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The Story of Dr. Don Meredith Orthopaedic & Fracture Clinic’s second surgeon, Dr. Don Meredith, joined Dr. Paul Gislason and the practice in 1959. From a company interview taken in 2005, then-retired Dr. Meredith shared this story of first seeing Mankato and renting a home in lower North Mankato:

Don & Marjorie Meredith

“After being in Mankato two years, Dr. Paul Gislason (the founder of Orthopaedic & Fracture Clinic) telephoned in April 1959 to ask me to look over his practice and Mankato. He wanted a partner. My wife and I drove in to Mankato on old US 169, which is North Riverfront today. In those days Mankato didn’t look very vibrant coming into town from that direction. We almost turned around and went home to St. Paul. Mankato was smaller than Fargo, my hometown. But we soon learned it had a huge drawing area of more than a quarter million people that didn’t have any orthopaedic surgeons except for Paul Gislason. So we moved here two months later. In 1959, Mankato didn’t have a lot of available housing. Paul and Marian Gislason were helping us look, even for basement apartments. We finally found this house in North Mankato at 802 Lyndale on the corner with Monroe, owned by the creamery owner in Henderson. It had two stories, the second being an expansion of the attic. I had to duck to get in there. You could still see the level where the 1952 flood had reached, near the windowpanes. The creamery owner charged us $125 plus utilities per month. Marjorie and I had three children, another on the way, a dog named Rags, and a cat named Spats. Our fourth child was born February 1960. When our fifth child was born in 1962, we had to move. So we had Janet, Nancy, Donald, Bruce, and Barbara. It was too crowded. We moved on Thanksgiving Day 1962.” —Dr. Don Meredith (2005). Today, Dr. Meredith at age 85, and retired from OFC, volunteers one day a week as an orthopaedic physician for the Gila Indians in Arizona. The physicians and staff of The Orthopaedic & Fracture Clinic carry on the tradition of Dr. Don Meredith through our focus on the health and well being of our patients and our commitment to our community.

Mankato, Faribault, Hutchinson, Northfield and 14 outreach clinics. 14 physicians and 110 employees.






Wayne Kahler

Kahler Automation

Publisher: Jeffry Irish Editor: Daniel J. Vance


Art Director/Staff Photographer: Kris Kathmann Interim Advertising Manager: Daniel J. Vance

Kahler has more stickpins than ego. In the main hallway at no-nonsense Kahler Automation, the 53-employee business 67-year-old Wayne Kahler founded in 1989, employees over the years have thumbed in hundreds of color-coded stickpins to mark customer sites. If the company had an international map, additional stickpins would grace South Africa, Argentina, Ukraine, and Canada.

Paul Wilke


River Hills Mall

Contributing Photographers: Jeff Silker, Art Sidner Contributing Writers: Carlienne Frisch, Michael D. Tanner Production: Becky Wagner Kelly Hanson Josh Swanson


Quality 1 Hr. Foto

8,500 for January 2013 Published bimonthly

CORRESPONDENCE Send press releases and other correspondence: c/o Editor, Connect Business Magazine P.O. Box 452, Nicollet, MN 56074 E-mail: (please place press releases in email body) Web: Phone: (507) 232-3463



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Brian Fowler is a storyteller—and not only with a camera. He shuts off his cell phone, which has a ring tone of James Brown’s line “I feel good,” and begins to answer a question about where he grew up with a description of his great-great-grandfather’s 1868 homestead claim. During the interview, he throws out a jaw-dropping line about getting a call from the White House to shoot photos of thenPresident George W. Bush.

Editor’s Letter

Printing: Corporate Graphics, N. Mankato Cover Photo: Jeff Silker

Paul Wilke stars in southern Minnesota’s greatest attraction. General Growth Properties began building River Hills Mall more than 20 years ago. Today, the retail behemoth annually receives 8.5 million visitors, who often want more and so spill over into Greater Mankato’s many retail nooks and crannies.

Brian Fowler

Circulation: Dave Maakestad


Connect Business Magazine is a publication of Concept & Design Incorporated, a graphic design firm offering print design, web design, illustration and photography.


Copyright 2013. Printed in U.S.A.


Annual Awards Results The drawn out moniker of “Connect Business Magazine/KEYC-TV Business Person of the Year” won’t fit on the back of your bowling shirt, but does quite nicely framed and hanging in the company foyer for clients and potential employees to oo and ah. Just ask Wayne Kahler of Kahler Automation in Fairmont. He gets this year’s nota bene. We called for nominations in our September 2012 issue and Minnesota State University College of Business professors then voted Kahler best overall in four judged categories: personal character, business results, community involvement, and leadership. He appears smiling on our cover as our tenth annual “Business Person of the Year.” Kahler Automation, his 23-year-old west-end Fairmont high-tech business, has doubled in size the last few years and begun doing business worldwide, including South Africa and Argentina. Our other award winners are River Hills Mall Senior General Manager Paul Wilke, who finished second, and Brian Fowler, owner of Quality 1 Hr. Foto and SPX Sports and Design, who claimed show in this year’s horse race. Fowler’s “Quality 1 Hr. Foto” also wins our alltime award for being the most difficult name to copy edit. Sursum ad summum,

Daniel J. Vance Editor



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Kahler has more stickpins than ego. In the main hallway at no-nonsense Kahler Automation, the 53-employee business 67-year-old Wayne Kahler founded in 1989, employees over the years have thumbed in hundreds of color-coded stickpins to mark customer sites. If the company had an international map, additional stickpins would grace South Africa, Argentina, Ukraine, and Canada. Revenues have mushroomed the last few years, the employee count has doubled, and Fairmont floor space will soon increase 15,000 sq. ft. Fracking companies have created recent revenue streams. At one point three years running, Kahler Automation was on the Inc.5000 fastest-growing companies list. Its website reads, “Kahler Automation is an experienced system integrator of industrial control systems with a project history that incorporates process control and data acquisition in a wide variety of industries dating back to 1980.” An unparalleled commitment to community, customers, creativity, and his employee team distinguished President Wayne Kahler (pronounced Kay-ler) from other Connect Business Magazine/KEYCTV Business Person of the Year Award nominees. A cradle-to-today Fairmontonian, he has chaired Fairmont Area Chamber, and been a Lions Club member, Blandin Community Leadership Program attendee, and overall booster helping Fairmont fulfill dreams. Fairmont Area Chamber President Bob Wallace said, “As for Wayne, he has absolutely no ego. From my years knowing him, I’ve never seen him express any. He’s the type of person that credits others. In large measure, his success comes from the close relationships he and his employees have with customers.” continued > 8

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Business owner steeped in hometown, pilots process control and data acquisition business sky high.

Business Person of The Year 2013 winners selected by MSU Mankato College of Business faculty.


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Wayne Kahler | Business Person of the Year 2013: 1st Place

Without our own planes, we would have to drive to Minneapolis, get on an airliner, go to say St. Louis, for example, and rent a car. It could take a full day just to get to a customer. But with our own planes, we can be there in two hours, do our work, and often return the same day. What do you enjoy most about your business? I’ve always been interested in technology, which is how we got into automation. I was working with my dad, an electrical contractor, who owned Kahler Electric. I had a self-taught interest in electronics and computers. As time evolved at Kahler Electric, there were more and more opportunities to do automation involving electronics and computers. Today, I love seeing technology implemented. The challenge of trying to solve problems for customers is almost a disease with me. It’s really easy for me to set aside a proven project and jump into a new, unknown project to see if I can help come up with a good solution for a customer. It’s that process that keeps me interested

in the business every day. That said, I’m more of a bolts and nuts, mechanical guy. That’s the old electrician in me. You wire up a bunch of lights, flip a switch, and something works. A bit of that carries on with me into our automation work—seeing a final result that works is a really important aspect of business for me. Wes Pruett, a Fairmont Area Chamber chair, once described you as “a cool guy that flies airplanes.” I have been flying since age 16 and it’s my favorite thing to do. We have two company airplanes that move our engineers and salespeople around the country and I have another airplane I keep at home, a Kitfox two-seater, similar to a Piper Cub.

Do you have a company pilot? We have three people here who can fly, and in addition we have on-call pilots in Fairmont. I personally don’t fly the company airplane on business. When out on a call, I let someone else fly because on the way to a call I’m mentally trying to focus on what is going to take place at the meeting. Flying is a full-time job. What advantages are there to having company airplanes? The type of work we do is typically in smaller communities within 600 miles of Fairmont. Without our own planes, we would have to drive to Minneapolis, get on an airliner, go to say St. Louis, for example, and rent a car. It could take a full day just

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Business Person of the Year 2013 | Kahler Automation

to get to a customer. But with our own planes, we can be there in two hours, do our work, and often return the same day. This improves our ability to service customers. Many of our systems are crucial to our customer’s production or operation, so if those systems break down, and we can’t make corrections over the Internet, our customers can get quick service. Do the airplanes give you an advantage over competitors? Our competitors do not have airplanes. We can provide faster service. Give a specific example of when that was really crucial? We have several customers that unload ships and load trucks and railcars with fertilizer. One of those customers in Galveston, Texas, was hit by a hurricane. The airport was open, but had minimal lighting. Several days after the event, they discovered water had entered one of their control panels for the rail load-out. They had a ship that needed unloading because it had been idle for some time waiting for the hurricane to pass. An electrician there tried repairing the control panel, but couldn’t. So we sent two technicians and a

box of parts on one of our airplanes. They arrived in Galveston at night on a runway with only four lights. They landed and got the customer up and running, which helped get the ship unloaded. We’ve done those things for customers after tornadoes and lightning strikes. Describe the size of your company? Our revenues are in the $12- to $16-million range. In terms of employees, we have more than doubled over the last four years from 24 to 53. In part, we employ engineers, electricians, technicians, and computer programmers programming in a variety of languages. We can write just about any computer language to accomplish a project. So we have people who not only can write the software for the controller out on the factory floor, but also can take the factory floor data right into their accounting packages. We have people in-house that write interfaces from the factory floor controllers into the desktop computers in the office. The majority of our customers are in the Midwest where crops are grown, but we have done projects in Argentina, South Africa, Canada, and the Ukraine. I just got off the telephone yesterday with people from Australia. Our focus had been the

U.S., but we’ve been getting inquiries from all over the world. Certain manufacturers that make conveyors and blenders have been asking us to build the controls in order to supply a complete package to end-users. U.S. herbicide/fertilizer bulk customers make up about 75 percent of our business. Industrial customers make up 18 percent of our business, and we’re making testers for their products. We do grain handling for large grain elevators, which is almost five percent of our business. And we do sandfracking control systems, which represent three percent of our business, and that segment is growing rapidly. Let’s look at the 75 percent portion of your business. Describe exactly what you do for those customers. We help customers mix and blend a variety of dry and liquid products. Dry products could be urea or potash, for example. With those customers, we might have a control package that could help them call up an order that had been made up to years before, and automatically perform the blend for the grower to pick up. As soon as it’s been blended and measurements taken by a scale, which we control, we can import that information to

