts.


While construction leaders know the workforce will continue to be a challenge this year and beyond, they are optimistic about their industry considering all it has weathered the past five years. “We have government and industrial projects on the docket now,” Gohman said. “Meanwhile, our resort business never slowed down and things are stabilizing. I don’t see that changing this year.”

Gerads of Alliance agreed. “I’m very confident and comfortable with where our industry is at right now. We have great demand for all kinds of housing from customers of all ages. I don’t see that faucet turning off because there really is demand for what we are doing. That makes me optimistic for at least the next couple years.”

“The past five years have seen so many changes, with COVID and workforce shortages impacting all aspects of our industry,” Gruber said. “However, 2024 looks better than 2023, which was better than 2022.”

And that’s the kind of “new normal” all builders want after such a wild ride in recent years.

Randy Krebs is a freelance writer, editor and communications strategist. He can be reached at

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 47
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Commercial Construction

Minnesota is a great place to live, play – and work in construction, apparently. Data released by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development in October 2023 states that Minnesota’s construction industry saw a 5.1% increase in new jobs from September 2022 to 2023, while the U.S. growth was just 2.7%.

Much of that growth is specific to the manufacturing, infrastructure, and clean energy sectors due in large part to legislation passed in 2021 and 2022. As construction firms continue to battle obstacles like inflation, increasing labor costs, skilled labor shortages and rising interest rates, the outlook is still positive. Industry data provider Dodge Construction Network forecasts a 7% increase in construction starts in 2024, equaling $1.206 trillion in total spend.


Read more on recent projects around the area.

Alliance Building Corp.

Coming Soon!

Sleepy Eye Apartment Homes

Sleepy Eye, MN

New construction, additions, or remodels. Let us build your needs!

Bradbury Stamm Construction

Abra Auto Body

Waite Park, MN

The Abra Auto Body Addition project includes 8,000 square feet of addition to connect the two existing buildings on the site. This addition includes a new enclosed estimating area for customers, and additional shop space. There is also some renovation work occurring within the two existing buildings to help with work flow, and maximizing the use of all the square footage that will now be connected.

Midland Credit Management

Dale Gruber Construction completed an office remodel project for Midland Credit Management (MCM) on the 2nd floor of the former Herberger’s building in downtown St. Cloud. The 47,500 sq ft tenant space was updated with new secure main & employee entrances, office and room modifications, new restroom, wave activated doors and painted walls in MCM branded colors. It was exciting to be a part of this construction project; revitalizing the vacant suite and bringing around 170 people to the downtown area.

48 BusinessCentral // MARCH/APRIL 2024
Dale Gruber Construction

Design Electric, Inc.

Electrical Contractor

When you need commercial electrical work done in St. Cloud, trust the contractor who has been around for over four decades.

Design Electric, Inc. is a family-owned electrical contractor established in 1972.

We can handle your toughest electrical jobs, including:

Electrical service technicians available 24/7 Electrical system design Government electrical projects

Industrial-grade installation and electrical repairs

Low, medium and high-voltage system installation Commercial lighting retrofitting

PH: 320.252.1658


Rice Companies

Landwehr Office and Warehouse

Rice Companies constructed a corporate office, shop, and warehouse for Landwehr Construction located in St. Cloud, MN.

Rice Companies has been proudly building projects and partnerships since 1953.

GLTArchitects is nearing completion on design and plans for the new Great River Children’s Museum located in the former Liberty Bank building in downtown St. Cloud. The Museum features unique interactive exhibits including Climber to the Clouds, Community Connections, Great Explorations, Great Big River, Engineering Zone, and the Headwaters, offering kids the opportunity to play and learn in a fun

W Gohman Construction

Buffalo Downtown Fire Station

The city of Buffalo hired W Gohman Construction for a new fire station and training center spanning 28,000 sq ft on a 2.7-acre site. The station includes four bunk rooms for three shifts, five double-long bays for ten apparatuses, a full kitchen, dining room, day room, fitness center, and storage mezzanine. For firefighter safety, it also has a decontamination room including a gear wash station. The facility also contains 3,500 sq ft of offices, training space, and conference rooms, plus a 4,000 sq ft basement for storage and training.

