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The Definitive Business Journal for the Greater Minnesota River Valley September 2020

Jeff Mengenhausen, CEO of Madelia Community Hospital & Clinic. Photo by Pat Christman

Medical Mecca Medical related businesses growing Also in this issue • BLACKBIRD BOUTIQUE • THE BLUE BOAT ECO-RETAIL GALLERY • MN EIS ICE CREAM IN NEW ULM

The Free Press MEDIA


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F E A T U R E S September 2020 • Volume 12, Issue 12

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A strong presence of hospitals and clinics in the area support an ever growing number of medical related businesses in Mankato.

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Julie Fahrforth’s Blue Boat “eco-retail gallery” in Mankato Place on Civic Center Plaza showcases local artists and focuses on water quality issues.

16

Ali Woods, owner of the Blackbird Boutique, sets up her vintage 1963 Shasta Airflyte at area parking lots and during community events.

18

Lindsay Schweiss, co-owner of newly opened MN EIS in New Ulm, offers a wide variety of ice cream, many served with an artistic flair.

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 3


SEPTEMBER 2020 • VOLUME 12, ISSUE 12

By Joe Spear

PUBLISHER Steve Jameson EXECUTIVE EDITOR Joe Spear ASSOCIATE EDITOR Tim Krohn CONTRIBUTING Tim Krohn WRITERS Kent Thiesse Dan Greenwood Grace Brandt Dean Swanson PHOTOGRAPHERS Pat Christman COVER PHOTO Pat Christman PAGE DESIGNER Christina Sankey ADVERTISING Danny Creel Sales Jordan Greer-Friesz Josh Zimmerman Marianne Carlson Theresa Haefner ADVERTISING Barb Wass ASSISTANT ADVERTISING Christina Sankey DESIGNERS CIRCULATION Justin Niles DIRECTOR For editorial inquiries, call Tim Krohn at 507-344-6383. For advertising, call 344-6364, or e-mail advertising@mankatofreepress.com. MN Valley Business is published by The Free Press Media monthly at 418 South 2nd Street Mankato MN 56001.

■ Local Business memos/ Company news.....................................5 ■ Business Commentary.........................7 ■ Business and Industry trends..........22 ■ Retail trends.....................................23 ■ Agriculture Outlook..........................24 ■ Agribusiness trends..........................25 ■ Construction, real estate trends.....26 ■ Gas trends........................................27 ■ Stocks...............................................27 ■ Minnesota Business updates............28 ■ Job trends.........................................28 ■ Schmidt Foundation.........................30 ■ Greater Mankato Growth..................32 ■ Greater Mankato Growth Member Activities ............................33

From the editor

Economic downturn offers Ninja challenge

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he economy is on a pace to drop by 32 percent annually, the worst number since the Great Depression. In fact, we’ve surpassed the decline in the Great Depression which came in at about a 25 percent decline. But the Depression lasted several years. With any luck and a vaccine, we’ll be coming out of this economic slump by spring. While the silver lining seems elusive, we can take heart in something that’s also never happened: A recovery that is coming back not from structural and cultural problems — like the Depression — but coming back from a lingering sickness. No doubt, it’s a bad sickness and one that prevented many businesses from being anything close to normal. But it also appears we’ll recover faster than the conditions of the Depression. Conventional wisdom says business may never be the same after COVID-19. Diners won’t go to restaurants like they used to. Bar goers may reduce the frequency of happy hour. Maybe. Human beings are creatures of habit, and maybe restaurants and bars won’t get all their regular customers back with the same frequency, but my guess would be a return of 80 percent in the post-vaccine COVID era. And those who don’t come back will find other ways to spend money, and much of it will be local. And don’t forget, the savings rate has been soaring. Already we’ve seen surging sales of big ticket items like recreational vehicles and boats. The trucking business has rebounded. Manufacturing orders are returning to more normal levels. The COVID pandemic has a way of painting a dire picture, no doubt, but that’s because many of