Wayne Kahler | Business Person of the Year 2013: 1st Place

the accounting software for billing. On the liquid side, we usually help clients with liquid herbicides, but liquid fertilizer is gaining in popularity because it can be put on as needed throughout the growing season. We have a variety of 24/7 dispensing systems where a grower can help himself if he’s got the right PIN code to get into the dispensing system. One challenge for us has been adapting to the way farmers throughout the U.S. operate at point of sale. Here in Minnesota they do it one way, but in Nebraska or Illinois they have a different twist. So we have developed modular systems to adapt our packages to the area grower’s needs. Besides point of sale, we’re involved in dry materials, for instance, from the mining and wholesale chain to the coming off ships or rail through distribution points and points of sale. Our sand fracking customers are primarily in Louisiana and Texas, and with one system in Canada. We have proposed quite a few in North Dakota. Essentially, any process that needs electrical controls or software to operate is an opportunity. We’ve had to step away from some opportunities because we have so much on our plate. Who and what made you into the person you are today? Many people in Fairmont had a hand in it. I grew up in Fairmont, graduated from high school here, and have been a lifelong resident. I started working with my dad when I was eight years old. He had a two-man electrical shop through which I had opportunities to meet and see area businesspeople in action. That had a really strong influence on what I thought I wanted to be. What made these businesspeople unique? One that sticks really strong in my mind is Anchor Nelson, who ran an ice cream company. He was an entrepreneur extraordinaire and

after selling his ice cream business was an investor in many ventures in town. He brought a lot of industry to town by being a silent investor. Because of my father’s business, I had the opportunity to know people like Anchor. I looked up to and wanted to emulate those kinds of people. What was special about him? He was a risk taker willing to invest in Fairmont. He usually found people in the community he thought could do the job. I’ve tried to emulate that. I was always impressed by his perseverance and willingness to stay in one spot and not leave when times got tough. You mentioned Anchor’s risk taking. What is there about risk taking you enjoy? Being able to decide the things to risk—whether money, time or energy—is what I admired about him. Today, I enjoy calculating risk and deciding what it’s going to take to win. I find that admirable in others and rewarding in my own efforts when things work out. You study how deep the water is and decide if you can make it across. And when you do, it’s very rewarding. What about your career path? My parents were a strong influence. The fact I worked with my dad from very young on influenced me. In turn, I’ve been blessed having my son here the last eight years. He graduated from Iowa State and is in charge of product development. While 16 and working for my dad, I passed my first electrician’s test. So I’ve been a journeyman electrician more than 50 years and got my master’s license a few years later. After graduating from high school in 1962, I went to a trade school in the Cities, Northwest Electronics. This began my interest in computers. While attending

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Business Person of the Year 2013 | Kahler Automation

Today, I enjoy calculating risk and deciding what it’s going to take to win. I find that admirable in others and rewarding in my own efforts when things work out. You study how deep the water is and decide if you can make it across. And when you do, it’s very rewarding. there, I worked for Control Data and then Univac. I returned to Fairmont a year and a half later, and would buy books about computers and read up on and buy small computers and experiment. In the early 1970s, I started doing automation work as part of Kahler Electric. I began putting small programmable logic controllers (PLCs) on machines and wiring the machines for customers. Right off the bat, I was given large projects, such as putting in multiple PLCs that operated the refrigeration for large plants. We were getting involved on large-scale control projects that included writing software that could not only control the process, but also report what was going on within the process, such as how many, what, and how long to chill a product, for example. The data helped customers understand or change their processes to be more efficient. Today, we not only automate processes, but also collect data. Right now, I’d say data collection is more important to a customer than automating the function. Give an example. Let’s take a manufacturing process where the company is making a product that needs to hold pressure over time. We’ve developed text fixtures for them that will automatically go through and test the device to see how long it holds pressure. They can make minor changes to their product to see if it holds pressure better and longer, and verify the changes they made were proper. We have several manufacturers we’ve done test fixtures for allowing them to weld up cranes, equipment, and the design of the welding fixture. How it operates can save them time and help produce product faster. When did Kahler Automation split from Kahler Electric? We spun off the automation department in ’89 and started Kahler Automation with three employees. We’re currently at 53. Both the

Congratulations to:

Kahler Automation!


Ian Bents, Wayne Kahler, and Ron Kopisch All of us at Profinium congratulate Wayne as Business Person of the Year. We are proud to be of service in supporting the businesses in our community!

FAIRMONT 105 Lake Avenue 507-235-5538 TRUMAN 414 N 5th Avenue E 507-776-2311 Member FDIC


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Wayne Kahler | Business Person of the Year 2013: 1st Place

At first, people were asking what an electrical firm knew about automating processes. Thank goodness there were people who saw we could do the job and allowed us to do it. Every time we finished a job, it was another feather in our hat—like earning a college degree. people starting with me in ’89 are still here. We have a lot of long-term employees. You don’t have to recruit in the Twin Cities to find excellent people. They are already here in Fairmont. How difficult was it getting your business off the ground? At first, people were asking what an electrical firm knew about automating processes. Thank goodness there were people

who saw we could do the job and allowed us to do it. Every time we finished a job, it was another feather in our hat—like earning a college degree. A lot of our work then and now comes through networking. A manufacturer might tell another, ‘Well, I had Kahler build me a test fixture’ and we’ll get a call from that customer looking for a solution. Reveal one of your biggest mistakes. Many years ago, we tried figuring out

how to mold certain parts out of recycled rubber, such as a part that could protect the road concrete under a manhole ring. That didn’t work out. As a solution provider, it was difficult for us to say we couldn’t do it. We thought we could develop our own product line and make parts out of rubber tires. One problem we had was the variability in the curing process due to natural humidity, and another was the rubber not being consistent. In some cases, the rubber




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Business Person of the Year 2013 | Kahler Automation

would come out of our molds slightly out of tolerance. We spent more than a year trying to make repeatable parts. This whole process reminded me I was an electrical guy and should stick with that. I’m not a chemist, and we didn’t have anyone that understood the chemistry involved. You’ve been described as a person who’s always looking at what the next thing is going to be. What is the next thing with your company? I would say supplying the equipment for sand fracking systems. We’re rapidly expanding into an international marketplace that wasn’t part of my game plan just five years ago. Over the last couple years, we’ve had opportunities to supply this equipment into other countries through the request of U.S. companies. Of course, there’s a learning curve involved with doing business overseas. For instance, the voltages and packaging requirement for other countries often aren’t the same as ours. Do you install overseas? No. But we send start-up technicians that review what has been installed to see if it’s ready for powering up. He helps train the operator in how the system functions. A typical international start-up can last two weeks for us.

What IS the Difference?

During our walk-through before this interview, you were talking with me about the way you heat and cool your building using geothermal heating and cooling. We circulate water through a closed loop system beginning in the ground, where the water is 53 degrees. It comes back up into the building. We use heat pumps to raise the water temperature to 105 degrees in the winter and in the summer we cool the water to 45 degrees and circulate that through. We are heating and cooling our entire 21,000 sq. ft. facility for about $600 a month. The catch is the 10-year payback. It cost us $93,000 for the heat exchanger and 44 closed-loop wells that each go down 200 feet. What’s your philosophy on the kind of business and work environment you want to create? The first is professional, then comfortable, where people can speak out if they feel a need. I try treating people as I would like to be treated. I like people taking pride in what they’re doing. To help build that pride, we recently took a large group of our employees to a large Watonwan Farm Services grain facility in Delavan where we did the automation. We took a tour and went out to eat on the way home. We’ve done that before.

Wayne Kahler | Business Person of the Year 2013

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Said Wayne Kahler in a Connect Business Magazine interview, “When Bob and I were in middle school together, he would bring to class a sports clothes bag, the kind we all carried, but his would be full of candy from his father’s grocery store. He would slide the bag up and down between the desks during class and all of us would reach in and select a candy treat. One day, we got caught. The teacher literally threw his bag out the classroom window. The instructor was angry and so was Bob because he lost all his candy.” 507.387.6031

Business Person of the Year 2013 Large Shoes

What would it take to get someone fired here? Not showing up to work or theft would be major issues. I depend on people being here and fulfilling pledges we’ve made to customers. I work with people—and after all, we are all human and we all have our weaknesses and strengths. We try making adjustments to get employees in spots where they can succeed. Name some of your customers in our reading area over the years. In North Mankato, MICO and WisPak; Sanborn Manufacturing in Springfield; WFS in Delavan; Crystal Valley Co-op in Madelia; CrownTonka in Winnebago; BirdsEye in Waseca; LeSueur Inc.; and New Ulm Precision Tool. What growing pains have you had? We’re adding on 15,000 square feet. As for people, we try to give them mentors to help them get up and running quickly. Recently, we ran an advertisement for five new positions and filled four of them with people from the Fairmont area. The other person is moving to Fairmont. One growing pain can be just financing more business, but we have a good banking relationship in town with Profinium Financial. I’ve got a lot of great people to help minimize the pain—and yes, there’s pain. But much of it we would deal with every day anyway, such as making deliveries and finding parts on time. Our magazine’s philosophy is that a business reflects its leader. How has your personality helped create the environment that’s caused this business to succeed? I’m a facilitator that brings on people with talent and gives them the authority to do what they need to do. I’m not a micromanager. My life would be a mess if I were trying to take care of sales and purchasing and everything else. I try delegating and I’ve been fortunate to find good people willing to take on responsibility. I try not getting too critical when things don’t go right. When things aren’t going well, I bear 16

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Wayne Kahler | Business Person of the Year 2013: 1st Place

I’m a facilitator that brings on people with talent and gives them the authority to do what they need to do. I’m not a micromanager. My life would be a mess if I were trying to take care of sales and purchasing and everything else. I try delegating and I’ve been fortunate to find good people willing to take on responsibility. down and look into why. I can get pretty focused. But for the most part, when seeing a customer, I’m not high pressure. If you choose not to do business with me I’m not going to keep putting my foot in the door. I don’t need to be pushy. Is a lot of your job responsibility still sales? It tends to be. With new markets and customers, I tend to be the guy at the meeting who says, “No problem, we can do that.” More of my focus has become managing the day-to-day operations. I enjoy going out and seeing my customers—and yet I don’t get much of that anymore. I miss it. That was a fun part of my job.

Can this business prosper without you? I believe so. Bruce Gemmill has been with me more than 35 years—since our Kahler Electric days. Office manager Dawn Kot, marketing manager Steve Swift, and Dennis Turner, our “technical guru,” have all been here more than 20 years. My son has been here eight years full-time. It seems the fact you delegate responsibility has made this possible. If you were to leave, there would be others to carry on. That’s my goal. I’m already 67 and past the official retirement age. My health is good, but then I’ve also seen people whose health

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Wayne Kahler | Business Person of the Year 2013

employees healthy and happy and get them back to work quickly and safely after an injury.

Getting to know you:

Wayne Kahler Born: December 29, 1944.

No appointment is necessary for most examinations. Just walk in for prompt, professional service. For additional information call 507-385-4075 or visit

Education: Northwest Electronics. Family: Wife, Char; children Chantill (Bolton & Menk civil engineer) and Logan (Kahler Automation). Partial list of organizational involvement: Lions Club, Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce, and Fairmont Covenant Church.

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changed fast. You do have to think about those things when leading a group. Many people depend on us for their livelihood.