MARCH/APRIL 2024 // 49
26 1st Ave N., Waite Park 320-253-5078 Mon-Fri 8 a.m. - 7 p.m. Sat 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Sun Closed We are a major supplier and installer of residential floor covering while satisfying your decorative needs! Best of Central MN 2023 26 1st Ave N., Waite Park 320-253-5078 Mon-Fri 8 a.m. - 7 p.m. Sat 9 a.m.- 4 p.m. Sun Closed We are a major supplier and installer of commercial and residential floor covering while satisfying your decorative needs! Form & Function Best of Central MN 2023


It’s All Good

April Mae Good-VanderLinden, owner of AMG Promotions & Apparel, credits her father for her entrepreneurial spirit.

What is your background?

I grew up in Sheldon, North Dakota, the second-youngest of 10 kids. My dad was a farmer and worked with a creamery on the side, and he always told me that if I wanted to be successful in life, I had to own my own business. I went to North Dakota State University and majored in business administration with a minor in accounting. We moved to St. Cloud in 1988 when my husband got a job at Electrolux, and I’ve been here since.

How did you get into promotional advertising?

During my senior year of college my older sister was selling promotional advertising in the Fargo area. She got me interested in it, and I ended up writing an essay about it for a marketing class. I didn’t really want to work in sales, but I realized with this job, I didn’t have to sit at a desk all day. My first sale was to St. Luke’s


AMG Promotions and Apparel

Sports Medicine program, and I sold them water bottles.

How have you adapted to changes in the industry?

Social media has changed the way we sell. We sell from our website, and we also create custom online stores for some of our clients – called fulfillment programs. It’s been a lot to keep up with, but I purchased a warehouse for inventory so that we can provide quick turnaround, and we also stay very involved in the community so our name is out there.

What do you like about this industry?

It allows me to be independent. I am my own boss, and I decide how my day goes. I also love the variety – anybody could be my customer. My favorite part is sitting down with big companies at the beginning of the year and planning what they’ll need for the year.



April Good and her husband, Dave, move to St. Cloud 1995

April launches AMG (April Mae Good) Promotions and Apparel 2000

April and Dave build their home in south St. Cloud, which also houses AMG Promotions and Apparel 2002


April Mae GoodVanderLinden

Owner, AMG Promotions and Apparel


Sheldon, North Dakota

Education: North Dakota

State University

Family: Husband, Dave, and children, Brooke, Matthew and Jacob

Hobbies: Pickleball, hiking, jet skiing, paddleboarding, traveling

Advice to Other


Phone: (320) 654-1502 | Owner: April Mae Good-VanderLinden

Opened: 1995 | Chamber member since 2015 | Number of Employees: 3

Business Description: AMG Promotions and Apparel is a certified full-service provider of promotional products, corporate apparel, employee recognition awards, and fulfillment. |

April’s husband leaves his job with Electrolux and starts working for AMG 2006

AMG hires its first non-family employee 2014

April purchases a 2,500 square foot warehouse in South Haven, Minn. to house inventory for clients

Don’t under-estimate the amount of capital you will need. Work with a good bank partner and be prepared!

FUN FACT: I used to sell a lot of “tidy tube winders,” which were clamps you could put on your toothpaste tube to help roll out the toothpaste. There have been a lot of fun products over the years.


Growth Opportunities

won’t wait for you to build out or staff up.

Your Partner in Business

At Granterion, we understand that one size doesn’t fit all. We’re dedicated to crafting personalized solutions to ensure your business thrives in the e-commerce world.

Warehousing Excellence: Our cutting-edge warehouse facility is centrally located, secure, and equipped to distribute your products.

Value-Add Services: We go beyond storage. Our team adds value at every step, from receiving to kitting to shipping the product to the customer. We focus on innovative solutions, simplifying operations and reducing cost.

Rework, Product & E-Commerce Prep: We’ll meticulously prepare your products, meeting the highest standards for quality and presentation. Navigate the marketplace effortlessly with our specialized services, including rework and E-commerce prep.

D2C & B2B Fulfillment: Connect directly with your customers through our Direct-to-Consumer or Business-to-Business fulfillment services.

Short and Long-Term Storage Solutions: Whether it’s a brief pause before hitting the market or an extended stay, Granterion has your storage needs covered.

Your Success is our Priority! A Bluestem Brands Company SM Call today for a no-obligation supply chain analysis. 320.200.0261 6250 Ridgewood Road St. Cloud, MN 56303
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