4 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business

the businesses, like bars and restaurants, that it is hurting are very visible businesses. You can see a sparsely populated restaurant or bar patio. And some of those workers on the receiving end of those extra $600 weekly unemployment payments would have accumulated nearly $10,000 had they put the money in the bank. Some have. And add to that, the $1,200 stimulus, a lot of bills got paid off and rent got paid. Credit card debt was paid off. The savings rate had actually soared to 33 percent by April as consumers accumulated cash and cut spending. It was by far the highest savings rate since the government began tracking it in the 1960s and up about 13 percent from March, when the coronavirus shut down the economy. After the economy opened back up, the savings rate declined a little to 19 percent in June, but still remains above the typical 5 to 7 percent. All that pent up savings is going to come back into the economy in various ways. Maybe then the economy will “right size.” That might mean we’re going to have a better balance between spending and savings. That might result in the economy being less dependent on consumer spending. That’s a good thing. That might lead to more U.S. jobs given that much of the consumer spending goes toward things that are mostly made overseas. Think clothing, electronics and even food. We can’t forget about the new opportunities for new industries in the post COVID era. Think solar and wind energy. Those industries continued to do well as


people got more conscious about the resources they consume that contribute to Global Warming. People are conscious that perhaps the next pandemic that evolved from strange relationships of nature are impacted by climate change. Think about the new consciousness of health and cleanliness and sanitation. Think about the new discovery by hundreds of thousands of families about the wonder of the outdoors. There are recent signs of economic strength. The number of job postings had been down 40 percent in Minnesota in April and May, but by July job postings were only down 20 percent, according to a report in the Star Tribune. And hiring contract workers is on the rise. That mirrored the trend of the last recession where employers had work but were cautious about hiring full-time permanent workers. The Star Tribune also recently reported a 500 percent increase in demand for baristas as coffee shops open again. There’s heavy demand for logistics people needed by companies like Fed Ex and Amazon. There was an uptick in demand for insurance agents also. And demand for nurses and other health care workers had one company offering a $3,000 welcome bonus. We’re in a pandemic and no doubt some uncharted territory. But it’s not likely to rival the lasting economic calamity of the Great Depression. We may face a “Ninja” competition case in beating this economic obstacle course. It will take all of our energy and resilience.

Joe Spear is executive editor of Minnesota Valley Business. Contact him at jspear@mankatofreepress.com or 344-6382. Follow on Twitter @jfspear.

Local Business People/Company News ■

Le Sueur grocer honored

Radermacher’s Fresh Market in Le Sueur and Keurig/7Up were two of 18 companies statewide to be recognized for their efforts to end hunger in their communities through the annual Minnesota Grocers Association Bag Hunger Campaign. The campaign was coordinated by the MGA and included 250 MGA retail members, 10 vendor partners, and community food banks and food shelves across the state. The MGA’s hunger programs have provided over 39 million meals to Minnesota families in need since 2008. Radermacher’s and Keurig/7Up received the Silver Plate Award for Best Creative Partnerships. This award is presented to the companies who maximized instore promotions while engaging consumers to end hunger. They worked together to create a large in-store display in the front of the store to encourage customers to give back. As winners, each company received $1,000 to donate to a food charity of their choice. Radermacher’s donated to the Le Sueur Food Shelf. ■■■

Pioneer Bank a top lender

Pioneer Bank has been recognized as an Independent Community Bankers of America top lender in the July issue of Independent Banker. ICBA is a national trade association. The annual list is based on the strength of competitive banking ser vices and operational efficiencies using FDIC data for 2019. Scores were determined by combining the average of the bank’s percentile rank for lending concentration and for loan growth over the past year in each lending category and asset size and adjusted for loan charge-offs at certain percentile thresholds.

Jr’s Academy open

Jr’s Academy Early Learning Center at 120 Birkdale Drive in Mankato recently had a ribbon cutting. “We keep activities new and fun by offering themes that are designed and created using a research based curriculum,” Julie Oachs, owner/director said in a statement. ■■■

SouthPoint board chair retires

SouthPoint Financial Credit Union board of directors chair Gordon Osmonson has retired. Osmonson was appointed to the board in 1976 and has been board chairperson for 24 of those years. “Gordie’s leadership, passion for our purpose and desire to make a difference in our communities has impacted thousands of people and spanned multiple generations,” SouthPoint CEO Jay Gostonczik said in a statement. Matt Lux (previous vice chairperson) is the new board chairperson. ■■■

Spectrum opens Mankato store

Charter Communications has opened a new store in Mankato. The Spectrum Store, 1901 Madison Ave., is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Devices and accessories sold at the store are compatible with Spectrum Mobile. ■■■

Pratt, Kutzke & Associates changes name

Pratt, Kutzke & Associates, a financial planning and investment management firm based in North Mankato has changed its name to Pratt Wealth Management. Pratt Wealth Management has been providing individuals and organizations with financial guidance since 1990.