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Within the last four years, you’ve more than doubled in size. In terms of building space, you’re already planning on expanding another 15,000 square feet. Could you be doubling in size in another four years? Going back to 1989, I’ve kept track of how we’ve done since spinning off from Kahler Electric. Historically, we’ve had a couple years of growth and then reached a plateau for a couple of years, and then repeated the process. We’ve added a fair number of people recently. It takes time to adjust before growing again. It takes a couple years before their efforts help pull more work in. The building addition will give us more space for larger projects.

We’re pretty full here right now, and this (late fall) is our slower season. It gets busier. But we’re also out of office space. Knowing what has happened the last five years, we’re going to need the space to accommodate what our customers will be expecting. Over the years, we’ve become a valued supplier for some large companies in the fertilizer/herbicide world. They count on us delivering. We do a lot of work for CHS’s agronomy department. We do some work for Rosen’s Diversified. Bayer pulled us into the Ukraine. With these larger companies, you have to be fair in your pricing and delivery. They are loyal and they expect you to deliver when they decide they’re going to buy. So part of our expansion plan is being prepared to take care of our current customers. Every year, they’re all buying a little bit more from


Wayne Kahler | Business Person of the Year 2013

Volunteer Recognition CONNECT: Bob Wallace of the Fairmont Area Chamber has said that when you were the Chamber board chair a few years back you had a unique way of recognizing the Volunteer of the Year. Tell what you did with the Red Rock Center for the Arts in Fairmont. KAHLER: I was involved with restoring the Red Rock Center for the Arts. It had been a Christian Science church. There was a diverse group of dedicated people volunteering their time every day to work on the restoration efforts and I was watching their work up close while raising funds as the project progressed. It would have been difficult to single out just one person in the group, and seeing how the whole group had worked on it, I chose the entire group as Volunteer of the Year. We have the same philosophy at Kahler Automation. We’re a team, and not any one of us is so smart we could get along without the rest. It takes a team to do what we do here—just like at Red Rock. They had excellent carpenters and a cabinetmaker—retired folks volunteering their time. So the choice was just my way of honoring a team that restored a neat building in our community. 18

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Wayne Kahler | Kahler Automation


Kahler Automation President: Wayne Kahler Address: 808 Timberlake Road Fairmont, MN 56031

Nick Smith Mankato, MN (507) 625-5649

Stacey Johnson Owatonna, MN (507) 455-5299

Jerry Hartmann Owatonna, MN (507) 455-5200

Brian Zins North Mankato, MN (507) 382-1571

Telephone: 507-235-6648 Web:

us so the additional space will allow us to take care of that business as it arrives. Our revenues in the $12- to $16 million range have been growing steadily. On three different occasions we were placed on the Inc.5000 fastest-growing business list. I stopped wanting to be on that list because investment bankers and people wanting to invest kept pestering me. Since trying to attract capital was not a goal of ours, I stopped applying for the list.

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Would you sell if someone offered you twice what the company was worth? Not at this time—and there are reasons. I’ve got my son here and have loyal people that have worked here for years. I don’t know if selling would be fair to them. I believe in Fairmont. I hope we’re here for a long time to come. There is a risk in selling because the new owners could pull the company out of Fairmont. What makes you the happiest when seeing it occur at work? Again, it’s seeing the pride all my coworkers take in a job well done. When we went on that tour at the Watonwan Farm Services grain facility in Delavan, you should have seen the expression of pride on their faces as they saw what they had built and where it was actually installed and working. That was very satisfying. I enjoy going out to the open houses of our customers and hearing them tell me a particular employee has helped them. I really enjoy getting positive feedback on our team. That’s a real high for me. Editor Daniel J. Vance writes from Vernon Center.

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The last six months saw an unprecedented acceleration of a trend many people call “cause marketing.” For starters, this last summer, Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy said in a Baptist Press interview he was “guilty as charged” for supporting the biblical definition of

a family. He added, “We are very much supportive of the family—the biblical definition of the family unit. We are a family-owned business, a family-led business, and we are married to our first wives. We give God thanks for that.” Cathy’s remarks and the subsequent firestorm—including strident pleas from politicians seeking to ban 1,600-restaurant, $4 billion Chick-fil-A from cities like Boston and Chicago—led talk radio host and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee to declare August 1 “Chick-fil-A Appreciation Day.” Faithful followers flocked to “eat mor chikin.” Some media reports speculated the privately owned chain on August 1 doubled prior single-day sales highs. Locally, Chickfil-A has a Mankato location inside the Minnesota State University Centennial Student Union.



Of course, supporters of same-gender marriage responded. Organizers not affiliated with Starbucks spawned a national Starbucks Appreciation Day in honor of an organization that openly supported Washington State’s same-gender marriage legislation. Chick-fil-A and Starbucks aren’t alone in declaring their beliefs about marriage. The Douglas and Maria DeVos Foundation, started by the founders of Amway, have been huge financial backers of traditional


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marriage organizations. They also own the Orlando Magic NBA basketball team. Google, Amazon, and Ben & Jerry’s have taken public stands supporting samegender marriage, with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos alone having donated $2.5 million in support of Washington’s same-sex marriage referendum. Here in Minnesota, according to, Minneapolis-based Target last May introduced a gay pride tee shirt line with sales proceeds benefiting the gay rights advocacy group Family Equality Council. (Apparently, Target goes both ways. About two years ago, the retail giant donated $150,000 to gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer, who opposed gay marriage.) Also, Minneapolis-based General Mills, manufacturers of Betty Crocker, Nature Valley, Cheerios, and Green Giant labels, publicly opposed a proposed state constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman. Cause marketing hasn’t been limited to

marriage issues. Hobby Lobby regularly runs full-page Easter ads while actively partnering with many Christian organizations, and Scheels All Sports runs annual Thanksgiving ads quoting the likes of Presidents Lincoln and Washington offering thanks to God. Both chains have Mankato locations. Ben & Jerry’s website expresses admiration “to all of you who have initiated the non-violent Occupy Wall Street Movement and to those around the country who have joined in solidarity.” Per abcnews. com, Progressive Insurance board chair Peter Lewis has been the biggest financial backer in the quest to legalize marijuana, having donated $1.5 million to successful campaigns in Washington and Colorado. Cause marketing may alienate some customers, but has the potential to excite and motivate many others. In the currently cluttered world of advertising, many companies seem more than willing now to take sides in order to differentiate their products and companies.


The Fedgazette, a Minneapolis Fed publication, featured recently the growing trend of U.S. companies bringing manufacturing back from overseas. The trend is called reshoring or homeshoring— something we have covered here before. One regional example cited by Fedgazette was Georgia-based AGCO, which owns a 600,000 sq. ft. manufacturing facility in Jackson, Minnesota. The company in

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2012 began assembling Massey Ferguson and Challenger tractors in Jackson, with the parts shipped in from France where the tractors had been assembled. The new assembly line employs about 100. Assembling the tractors in Jackson makes sense because the tractors were destined for the U.S. anyway and the French can get more disassembled than assembled tractors into a shipping container. Opined the Fedgazette, “There are myriad reasons for doing so (reshoring), but most center on the narrowing gap in labor costs between domestic and international locations, better recognition of indirect costs and logistics issues with overseas production, and even the marketing opportunity to stamp ‘Made in the USA’ on products.” For example, the labor cost gap between China and the United States, which shrank from 51 percent to 47 percent from 20052010, could fall to 30 percent within the next year because of thinning Chinese labor supplies.


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From Fedgazette: In general, Upper Midwest manufacturing has been rebounding since 2009—a rebound that appears to be benefiting southern Minnesota more than most areas. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the seven counties encircling Blue Earth County have the highest combined ratio of manufacturing jobs to total employment of any group of Upper Midwest counties encircling any other county. Faribault, Waseca Le Sueur,


Nicollet, and Brown Counties all have between 20 to 30 percent of total jobs in manufacturing. Watonwan County has more than 30 percent, and Martin County has between 10 and 20 percent. (Blue Earth County itself has between 5 and 10 percent of jobs in manufacturing.) Said Fedgazette: “The encouraging thing about this (Upper Midwest) manufacturing recovery is that sector employment has rebounded more quickly this time compared with the 2001 recession and to date is roughly in line with the recovery after the 1991 recession, which was subsequently followed by strong manufacturing growth for most of that decade.”

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Winnebago-raised River Hills Mall senior general manager hosts 8.5 million visitors annually and works behind the scenes to build a better Greater Mankato.

By Daniel J. Vance



Photo and Illustration by Kris Kathmann



1 st P L A C E

2 nd P L A C E


13 R 20 EA

N OF TH Paul Wilke stars in southern Minnesota’s greatest attraction. RSO EY PE General Growth Properties began building River Hills Mall more than 20 years ago. Today, the retail behemoth annually receives 8.5 million visitors, who often want more and so spill over into Greater Mankato’s many retail nooks and crannies. About 75 percent of Mall visits each year come from people that live more than 30 miles away, and that includes 850,000 visits from consumer-hungry northern Iowans seeking tax-free clothing. Retailers on the 96-acre, 100-store campus employ about 2,500. 3 rd P L AC E With potential chaos lurking around every bend at Merchandise Mecca, 50-year-old Senior General Manager Wilke must maintain a steady managerial hand and attract potential Mall tenants—all while pleasing superiors at Chicago-based General Growth Properties, which owns or has an interest in 143 regional malls in the United States and Brazil. And yet, just like Mall visitors into Greater Mankato, Wilke’s influence spills far beyond the congested intersection of Adams Street and State Highway 22. In 2004-05, Wilke played a pivotal role helping keep Minnesota Vikings Training Camp in Mankato, back when then-owner Billy Joe “Red” McCombs saw Sioux Falls flash cash. For years, Wilke has played a pivotal role on his local school district’s financial advisory committee, through which he helped convince voters of the need for building Rosa Parks Elementary. He has a role as a Greater Mankato Growth board member. Until November 5, 2012, he and his family played a role owning Topper’s Pizza, which employed and mentored up to 40 college students at a time. Wilke has played many roles, but stars only as The Ringmaster.

continued > Business Person of The Year 2013 winners selected by MSU Mankato College of Business faculty.


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Paul Wilke | Business Person of The Year 2013: 2nd Place

A Winter Wonderland

One of Paul Wilke’s greatest life adjustments didn’t involve his becoming operations manager at River Hills Mall in 1993—because he was ready and well prepared for that position—but as a 12-yearold boy moving from the Twin Cities to Winnebago in 1974. His father was hired as a building trades instructor at the vocational school in Blue Earth. “There was a cultural difference,” said Wilke in a Connect Business Magazine interview. “I went from the Big City to a rural area. Sports had been big for me, so when we moved down the first thing I did was get involved. That was my way in with people. When I was in the Cities, there were tryouts for teams and people got cut. Not everyone got to play. But at Winnebago High, often you were hoping just to have enough players to fill up a team.” Wilke grew to 6’1” in seventh grade, his current height, which may have helped him adjust to a new crop of friends—and they to him. He also had his sister, Susan and an older brother, Jerry, who would go on to become a director for a HickoryTech division.

Paul Wilke | The Ringmaster

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Rosa Parks Elementary CONNECT: You’re on the financial advisory committee for District #77 schools. WILKE: I’m one of the longest serving members, having been on more than ten years. We review all the financials from the school board and determine if or when we should go to a referendum. We look at the total package of district wants and needs and determine what we think taxpayers will support. Years ago, we had seen enrollments climbing and knew temporary classrooms in Eagle Lake and on Monroe had been temporary too long. Just after we passed the referendum to construct Rosa Parks Elementary, the economy crashed. But what a great time that was to be out to bid. We got great pricing and returned $1.5 million to taxpayers.”

What Makes Wilke Tick? What words best define Wilke as a person? Said Wilke, “I say this to my kids all the time and with others—and in fact, I say it often. I just seem to have this thing in my DNA that says never, never, never, give up. I don’t know how to give up. Some people start things and give up halfway through. But I can’t give up.” As for who helped make him into the person he is today, he said, “For one, I’ve had a great boss, mentor, and friend, Steve Menne, and Mall co-workers who have helped and supported me. They are dedicated, fun, hard workers who support each other and are like family. But no one has inspired me more than coworker Doug Weihe, who died in a motorcycle accident in 2007. He was a dedicated father, husband, and friend. Also, my wife and children inspire and teach me about life every day. I owe so much to them for all their love and support.”


Paul Wilke | The Ringmaster



2013 Connect Business Person of the Year

With the Winnebago move also came exposure to a rural work ethic. His first job in Winnebago involved walking beans for a local farmer, and the second entailed helping his father build a house. His father was a building trades teacher, had summers off, and used the time to build a new family home in Winnebago.



In high school, he also worked parttime at a NAPA store and spun records on weekends for KBEW-AM in Blue Earth, doing the American Top 40 with Casey Kasem.

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The Ringmaster | River Hills Mall

Paul Wilke | Business Person of The Year 2013: 2nd Place


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Said Wilke, “My parents bought a home in Winnebago in 1974, then built a new home a block away two years later. My father hired me for a dollar an hour. I worked hard and learned the construction profession, but also as a football player I enjoyed the workout of every day having to carry concrete blocks. It took us a month just to do the block work for that house. I remember pouring concrete on a 108-degree day. It was hard work.” In high school, he also worked part-time at a NAPA store and spun records on weekends for KBEW-AM in Blue Earth, doing the American Top 40 with Casey Kasem. On top of all this, he worked two summers laying sod and seed for Bob Weerts (2006 Connect Business Magazine Business Person of the Year), who owns Blue Valley Sod. Wilke said, “Bob was great. It was the first time I’d ever been in a situation where I didn’t have to punch a time clock. Bob just came over every week and asked how many hours we worked. He trusted us, and what he did stuck with me. Integrity is something to maintain. Bob gave you

the opportunity to take advantage of him or to be trusted, and I decided I wanted to be trusted. Along with that, my grandfather always used to say, ‘When you get your first job, give your employer a dime’s worth of work for a nickel’s worth of pay.’ That type of mentality has been with me my whole life.” After high school, he moved to Mankato to begin classes at MSU and married at age 20. Like many students, the Wilkes ran out of money and in 1980 both started at Carlson Craft full-time. They worked night shift four and a half years from 4:00 pm to 12:30 am or later, and Wilke became a group leader printing envelopes, letterheads, and business cards. Feeling a financial need with the birth of their first son in 1985 and, while continuing on at Carlson Craft, he started in at Rasmussen College at night to earn an accounting degree. He said, “At Carlson Craft, I learned about manufacturing, about urgency, and about getting things done, and how to work with people. The company emphasized quality and paying attention to

Paul Wilke | The Ringmaster

Vikings Saviors About 2004, then Minnesota Vikings owner Red McCombs put Vikings Training Camp out to bid, and Duluth, Sioux Falls, and Fargo responded aggressively. To counter these competitive proposals, Mankato formed Minnesota Vikings Training Camp LLC. Paul Wilke was president, and other members were Dave Schooff, Pat Hentges, Denny Dotson, C.J. Person, and Scott Bergs. The group essentially took over all camp operations from the Vikings, including negotiations for housing and food service. They built Vikings Village. In 2006, new Vikings owner Zygi Wilf brought camp operations back under Vikings control, but not before Minnesota Vikings Training Camp LLC in two years had essentially kept the wolves at bay, raised more than $1.5 million for camp expenses, and saved training camp for Mankato. 30

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| River | Blue Express TheDiagnostics RingmasterInt’l HillsEarth Mall

Wilke had to find ways to make shipping more efficient and less costly, so he set up a system of hiring preferred truckers and negotiated discounts that saved Condux International $1 million in freight cost his first year. details. With printing, you had to make sure everything was centered, straight, and the colors were right. I also learned attention to detail from my mom, who was an accountant her whole life.” In 1987, with accounting degree in hand, he applied to a blind newspaper ad and would win a job to manage the shipping/ receiving department at Condux International. (Ironically, the Radichel family owning Condux International sold the land that became River Hills Mall only a couple years later.) The company had been struggling to get their products out to construction sites on time. Wilke had to find ways to make shipping more efficient and less costly, so he set up a system of hiring preferred truckers and negotiated discounts that saved Condux International $1 million in freight cost his first year. Condux International went through a substantial restructuring in 1990 with the sale of two product lines and Wilke was given a year’s notice he would be laid off. Six weeks later, he found an operations manager position with Conway Central


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Paul Wilke | 2nd Place

By far, he said, his biggest challenges today at River Hills Mall involve trying to manage two things he has absolutely no control over: the economy and the weather. Express in Owatonna, but was laid off 18 months later when that company let go 2,500 workers. Through a friend, he found a manufacturing production supervisor position at Mankato Corporation working 3:00 pm to midnight. (In morning hours, to fill time, he went back part-time working at Carlson Craft.) The Mankato Corporation job was fun, said Wilke, but he knew nine months in his professional dreams would not be achieved there. That was when he applied for and was hired at 31 in 1993 as operations manager of River Hills Mall. “A snowstorm hit my first day at the Mall,” said Wilke. “My boss Steve Menne said the snow plow was broke and I had to fix it. Then I was out snowplowing and shoveling sidewalks and working 100-hour weeks. I was wondering why I had quit my job at Mankato Corporation for this. I knew if it continued on for another three months working 100-hour weeks I’d likely be divorced or in hospital. To remedy the situation, I went about building a system.” And build that system he did—and more. In 1995, he was promoted to general manager, and in 2010, to senior general manager. By far, he said, his biggest challenges today at River Hills Mall involve trying to manage two things he has absolutely no control over: the economy and the weather. “The economy really affects everything we do in the retail business,” he said. “For ex-

The Ringmaster | River Hills Mall


River Hills Mall Senior General Manager: Paul Wilke Phone: 507-388-1100 Address: 1850 Adams Street Mankato, MN 56001 Web:

ample, a poor economy makes selling space more difficult. As for current tenants, when the economy is humming, they are happy and I can do ‘high-fives’ all the way down the Mall. But when things aren’t going well, they tend to look at me for solutions. I’ve seen some retailers go through some really difficult times. I can see the hurt in their faces.” Gasoline and agriculture prices affect Mall stores perhaps more than the overall national economy, said Wilke. River Hills Mall retailers pull from 22 counties in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, an area covering about 8,500 square miles. About 75 percent of Mall foot traffic comes from customers traveling from more than 30 miles away. Higher gasoline prices means fewer trips to Mankato; lower agriculture prices translates to less money spent on higher-ticket items. “As for weather,” said Wilke, “lots of snow can kill a Christmas retail season. Our customer travels 40 miles to get here—and that’s the average, about the same distance as St. James to Mankato. And if we have a snow day, people are more tempted to buy from retailers online.” Wilke has his hands full trying to develop General Growth Properties (GGP) land around the Mall and in developing the Mall itself. The Mall was originally 80 acres until GGP purchased years ago another 16 acres from the Radichel family. Said Wilke, “That’s when the Raintree frontage road was built. We had a six-acre parcel out by Scheels and our leasing people sold it to David Peters who built the Courtyard Marriott. The synergy of a hotel and shopping mall area is great. People coming to town are looking for something to do.” JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2013

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Paul Wilke | Business Person of The Year 2013: 2nd Place

River Hills Mall also has proposed a 20,000 sq. ft. strip mall on undeveloped land it owns near Pet Expo, called “River Hills Plaza.” The site could have an end-cap restaurant with drive-thru and four retailers. The Mall owns all the buildings on its campus except for Target and JC Penney. One of many other synergies has married River Hills Mall and Mankato Clinic, which sponsors a child play area near Scheels and operates Mankato Clinic Express inside the Mall. The latter seeks to serve Mall visitors that get sick or desire medical services while shopping or working.

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Besides managing River Hills Mall in 2005, and as Wilke was wrapping up keeping the Minnesota Vikings Training Camp in Mankato (see page 30), he and his wife began making moves to open a Topper’s Pizza franchise in Mankato. His wife had been at Carlson Craft 27 years and was looking for something different and a family business that could include their two college-age boys. Said Wilke, “Part of my (Mall) job includes prospecting. While in St. Cloud we found a Topper’s Pizza, took the product home and enjoyed it. We didn’t want to get into a trendy business that could be here today and gone tomorrow. The pizza industry is a $35 billion industry. It wasn’t going away.”

Paul Wilke | The Ringmaster

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Generally Growing GGP Senior General Manager Paul Wilke is on his second three-year term as a Greater Mankato Growth board member. In 2003, he was named Chamber “Volunteer of the Year.” He said, “We’ve done some really tremendous things in this community and the Mall has been part of it. The growth in Mankato is not over. We’re just in the middle of it. We have to continue working together to find new and creative ways to keep this growth happening. Greater Mankato Growth just hired a full-time lobbyist who will be at the Capitol fighting for Mankato. We’ll be at the table. We’re getting bigger and bigger and better and better.”

The Ringmaster | River Hills Mall

“My boys were involved in lease negotiations, hiring, purchasing, food preparation, plumbing— everything. We also wanted to spend more time with our kids should they decide to leave Mankato. Our last goal was to have a profitable business.” They picked a location in West Mankato on Front Street that could be seen from Riverfront Drive and was near other pizza deliverers. “Our goals in starting the franchise were to provide jobs for kids trying to pay for a college education because we knew how hard it was and to provide our (Wilke) kids life experiences on how to operate a business,” he said. “My boys were involved in lease negotiations, hiring, purchasing, food preparation, plumbing—everything. We also wanted to spend more time with our kids should they decide to leave Mankato. Our last goal was to have a profitable business.” Topper’s Pizza discovered a niche market delivering pizza to the college crowd until 3:00 am. The Wilkes sold their business to another franchisee this last November after their boys had graduated from college and moved away to Iowa and the Twin Cities. “With Topper’s Pizza, as employees, we had many kids away from home for the first time,” he said. “My wife and I often played the role of mom and dad. I remember a few kids experiencing difficult times. My wife and I counseled quite a few kids through the process. We helped them with—you name it—from financial help to a ride when their cars weren’t working.” While owning the business, the Wilkes met or exceeded all four family goals, including teaching their boys the nuts and bolts of running a business. Today, one son works for General Growth Properties in Des Moines and the other is a Twin Cities-area insurance underwriter. And it’s not as if with Topper’s Pizza sold Wilke has nothing left to do. He still has a full plate serving the Greater Mankato community and continuing on as The Ringmaster at River Hills Mall. Editor Daniel J. Vance writes from Vernon Center.