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 5


Vetter names president

Vetter Stone Company has named a new president. Ben Kaus will replace Ron Vetter, who will stay on as Vetter Stone’s CEO and chairman. “Ben is the first non-family officer and leader of the company since its founding in 1954 following Paul J. Vetter, Sr., Howard Vetter and Ron Vetter,” said Ron Vetter in a statement. “He brings rich leadership experience and operational knowledge that will continue the growth of the company. We are very proud to have Ben serve in this integral role of the company.” Kaus joined Vetter Stone six years ago and became a company officer in 2016. In 2018, he was named chief operating officer. He graduated from Minnesota State University in 2006 with a major in finance.

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Business Commentary

By Dean Swanson

Consider partnering with customers to increase sales

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have the opportunity to talk to many small business CEOs each week as I interview those who have asked for a mentor. It goes without saying that the economic slump is affecting businesses at all levels, spurring many of them to seek ideas of how to bring back their sales, keep their customers and also how to attract new business. As I searched for ideas for helping CEOs on this topic, I found a super idea in the SCORE Library resources. Have you thought about partnering with your current customers to help you increase sales and bring your business back to life? One of our SCORE content writers, Emily Bosak asked business owners, “What’s one way you are looking to your current customers to help support your business?”. She published this as a blog in the SCORE Library recently. I have shared this with CEOs and it stimulated some creative thinking for their business. I share some of these ideas here. Bosak started out by saying that “You need actionable tips on how to increase sales at a time when people are looking to save rather than spend. No one understands this struggle more than small business owners.” She shared suggestions on how you can establish a stronger partnership with customers to increase sales. Here they are: Partner with customers on content: Getting insight about a specific industry that we service from one of our customers and having that individual write content for our social media posts is a great way to share different perspectives on business. Other customers are more likely to engage with the content if they know it was written by a real customer, like them. By Jonathan Cohen from Generated Encourage reviews and testimonials: Customers that have already bought and tried our service are always encouraged to post reviews and testimonials. This is a great way for customers that already love your brand to spread the word. Reviews and testimonials prove you are a credible and trustworthy business and it offers potential customers an insight into what it’s like to buy your product or service. By Megan Chiamos from 365 Cannabis Cultivate relationships: Oftentimes, when there is an economic downtown, the first expense companies cut is marketing. That is really scary for agencies like Markitors, as we can’t keep our doors open without having a number of accounts. Fortunately, many of our clients have continued to invest in SEO during this uncertain time. Having the support and trust of our clients not only supports our business but strengthens our bond with our clients. By Nikitha Lokareddy from Markitors Get customers iInvolved: No one quite understands the day-to-day use of our software more than the customers who use it daily. Encouraging customers to post or demonstrate how to use your product, service, or software is a great way to support your business while educating

future and current customers. By John Yardley from Threads Adapt to fit customer needs: The best way to help your customers support you is by adapting your business to solve the problems they currently experience. Life is fluid, and the people offering what is needed ‘right-now’ don’t need to work so hard at pitching their customer base. I would advise businesses to look at what they could do differently to adapt to the changing needs in their market— as in that way their customer-base can better support them through sales. By Yaniv Masjedi from Nextiva Incorporate the big picture: We ask all of our customers to help promote our business through social media and word of mouth if they enjoyed their experience with us. We also make sure that our customers appreciate that doing so will have a positive impact due to our good karma program, whereby we donate 15% of our profits to non-profit groups that work to supply clean drinking water in developing countries. When customers realize that spreading the word about our products will help us achieve that mission and not just improve our bottom line, they are generally eager to tell others about our products. By Jessica Rose from Copper H2O Take part in a group brainstorm: Brainstorming is often the glue that holds everything together. Therefore, your team members must feel as if they’re connected when they’re working remotely, and throwing around some innovative ideas is a great way to keep everyone on the same page! Stay on task with a messenger service like Slack or via regular Zoom calls. You can set up channels, and then brainstorm away in the comments. That way, everyone can respond during their own time and working hours. Be sure to set up a channel for fun things, like that new puppy or your marketing director’s kitchen remodel. By Blake Sutton from Electrical Knowledge Cultivate community: When consumers are looking to support a local business, they want to support an actual small business in their community: their neighbors. People have seen the small business apocalypse and have seen the effects first hand. A new social awareness has come to the forefront in the minds of everyone who’s ever stopped in at the “corner store” for something on the way home. The person giving the referral already has confidence in the business, and the business owner will go above and beyond for their new customer with gratitude. This circle will inevitably lead to a higher level of service and better quality of goods, leading to more referrals and good reviews. By Melissa Mohr from Mohr Coaching and Development. Dean L. Swanson is a volunteer certified SCORE mentor and former SCORE regional vice president for the north west region. www.seminnesota.score.org

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 7


Jon Kearney, manager of Handi Medical Supply, in their newly expanded space in Madison East Center.