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It’s a New Year and reason for economic optimism pervades— at least in southern Minnesota, where, for the most part, the farm economy and farmland prices have been going well. Thank goodness we have agriculture propping up our regional economy. Look for at least two or three Connect Business Magazine feature stories on agriculturerelated businesses over the next several issues. That said, buckle your seat belts and away we go…. Again—and frankly, we can’t write this enough—we thank our panel of Minnesota State University College of Business professors

for judging our annual Business Person of the Year awards. They chose Wayne Kahler, Paul Wilke, and Brian Fowler from nominations gleaned from readers in September. We began ten years ago without their expert help, but realized soon enough our annual awards needed the objectivity and gravitas only Minnesota State Daniel J. Vance University College of Business could provide. Editor They have been judge and jury the last nine years and played their role exceptionally well... In one of those Twilight Zone moments, we received a November 14 email from Winnebago-raised Jerry Wilke, a former HickoryTech vice president/general manager (wireless division). He now lives in Wisconsin. It was the first we had heard from him in ten years. Then on the very next day, November 15, we visited River Hills Mall to interview his brother Paul Wilke (see page 26) for winning second in our annual Business Person of the Year awards. According to Paul, Jerry hadn’t known anything about the interview and so the timing of Jerry’s email and Paul’s interview was coincidental. If working in southern Minnesota today, Jerry definitely would be considered for a Connect Business Magazine feature because of his broad accomplishments in the wireless telephone industry. According to, he recently became chief operating officer

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of Wisconsin RSA #7 Limited Partnership d/b/a Element Mobile. Read his email at the bottom of this page… True to this column’s ever-changing nature, i.e., it’s called “Off-TheCuff,” I chose this issue to switch gears and go lighthearted all while trying to mull over the deeper questions I’ve had lately in business and life. Maybe you’ve had some of these same slap-the-forehead thoughts, such as: What are we going to do with all these old fax machines? What would happen if the U.S. government printed up $17 trillion in paper to pay back all bondholders at once in order to erase the federal debt? If the Internet permanently crashed, would younger Americans easily adapt? Does anyone know why the penny exists? Why is it U.S. couples earning $80,000 or so combined often delay having children because of financial pressures, yet African couples with an annual household income of only $2,000 can comfortably support three or four children? How can people say the government is in the business of picking winners and losers in terms of economic assistance for businesses when so many of the “winners” the government picks end up losing and so many of the losers win? What did we use to do with all the extra money we now spend


on gasoline, phones, and cable television? Why is it the people calling others “extremist” are usually extremists themselves? Did the people who published encyclopedias sell out in time? When mentioning the voter gender gap, why do pollsters almost always refer only to women, as if men were culturally inferior or a man’s vote counted less? With gas sky high, why doesn’t an automaker develop a one-seat car? And finally, since various government entities have begun regulating the kinds of fats we ingest, our children’s school diets, salt content, and our cola sizes, will they also one day make us eat broccoli?... Lastly, we mention the passing of pork pioneer Bob Christensen, founder of Sleepy Eye-based Christensen Farms, the world’s largest private pork producer. At the time, Christensen said our in-depth interview with him in May 2006 was his first with local media. He was a great businessman. Thanks for reading southern Minnesota’s first and only locally owned business magazine, the one founded in 1994 and serving 8,500 business decision makers in nine counties. Come back next issue for regular fare. We hope you enjoyed our special Connect Business Magazine/KEYC-TV Business Person of the Year awards edition. [Editor Daniel J. Vance self-syndicates the newspaper column “Disabilities.” Email press releases and letters to by February 1 for the March/April issue.]

Michael Laskey, Mark Mitzel, Gary Gavin, and David Dempster

Jerry Wilke I loved your cover story feature on Mike and Kathy Brennan (November ’12). They’re the type of people any town would love to have making things better for all citizens. My wife worked for them several years and enjoyed them both. I also liked your Off-The-Cuff editorial. (Your childhood friends) Tim and Bob sound like interesting guys! I’m also sorry hearing (Happy Chef co-founder) Sal Frederick died. What a great guy. I’m blessed to have met him and had great conversations with him and his wife. I’m happy seeing your magazine doing so well. Keep up the good work you do for the communities you serve.


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Jerry Wilke (A former HickoryTech executive, Wilke works and lives in Wisconsin. He reads the digital version of Connect Business Magazine at 507.344.1450 Hilltop 507.386.4880 City Center




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Any chamber of commerce, convention and visitors bureau, or economic development organization in our reading area—large or small, from Amboy to Waterville—can post on our free bulletin board. For details, email

Blue Earth Cindy Lyon, Blue Earth Chamber We enter 2013 with our 72nd Chamber banquet celebration on January 11 from 5-9 p.m. at Hamilton Hall. Stub Highway 253 will entertain, our “Community Service” and “Business of the Year” awards occur, and we will induct new board members. Giant board member Tom Juba will step down after many years of service. We salute Tom for being a Convention & Visitors Bureau member and his community involvement and commitment to family-owned Juba’s Super Valu.

Fairmont Mike Humpal, City of Fairmont Private construction projects underway or recently finished in Fairmont include Bank Midwest (retail center), Kahler Automation (15,000 sq. ft. addition), Hefty Seeds (expansion), CHS (storage facility), Devenish Nutrition (expansion), Goldfinch Estates (expansion/remodeling), and HyVee (expansion/remodel). Six more projects are slated for 2013. Public construction includes the City water plant, Lair Road Bridge, Fairmont Energy Center (30,000 megawatt gas-fired SMMPA facility), and a City sports complex that includes ball fields, skating park, walking trails, and restrooms.

Fairmont Bob Wallace, Fairmont Area Chamber What’s the definition of an entrepreneur? I can’t think of better examples than Wayne and Doug Kahler and others seeing a need and developing a company (Kahler Automation) in 1989 to fill that need. Using honesty, integrity, and ingenuity, Kahler Automation now has customers nationwide and overseas. Congratulations Wayne Kahler and Kahler Automation for Wayne being selected


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“Connect Business Magazine/KEYC-TV Business Person of the Year.” Wayne, you are the definition of an entrepreneur!

Fairmont Stephanie Busiahn, Fairmont CVB Attention snowmobilers, ATV enthusiasts, and hockey fans: make Fairmont your weekend destination January 12-13. The Ice Kahana & Speed Run features snowmobile and ATV runs taking place both days on Budd Lake from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. The Southern Minnesota Pond Hockey Championship gives you the perfect reason to gather friends, family, and old teammates to play and watch pond hockey on Hall Lake. Pond hockey: fairmonthockey. com. Ice Kahana & Speed Run:

Mankato Julie Nelson,

South Central Minnesota Small Business Development Center

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Mankato Mary Oudekerk, 504 Corporation 504 Corporation is certified by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to partner with local lenders and deliver the SBA 504 Loan Program to small businesses. The program allows

Local Chamber & Economic Development News

Mankato Jonathan Zierdt, Greater Mankato Growth

Greater Mankato Growth is again coordinating the largest citizen advocacy event from our region at the State Capitol. This year’s Greater Mankato at the Capitol will be held over the course of two days on March 20-21. This event provides business and community leaders, and area residents, an opportunity to tell the story of the Greater Mankato region’s importance to the economic vitality of the state. For information on participating, visit

businesses to obtain financing for fixed assets at a fixed rate for ten or twenty years. To better serve customers, our offices are located in Rochester and Mankato. Our service area includes the state of Minnesota and La Crosse County, Wisconsin. For assistance, contact or 625-6056.

Mapleton RoxAnne Gosson, Mapleton Chamber The Annual Snowflake Dazzle on November 28 was a great success. The Mapleton Chamber of Commerce sponsored this exciting event that offered an array of activities throughout the night from 4-8 p.m. A horse-drawn trolley sauntered through Mapleton streets as a record

outpouring of visitors shopped local businesses and enjoyed family activities, such as a chili feed at the fire station, Santa Claus arriving for pictures with children, and crafts for children at the library.

New Ulm Audra Shaneman, New Ulm Chamber New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce new members include A to Zinnia Florists, Brown County Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention, Pioneer College Caterers, Eagle Development, and Edward Jones—Chris Jensen. Spring happenings in New Ulm include the following: Farm Show March 8-9, Home & Self Improvement Show March 23-25, Athena Award April—May, and the Chick-Fil-A Leadercast on May 10. For more information on these and other events, contact

New Ulm Barbara Marti, New Ulm Retail Dev Corp The Preservation Alliance of Minnesota (PAM) gave its “Main Street Four Point Approach” award to New Ulm Retail Development Corporation “for having demonstrated exemplary commitment to the protection and preservation of Minnesota’s historic resources” for its work during Oktoberfest 2011 events. More than 50 applicants vied for the honor. The event featured an arts and crafts fair, children’s petting zoo, heritage demonstrations, children’s activities, and other family friendly activities and entertainment.

Sleepy Eye Julie Schmitt, Sleepy Eye Chamber Businesses taking part and giving testimony for the promotional DVD to join the Chamber of Commerce were Century 21 (Joyce Krenz, agent), Mark Thomas Co. (Casey Coulson), Chuck Spaeth Ford (Mike Carr), W.W. Smith Inn (Leo Derkowski), McCabe’s Ace Hardware (Russ & Ann McCabe), Miller Sellner (Patricia Ericksen), and First Security Bank (John McGee). The DVD is now available at the Chamber of Commerce office to non-Chamber members.


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Sleepy Eye Kurk Kramer, Sleepy Eye EDA

Sleepy Eye EDA is currently making plans for Phase Two of the Veteran’s Park Project. A memorial wall, KIA monument, donor board, signage, and outdoor tables are all part of the plan that will begin this coming spring. Also, the EDA, along with two area high schools and a number of local businesses, has finalized and begun implementation of the “On The Job” training program for high school seniors. These students will be hired as employees and receive high school credit for their program involvement.

St. Peter Emily Peck, St. Peter Area Chamber New Chamber members include Jake’s Pizza and Bright Pixel Design, both of St. Peter. The Chamber Board held its annual planning conference at Gustavus Adolphus College to set 2013 goals and priorities. Winterfest will be January 25 through February 3 and the public is invited to participate in all activities. Event information can be found on the Chamber website at

Waseca Kim Foels, Waseca Area Chamber U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan recognized 269 schools as 2012 National Blue Ribbon Schools based on overall academic excellence. Waseca’s Team Academy Charter School was one of seven Minnesota schools honored. Also, on January 26, Waseca Chamber honors citizens working hard to better our community at a publicinvited Community Awards dinner. For tickets contact 835-3260. We will have special entertainment to celebrate Waseca Chamber of Commerce serving its members and community for 60 years.

Region Nine Region Nine Development Commission Minnesota Department of Transportation selected Mankato Area Public School District for assistance to complete a Safe Routes to School (SRTS) plan. SRTS encourages students to walk and bike to school through infrastructure improvements, education and promotional activities. As part of the comprehensive strategic planning process led by Region Nine Development Commission, assessments have been completed for Jefferson and Washington schools. Franklin, Kennedy, Roosevelt, and Rosa Parks schools will be assessed. For more information, contact Any chamber of commerce, convention and visitors bureau, or economic development organization in our reading area—large or small, from Amboy to Waterville—can post on our free bulletin board. For details, email


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JANUARY 2012 Dan and Angie Bastian shared the limelight co-named as Business Person of the Year. Their introduction began: “Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein were prominent American pop artists: Warhol for painting red-and-white Campbell’s soup cans and Lichtenstein for comic strips. Defined according to Webster, the 1950s-‘60s pop art craze involved artists using common, everyday objects as subject matter. Dan and Angie Bastian of Angie’s Artisan Treats—the parent company of Angie’s Kettle Corn—are pop artists, too.” Other businesspeople honored: Bill Eckles of BEVCOMM (Blue Earth) and Brian Maciej of Lime Valley Advertising. Memorable quote: “Being genuine has always been important to us. We are not plastic or a made up marketing story. We are real people. This is a real business. This isn’t a caricature. There are real people popping this corn, who have real lives.”—Angie Bastian. 5 YEARS AGO

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JANUARY 2008 Our Business Person of the Year was Jeff Thom of All American Foods (Mankato). Other businesspeople honored: Clint Brown of Industrial Construction Services (St. James) and Wayne Kahler of Kahler Automation (Fairmont). Memorable quote: “I remember when one of the banks we were dealing with was very concerned one year when our sales dropped 30 percent. They wanted to know what was going on. They thought the world was falling. But our profit had gone up 40 percent.”—Jeff Thom. 10 YEARS AGO

JANUARY 2003 Cover story: Dan Gislason of Gislason & Hunter (New Ulm). Profiled companies: New Hope Counseling & Mediation Center (Blue Earth) and Katolight (Mankato). 15 YEARS AGO

JANUARY 1998 Cover Story: Jo Guck Bailey (North Mankato). Profiled companies: Baroda Auction Realty (Garden City) and HickoryTech (Mankato).

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By Carlienne A. Frisch



2 nd P L A C E

Photo by Kris Kathmann

3 rd P L AC E

Community-embedded Mankato owner creates team atmosphere and reinvents business to match the times. Brian Fowler is a storyteller—and not only with a camera. He shuts off his cell phone, which has a ring tone of James Brown’s line “I feel good,” and begins to answer a question about where he grew up with a description of his great-great-grandfather’s 1868 homestead claim. During the interview, he throws out a jaw-dropping line about getting a call from the White House to shoot photos of then-President George W. Bush. Fowler veers right past that explanation to talk about employees, friends—such as Free Press photographer John Cross—and wife Karen and three daughters, who work with him. Fowler’s not only a storyteller in his work, but also sometimes about it. Although admitting people say he’s a workaholic, he claims, “I have fooled everybody for 30 years when they think I’ve worked.” The 100 hours a week he’s involved in his dual business, Quality 1 Hr Foto and SPX Sports and Design, are simply too fun of a ride to qualify as labor. For Fowler, it’s about enjoying the moment, but even more so, doing what’s right for people, including customers and employees. “This company isn’t about one person, it’s about a team, and much of it is family,” Fowler says. “When I hire people, they become family. When I go on a shoot with an employee, and someone asks if this is one of my kids, I say, ‘I’ll claim him.’” Most of the 20 employees, whose duties often overlap, work in the store located in Midwest Plaza on Caledonia Street, west of Madison East Center on Mankato’s hilltop. Employees do custom framing, process photos (Fowler doesn’t call them “pix”), assist customers or do graphic design and installation. Including Fowler, there are four full-time photographers, with one specializing in portrait photography. Sports photography is an important aspect of the business, one Fowler relishes because it gets him out with people and into the action.  “Every sports event we go to, we don’t know how it will come out,” he says. “We get involved in so many lives, capturing life as it happens. You never know what lurks around the next corner. I used to be out every night shooting sports. I’m a real hands-on person, and I enjoy every aspect of what I do. Every job or customer for us is a new experience, a different need and journey. It’s a metaphor for life. Over time, we’ve watched (and photographed) young families grow up, graduate, get married, and have their own children. I just like being in the public with people, putting their graphics on the wall.” continued > 42

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Business Person of The Year 2013 winners selected by MSU Mankato College of Business faculty.

Brian Fowler | Business Person of The Year 2013: 3rd Place

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Fowler’s eyes mist over recalling the neighborly reciprocity his family experienced. “When my dad developed a heart problem, most of my brothers were gone from the farm, and I was in the field on a tractor. When I turned it around, I saw a whole row of tractors coming down the road to help. That’s what life’s about.” Growing up on a Faribault County farm, Fowler considered his family sharecroppers, despite the fact his great-great-grandfather Harry Holmes Fowler came from Connecticut in 1868, staked a homestead claim, and built a sod hut and then a log cabin. He says, “There was a second farm near Winnebago (now a Century Farm), and my Grandpa Chuck farmed both farms. My father inherited the farm near Winnebago from an aunt, and had crops and livestock there. We also rented a farm near Guckeen, where we had dairy (I grew up milking cows), beef, horses, chickens, ducks and hogs. We always checked up on the older couple with whom we sharecropped. My dad taught us it’s not about us. He was very giving, and taught us to help others out.” Fowler’s eyes mist over recalling the neighborly reciprocity his family experienced. “When my dad developed a heart problem, most of my brothers were gone from the farm, and I was in the field on a tractor. When I turned it around, I saw a whole row of tractors coming down the road to help. That’s what life’s about.” Any spare time in Fowler’s childhood was spent outdoors, hunting and fishing, or seeing what he could construct with an erector set. He didn’t own a camera until his mid teens. He says, “I wanted to record those moments, nature and the people I was with,” he says, “so I ought a single lens reflex camera for $275, even though my dad thought it wasn’t a good investment. But he changed his mind.” Fowler taught himself about cameras and photography by reading. “It’s more about lighting, composition, and angle than equipment,” he explains. He set up a home dark room, and, “I’d print out something in the darkroom for several hours, but it felt like ten minutes.”

Photo Op | Quality 1 Hr Foto/SPX Sports and Design

As a student at Granada-Huntley High School, Fowler learned another lesson while cleaning the district’s schools during the summer. “We had a friend who was a janitor there, so I got a job doing things like cleaning gum off desks,” he says. “That taught me respect for property.” He spent a couple of summers working in Blue Earth, first at Green Giant before assembling mobile homes for a Blue Earth company. After graduating in 1978, Fowler enrolled at Rochester Community College to study geology, biology and chemistry, and plan for a conservation officer career. He changed his career plans and left school, but still uses what he learned. “The chemistry is important for doing photo finishing in an environmentally friendly way,” he says. “There weren’t many openings for conservation officers and I was already working as a freelance photographer for the school newspaper and the city newspaper. I was offered my first real. full-time job at a six-hour photo lab in Fairmont. It was same-day service. One-hour wasn’t even on the horizon.” The horizon changed in 1982, when 23-year-old Fowler received a call from Jim Anton, asking him to manage a new business in Mankato. Fowler’s decision to accept was an easy one. “Karen was studying marketing at what is now South Central College in Mankato, but I was done with college and had worked two years at same-day processing,” Fowler explains. “After the first year, I had an opportunity to buy in and replace Gregg Andersen (a Mankato photographer) as Jim Anton’s partner. We incorporated

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Brian Fowler | Photo Op

Schell’s Vacuum Tonic label, c. 1905.

Community Portrait Involvement: Greater Mankato Growth, Greater Mankato CVB, business member of Blue Earth County Historical Society, Photographers of America, Photo Marketing Association, volunteer of time and talent to nonprofits and educational institutions. Awards: Five-time Kodak Best in Class Photo Imaging Center (one time “Best of the Best”), MSU Philanthropic Award, Greater Mankato CVB Hospitality Award, United Way Unsung Hero, Greater Mankato Tourism Advocate. JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2013

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as Quality 1 Hr Foto, and spent a lot of time and money educating people that it was a quality product that would last. We started with 1,500 square feet on Caledonia and put in a drive-thru, a revolutionary idea at the time. In 1985 we took on more space and added custom framing and portraits. We’ve had to keep reinventing ourselves. We were doing some sports photography in the early 2000s, and officially began SPX Sports in 2003, as a school internship project of my daughter Bridget.” Two years ago, Fowler bought out Anton and became sole owner. Through the years, he’s added framed prints, scrap-booking materials, and novelty items such as a clock face imprinted with a photo that Fowler took in Wyoming’s Grand Teton Mountains. There also are team photos, with each team member photographed individually, in various poses, and a seamless, composite team shot. A soccer ball sports the photo of a girl, along with her game statistics. There are the usual certificates, T-shirts, golf towels, bag tags, coasters, coffee cups, dog dishes, helmets, Christmas ornaments, and baseball bats, all awaiting a photo and message. Throughout Minnesota, and other states, there are clinics, hospitals, schools, etc., where plaques, posters, banners, wall coverings, counter wraps and tops, fence mesh, ticket stands, custom display cases, and floor graphics all showcase Fowler’s and his employees’ photographic, computer, and installation talents. “We take the design the client proposes and use a large-scale printer for cloth or vinyl banners,” Fowler says. “Everyone just loves to see themselves and their friends on the wall.”

Brian Fowler | Photo Op

Background Shot 1) Childhood family: I grew up on a farm, the fifth of eight children. I learned to work hard and to get along without having a lot. I raised my kids not to find excuses—you just do it. 2) Favorite school subjects: Science, biology and chemistry. Growing up on the farm, I was intrigued by nature and science. 3) Least favorite subject: I wasn’t big on history because I had to memorize lists of dates. I’ve changed my tune because now I know the storytelling of history lets us know who we are. 4) What you wish you had studied: Business classes and psychology, to help understand what makes a person tick. 46

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Photo Op | Quality 1 Hr Foto/SPX Sports and Design

In his small, slightly cluttered office, Fowler sits about ten feet away from his daughters, Bridget and Beth, who are just on the other side of a door, eyes fixed on their computer screens. “Bridget, who has a marketing degree, is also a photographer for the business,” Fowler says. “Beth, who studied business, but learned more from being here, is our operations manager. Our daughter Jessica is an MSU-M student majoring in art and minoring in graphic design and photography. She’s in charge of our social media— Facebook, Twitter, etc. Karen is in charge of customer service, and she does it well. She’s best with customers who are just learning their digital cameras, but her relationship with customers is especially


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Brian Fowler | Photo Op

Schell’s Vacuum Tonic label, c. 1905.

Current Developments 1) Family: My wife Karen, our three daughters, and a dog that’s my “best friend” and makes me laugh. 2) Hobbies: Hunting—some things are a sacred tradition. Deer hunting is not about the kill; it’s about memories of hunting with Grandpa Chuck, and now with my girls. And there’s our week’s fishing vacation up north, near Cross Lake. Photography is still a hobby and I still like to build things, as I did with the erector set. I weld truss structures for marathon banners.

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3) Most valued possession: I love my boat, and there’s that folder filled with cards from my daughters that I keep in a fireproof box. 4) Most valued intangible: My family and my faith. Without God I wouldn’t have my family. 5) Words that describe you: Reflective, tenacious, caring, can-do attitude. 6) If you weren’t in this business: I have lived the last 30 years doing exactly what I want to do. If I couldn’t do that, I’d have a job in nature or the environment.

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Brian Fowler | Business Person of The Year 2013: 3rd Place

“I had done quite a bit of events photography for Republican politicians,” Fowler says, “so I got a call from the White House, with final instructions at 11 p.m. the night before to be at the SMC quarry at a certain time to clear the Secret Service. important when a person is grieving and preparing for a funeral. I’ve seen Karen give them a hug when they come in to pick up their order. Ever since 1982, nothing has ever been more important than a project for a person in the pain of mourning. Other clients must understand that this has priority. When we take family portraits, I suggest taking individual head-and-shoulders shots of each person. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve had to crop someone out of a family photo for an obituary.” Despite denying his tendency toward workaholism, Fowler arrives at the store between 5 and 5:30 a.m., and usually doesn’t leave before 7 p.m., and often 10. “Although my wife and daughters are with me, ideally, I want them not to work more than 50 hours a week,” he explains. “But they’re like me, and want to go home when the work is done.” There are the high-adrenaline projects, like covering the Mankato Marathon, NCA tournaments, or the air show, to name a few. When he had the opportunity to be embedded with an MSU ROTC unit at Camp Ripley, however, he gave the assignment to employee A.J. Dahm, who photographed the troops going through training maneuvers. And there was the time in 2004, when Fowler received


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a call to photograph President George W. Bush, who was running for re-election and campaigning in the area. “I had done quite a bit of events photography for Republican politicians,” Fowler says, “so I got a call from the White House, with final instructions at 11 p.m. the night before to be at the SMC quarry at a certain time to clear the Secret Service. Bridget was shooting with me that day, and to see her experience something like this was way more of a thrill than being at the event. We took about 6,000 shots, from the very old sitting in lawn chairs, holding small flags, to small children on their fathers’ shoulders. We put them on disks and sent them to the White House. They went through them and picked out a decent selection to put online and sell.” There’s a nostalgic side to the man who works with cutting-edge technology. He says, “Very few places still process film, but we do. (The machines for it are no longer made.) I’m still ‘old school.’ I’d slow the technology down a bit. I think kids are missing out on some of the things we had, like the lost art of the darkroom. We could razzle-dazzle people and wow them in the early days of technology,

Photo Op | Quality 1 Hr Foto/SPX Sports and Design 743621_06949

3.5x10.25 but today it’s commonplace. We’re THE ESSENTIALS getting into a disposable world with the more instantaneous digital. We need to not let digital images just sit. Take the pictures further. Put them Address: 1235 Caledonia on the wall or print them out and Mankato, MN 56001 mail (not email) them to others. We Phone: 507-345-7196 can make books of photos and narWeb: rative for families and businesses. We can make photo calendars with birthdays and other dates imprinted on specific days. Photo albums bring memories, smiles, and conversations. It’s like the folder I have of cards my daughters have given to me, kept in a fireproof box. Those cards mean much more than a text message wishing me a Happy Birthday.

Quality 1 Hr. Foto/ SPX


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“When I was shooting photos in Old Town for the Greater Mankato Convention and Visitors’ Bureau, I saw the city from a different perspective. When you look at those buildings, you can almost put yourself back in time.” His photographs have been exhibited at the Emy Frentz Art Guild in Mankato, and graced the walls of Orness Plaza in Mankato and Mankato Clinic in St. Peter and New Prague. He also displays and sells images on line. “I have lived 30 years doing exactly what I want to do,” Fowler says. “I try to live each day with as much integrity as I can. I don’t have a lot of regrets. My biggest accomplishment is getting to where I am today. Tomorrow, it will be getting to where I’ll be tomorrow. Life’s a journey. I want each day to make a difference. Every day I get up and ask ‘How can I make a difference today?’” Carlienne A. Frisch writes from Mankato.

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Proud to be America’s #1 SBA lender for the fourth straight year 2 Apply for a loan or learn more today. Stop by to talk with a banker, or you can also visit Southwest South Central MN Business Banking Mike Atherley • 206 East Hickory Street 507-387-9234

U.S. Small Business Administration, for federal fiscal year 2012. Wells Fargo is the #1 SBA 7(a) lender by dollars according to the U.S. Small Business Administration as of September 30, 2012. All credit decisions subject to approval. © 2012 Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. All rights reserved. Member FDIC. (743621_06949)

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Very New or Re-formed Businesses or Professionals New To Our Reading Area


Inspire Bridal Boutique Within the last year, Julie Larson began Inspire Bridal Boutique at 204 South Minnesota after finding the perfect building on high-traffic US 169, falling in love with St. Peter’s artsy atmosphere, and getting help from Russ Wille of the local EDA, she said. In addition, St. Peter needed a bridal shop and Larson could get her sewing needs done across the street at newly opened Sew Boutique. Said 36-year-old Larson in a telephone interview, “I’ve always loved fashion and been a people person, and I’ve always liked keeping up on the latest trends. Even in elementary school, I liked putting together different outfits. I also like planning and enjoy planning parties and events.” After high school, Larson earned bachelor and master’s degrees in elementary education at Minnesota State and worked as an elementary teacher in New Ulm for eleven years. During summers, she started a business helping brides plan and decorate their weddings, Unique Designs, and through it has worked hundreds of weddings. She recently left her teaching career to have more flexibility in spending time with her four children and attending their school events. She has kept Unique Designs and now married it to Inspire Bridal Boutique. “I love working with brides,” she said. “They are so excited about their event and are passionate and happy. In this business, I can travel to see all the new

designs. It provided a way into the fashion industry to meet designers.” Inspire Bridal Boutique carries bridal attire, bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, and accessories. Brand names include Jim Hjelm, Tara Keely, Allure, and Essence of Australia. Gown prices range from $700 to $2,300. The business is a one-stop marriage shop when combined with Unique Designs. Said Larson, “I love working with brides, getting to know families, seeing the excitement, and helping brides find a dress to remember the rest of their lives.” INSPIRE BRIDAL BOUTIQUE Telephone: 507-514-2224 Web:




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A To Zinnia Floral & Gifts


Said 35-year-old Heather Hacker Hammer in a telephone interview, “My parents own Hacker’s Tree Farm Nursery and Greenhouse. I began working at the business at 12, and grew up in a family of entrepreneurs. My brothers own Hacker Construction. In the spring, at age 12, I would be planting, watering, and weeding. In the summer, we had a landscape business. In the winter, today, the business produces 30,000 wreaths, sells 12,000 Christmas trees wholesale, and makes 200,000 feet of fresh evergreen garland. My parents have supplied the garland and wreaths for the city of New Ulm for about 25 years.” Heather graduated from Minnesota Valley Lutheran in 1995, and from South Dakota State University with a degree in horticulture and a minor in business economics. She hadn’t been interested in horticulture her freshman year, and wouldn’t like it until taking a few classes. After an internship at Springfield (Minn.) Floral, she completed stints at a Brookings floral shop, Hilltop Florist in Mankato, and Hermes Floral in Roseville, where she managed the shop. Over the last eight years—with the last five in New Ulm—she has had her own wedding flowers business and been averaging 60 weddings and events annually. Said Heather, “We opened A to Zinnia in June. We have flowers for anniversaries, birthdays and for no reason at all. I’m still focusing on my wedding business, which has increased since I’ve had a storefront. We do sympathy work. We have a

large selection of green and blooming plants. We have unique gift items, sell a lot of books, and have wallhangings, candleholders and larger pieces. We carry Wooden Scriptures, a local company that engraves New Ulm landmarks onto coasters, glasses, and ornaments. We have other local artists and sell handmade baby blankets.” She added, “I love being creative with my hands, and designing, and having interaction with people planning their special event.” A TO ZINNIA FLORAL & GIFTS Address: 15 South Broadway Telephone: 507-359-9900/866-460-8693 Web:


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Very New or Re-formed Businesses or Professionals New To Our Reading Area


The business does residential and commercial floor care, which includes carpet and upholstery cleaning, with the latter involving cleaning any non-carpet fabric. He does tile floor care, such as grout cleaning and sealing, and concrete care. He even does vehicle detailing and janitorial. He’s a certified Clean Trust carpet and upholstery cleaner. His business covers a 50-mile radius around Fairmont that includes Mankato, Albert Lea, Spirit Lake, and Worthington. He said, “What I like best is solving customer problems and being out on the road talking with customers. There is nothing more satisfying than a job well done.”

Precision Carpet & Upholstery

PRECISION CARPET & UPHOLSTERY Telephone: 507-236-1200 Address: 310 North State

To be considered for one of three spots in the March Hot Startz!, email the editor at Businesses considered must have started—or changed greatly in form—within one year of our publishing date. Professionals chosen must be new to our reading area.

Southern Minnesota’s Largest Freightliner Dealer Westman Freightliner is Southern Minnesota’s Largest Freightliner Dealer, with store locations in Fairmont, Faribault, Marshall and two in Mankato. At Westman Freightliner we have knowledgeable parts professionals and with the largest available parts in Southern Minnesota you’ll be sure to find what you need! We are a locally owned and operated company committed to taking care of our customers.

Quality service, experienced parts team and better truck selection. WESTMAN-MANKATO 800-625-4118 • 507-625-4118


John Elbert’s grandparents owned an eye clinic, his father a transmission business, his uncle a law practice, and now Elbert (right, in photo) has started Precision Carpet & Upholstery at 310 North State. His family hails from Dunnell, which is about as far west as anyone can go in Martin County without being in Jackson County. Said 26-year-old Elbert in a telephone interview, “Growing up, I was always around people that owned their own businesses. I always knew that was what I wanted even though starting a business would mean lots of hard work and long hours.” While attending Minnesota State, he latched onto a carpet cleaning company to earn cash. He enjoyed the business, and would go on to work for other companies in the industry. He tried working for his father, who owned a transmission repair business, but kept returning to carpet cleaning. He said, “I didn’t know what I was going to do for a living, and it took me a while to figure out what I loved. Now I can’t imagine anything else.” He started Precision Carpet and Upholstery in May, and shares space in his father’s business, D&D Transmission. “My dad (left, in photo) and I work together every day. He is a good mechanic and is able to help problem solve and fix any machinery problems I might have.”


To submit a press release for publication:

Email: Fax: 507-232-3373


Lake Crystal

Express Diagnostics

TBEI Inc. hired Nikki Kyle as marketing manager.

The 11th Annual LifeScience Alley New Technology Showcase selected as a Top Ten finalist the anemia test of IntraMed Diagnostics, an Express Diagnostics Int’l subsidiary.


Blue Earth From Express Diagnostics: Harald Braun joined the company as international sales manager in Strasbourg, France.


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Fairmont From the Chamber: new businesses include Next to New Thrift Store at 103 West 1st and Country Custom Creation at 214 East Blue Earth; Braaten Medical Clinic merged into Center for Specialty Care, and the Center hired Dr. Michael Schneider; Graham Tire has a new building at 950 North State; Dr. Kerry Butteris has renamed her business Optimal Health & Chiropractic; and T Meyer has a new location at 1200 North State.


From the Chamber: American Family Insurance/Tom McCabe was the October Business of the Month and celebrated 40 years in business; and the November Business of the Month was Prairie Publishing.

Mankato From Kato Insurance Agency: Scott Michaletz earned a Society of Certified Insurance Counselors (CIC) certificate for being a CIC more than 25 years and he was granted “Tenured CIC” status; and Tom Philippi (CIC) received Society of Certified Insurance Counselors recognition for maintaining requirements over 20 years. is a new entrepreneur and small business owner website and hotline referral network. Oleson + Hobbie Architects hired interior designer Jessica Osnes. Judy Ringler Mountain of New York Life Insurance celebrated 20 years as an agent and qualified for the company “Executive Council.”


Schmidt Siding & Window From Schmidt Siding & Window: Replacement Contractor Magazine named the company the “Most Admired Home Improvement Company in South Minnesota”; Remodeling magazine ranked Schmidt 58th on its 2012 Replacement 100 listing, and 58th on the Top 550 largest U.S. remodeling firms listing; and the company came in 107th nationally and sixth statewide on Qualified Remodeler’s Top 500 listing.

Bryan Paulsen of Paulsen Architects was elected president-elect of the American Institute of Architects Minnesota (Minneapolis Chapter) board for a one-year term starting January 2013 and will assume the presidency in 2014. Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation approved a joint $20,000 Opportunity Grant to Minnesota Children’s Museum of Rochester and Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota (Mankato). From Greater Mankato Growth: New members include Indulge Salon & Tanning, Work at Home United—Meleleuca, Artisan Exteriors, John Fritz Construction, Edward Jones—Brittany Bergemann,

Savoy Bar & Grille, Ron’s Auto Repair of Mankato, Masterson Staffing Solutions (Mankato and Owatonna), 504 Corporation, Huntington Hills, and Prange’s Heating & Air Conditioning. From Greater Mankato Growth: Patrick Baker was named director of government & institutional affairs to represent the region at the Capitol; and Shannon Gullickson was named talent programs director, responsible for Greater Mankato Young Professionals and Greater Mankato Leadership Institute. Jersey Mike’s awarded One Bright Star $598 from a coupon fundraiser. From Minnesota State University: MSU added a Master of Accounting degree program to begin fall 2013; and the College of Business named Chris Brown Mahoney as MBA coordinator at the MSU Edina location. The Eide Bailly- and South Central Workforce Council-sponsored October Tour of Manufacturing of South Central Minnesota featured visits to Coloplast Manufacturing, Dotson Company, Express Diagnostics, Mark Thomas Company,

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From HickoryTech: the company donated $50,000 to the Children’s Museum of Southern Minnesota.

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MSU The Master of Business Administration program was listed in “The Princeton Review 2013” business school guidebook, which included MSU on its “Best 296 Business Schools” listing.


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MRG Tool and Die Corporation, Navitor, New Ulm Precision Tool, Parker Hannifin, Pepsi Cola Bottling and Wis-Pak of Mankato, Sanborn MFG, South Central College, V-TEK, Wells Concrete, and Windings. Reconciliation Park—Dakota Memorial Reconciliation Committee is raising $35,000 for a Dakota memorial that will be placed in Reconciliation Park. City of Mankato Assistant City Manager Tanya Ange graduated from Leadership ICMA, sponsored by the International City Manager’s Association. The Commission on Accreditation of Rehabilitation Facilities awarded MRCI WorkSource the highest accreditation possible, which lasts until 2015. From HickoryTech: the company was awarded a two-year contract extension to provide Internet, data, VoIP and video conferencing service to 64 southern Minnesota schools and cooperative education agencies; and HickoryTech began accepting “My Life My Internet” video contest entries.

Incentives for Job Creation SHOVEL VEL READY DY LOTS S

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Antje Meisner Concepts, an interior design studio, celebrated two years in business. CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour 2012 award winners were announced at the Greater Mankato Business Awards and Hall of Fame event, which included The People’s Choice winner Deb Zelenak for her sculpture “Guidance.” Nath Companies and Sand Hospitality partnered to open a Bonfire restaurant adjacent to Country Inn and Suites, with the restaurant also providing catering and hotel room service. The National Endowment for the Arts awarded Mankato Symphony Orchestra $10,000 to support its March Symphonic Series performance “Deconstructing Don Quixote” that helps take the mystery out of


Leonard, Street and Deinard From Leonard, Street and Deinard: the firm was named to the “2013 Go-To Law Firms at the Top 500 Companies” listing because of work done with client Stryker Corporation, a Fortune 500 company; and Working Mother magazine named the firm one of 50 best law firms in the United States for women lawyers.

Richard Strauss’s composition “Don Quixote” through examples and conversations between the stage and audience.

of the American College of Trial Lawyers. August Schell Brewing launched new brew Chimney Sweep.

New Ulm

North Mankato

From the Chamber: New Chamber members include Eagle Development, Edward Jones—Jensen, and Pioneer College Caterers; New Ulm Medical Center plans to expand and renovate its birth center; Chuck Spaeth Ford honored auto technicians Bill Rothmeier and Pat Schumacher, and salesperson Brady Wilhelm, for superior job performance; New Ulm Event Center held a December 15 grand opening; Chamber Industry/Business of the Year was Upper Midwest Management; New Ulm Medical Center hired Drs. Annette Schmit-Cline and Matt Lieser; American Artstone hired Larry Thompson as president.

From Brunton Architects: the firm hired Scott Wullschleger, AIT, Assoc. AIA; and the firm was awarded an Open Door Health Center expansion project. Minnesota River Builders Association (MRBA) announced annual awards: Max DeMars of DeMars Construction (Builder Member of the Year), Molly Robertson of Bridge Realty (Associate Member of the Year), and Jen Swenson of Town & Country Interiors (Rising Star); DeMars Construction was the Fall Tour of Homes “People’s Choice” award winner; and MRBA presented $2,000 to Habitat for Humanity.

More from the Chamber: Parker Hannifin recognized these employees for longevity Heather Sehr (five years), Andy Bauch (15 years), and Bill Miller (20 years); the Grand Hotel was gifted to a new entity that includes the nonprofit Grand Center for Arts and Culture; Hope & Faith Floral & Gifts received FTD Premier Florist recognition. New Ulm Mayor Robert Beussman proclaimed November 24 “Small Business Saturday.” From Gislason & Hunter: the firm sponsored a Chamber “Business After Hours” to celebrate 75 years in business; Gislason & Hunter established an office in Hutchinson opening January 1; and attorney Barry Vermeer became a Fellow


American Artstone American Artstone earned annual Cast Stone Institute awards: the Architects Choice Award and one of two Manufacturing Excellence Awards.

St. James Mayo Clinic Health System hired Shayna Baker as speech/language pathologist. Greg Lingbeek opened Lingbeek Designs, which does plasma coating and metal artwork. Heather Wentzel became manager of Encore Coffee Cafe.

St. Peter MVTV Wireless added an access point in Traverse. From the Chamber: new members include Jake’s Pizza and Bright Pixel Design.

Waseca From the Chamber: New members include Modern Woodmen and Northwestern Mutual. New businesses include Icon Barber and Twig Case. The Chamber Ambassadors recognized Waseca business progress, which included ElMolino Restaurant (addition), McDonald’s (new drive-thru), Winegar Inc. (expansion) and Elegant Creations Granite (expansion).


Shortly after Nov. 6, Zane Tankel, who runs 40 Applebee’s restaurants in the New York City area, announced his company was freezing employment and would not build any new restaurants. President Obama’s re-election, Tankel explained, meant ObamaCare was likely to be fully implemented, costing his company millions of dollars and significantly raising the cost of hiring a worker. Tankel’s statement prompted outrage and threats of a boycott, but he was far from alone. Already John Schnatter, CEO of Papa John’s Pizza, has announced he


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would likely lay off some workers. Earlier, Schnatter said ObamaCare would cost his business $5 million to $8 million annually, forcing him to increase the price of pizzas. Meanwhile, two other restaurant chains, Olive Garden and Red Lobster, are moving many of their employees from full- to part-time work in order to avoid the law’s mandate that anyone working more than 30 hours must have insurance. An owner of 40 Denny’s in Florida, meanwhile, says he’ll add a 5 percent surcharge to customer bills in 2014 to cover his increased costs. While restaurants, with traditionally low profit margins and large numbers of low-skilled, low-wage workers, are exceptionally vulnerable to ObamaCare’s costs, other business are being hit too. For example, Boston Scientific has announced it will now lay off up to 1,400 workers and shift some jobs to China. And Dana Holdings, an auto-parts manufacturer with more than 25,000 employees, says it too is exploring ObamaCare-related layoffs. These, and countless other employers across the country, are not doing an impression of Montgomery Burns. They are simply responding to economic reality. Under ObamaCare, employers with 50 or more full-time workers must provide health insurance for all their workers, paying at least 65 percent of the cost of a family policy or 85 percent of the


cost of an individual plan. Moreover, the insurance must meet the federal government’s requirements in terms of what benefits are includMichael D. Tanner ed, meaning many businesses that offer insurance to their workers today will have to change to new, more expensive plans. ObamaCare’s rules make expansion expensive, particularly for the 500,000 U.S. businesses with fewer than 100 employees. Suppose a firm with 49 employees does not provide health benefits. Hiring one more worker will trigger the mandate. The company would now have to provide insurance coverage to all 50 workers or pay a tax penalty. In New York, the average employer contribution for employer-provided insurance plans runs from $4,567 for an individual to $ 12,748 for a family. Many companies will likely choose to pay the penalty instead, which is still expensive—$2,000 per worker multiplied by the entire workforce, after subtracting the statutory exemption for the first 30 workers. For a 50-person company, then, the tax would be $40,000, or $2,000 times 20. That might not seem like a lot, but for

many small businesses that could be the difference between survival and failure. Under the circumstances, how likely is the company to hire that 50th worker? Or, if a company already has 50 workers, isn’t the company likely to lay off one employee? Or cut hours and make some employees part-time, thus getting under the 50-employee cap? Indeed, a study by Mercer found 18 percent of companies were likely to do exactly that. It’s worth noting that in France, another country where numerous government regulations kick in at 50 workers, there are 1,500 companies with 48 employees and 1,600 with 49 employees, but just 660 with 50 and only 500 with 51. New York City’s small business could be particularly hard hit. Of the 238,851 city firms included in a state Department of Labor survey, 96 percent had fewer than 50 employees. How many of them, given the chance to expand, will look at the mandate and decide they’d rather keep their small business small? Overall, according to the Congressional Budget Office, ObamaCare could end up costing as many as 800,000 jobs. The election showed us ObamaCare is likely to be with us for quite some time. Unfortunately, a great many workers are about to find out the consequences of that decision.


Jeff Silker – Fairmont

Michael Tanner is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. This article first appeared in the New York Post.


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Business Person of the Year 2013: Wayne Kahler, Factory Automation; Paul Wilke, River Hills Mall Manager; Brian Fowler, Diversified Photogra...