Large and small Medical businesses of all sizes thrive By Tim Krohn | Photos by Pat Christman

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reater Mankato long has been buttressed by strong hospital and clinic systems, including Mayo Clinic Health System, Mankato Clinic, New Ulm Medical Center and River’s Edge in St. Peter. Being a regional health care destination has helped grow a variety of other professional medical services. “Mankato obviously has a strong draw from the rural areas,” said Jon Kearney, manager of Handi Medical Supply, a relatively new and growing medical

supply business at Madison East Center. And beyond the major medical providers, the area has been welcoming to small operations such as Madelia Community Hospital & Clinic. CEO Jeff Mengenhausen said the key to their strong growth has been adding services people want, thinking outside the box and partnering whenever possible. “Health care today is 95% cooperation and 5% competition.”

Cover Story

8 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business


Handi Medical Supply started in a small space in Madison East but recently moved into a spacious expanded area.

Handi Medical

Handi Medical Supply started in Mankato six years ago with a small, windowless showroom in Madison East and is now in an expanded space “with awesome east-facing windows,” said Kearney. Madison East, a former and once nearly vacant shopping mall, has been transformed into a center with a wide variety of medical ser vices including dermatologists, psychologists, physical therapists and more. The center has affectionately been dubbed “Medical East Center” by tenants. Handi Medical sells mostly to the public. “Anything from wound care to socks to wheelchairs, oxygen, CPAP,” Kearney said. “Items designed to keep you healthy and safe at home rather than going to a nursing home.” Kearney comes from a medical family. His dad, Mike, and uncle Wynn were both longtime orthopedic surgeons in Mankato. Handi Medical is based in St. Paul and has a location in Coon

Madelia Community Hospital & Clinic recently opened a pharmacy in Lake Crystal. Rapids. Kearney said Handi Medical was effectively asked to come to Mankato by a local physician who used their services and suggested they’d fit well in Mankato. Kearney said several other smaller medical supply stores that had been in Mankato closed, mostly victims of complicated insurance processes. “A lot of the privately owned medical equipment companies have kind of fallen by the wayside.

With insurance paying less and less, it got tough for the momand-pop shop.” He said Handi Medical has had solid growth year after year. “Being newer in town, it takes time to get established.” Kearney said supplying equipment people need monthly — CPAP, ostomy, continence supplies — are the backbone of their business. And scooters and wheelchairs are also an important part of it.

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 9


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Madelia system expands

“We’ve been growing ver y quickly,” Mengenhausen said of Madelia Community Hospital & Clinic. “Our new patient numbers are up nearly 40% compared to last year. Orthopedics and pain management are growing, and we’re increasing general surgery.” They also have taken over the the ambulance service previously operated by the city. “We’re moving to an advanced life support ambulance. We’ll be the only one other than Mayo and Allina, and we’ll partner with them to help out when they need it. We just committed to build a new ambulance space right on the campus.” The health system also just opened a pharmacy in Lake Crystal, a rare case of a small community gaining, not losing a local pharmacy. “Lake Crystal had done an economic survey and the top thing they needed was a pharmacy. We thought we could help them out and talked to the city and mayor, and the financials worked.” At about the same time the new pharmacy opened on Main Street last month, Madelia also took over the clinic practice in Lake Cr ystal that was formerly operated by Mankato Clinic. “The clinic just kind of fell into our lap,” Mengenhausen said. Dr. Kirk Odden, the longtime Mankato Clinic doctor in the Lake Crystal office, retired. “We have a physician, Marc Wilkinson, who lives in Lake Crystal and he will do his rounds in Madelia and then head to Lake Crystal,” Mengenhausen said. They also hired a nurse practitioner for the Lake Crystal office.


A nurses station at Madelia Community Hospital. “Lake Crystal is similar size to Madelia and this is just one community helping out another.” He said that if people need things like CT scans, surgeries or other more intense care, they can access the hospital and clinic in Madelia. “We’re ranked one of the top critical care hospitals for patient experience in the country this year,” Mengenhausen said. Madelia also has expanded its urgent care and is drawing more people from Lake Crystal, St. James, Hanska, Truman and other surrounding areas. “I think it was just getting people in the door and seeing the service we provide that has driven our numbers.” He said the key these days is to continue working to drive down expenses and to grow services. “If you’re not adding services and thinking outside the box, small independent hospitals like this aren’t going to survive.” The Madelia system is governed by a nine-member board. “It’s citizens — a retired

Madelia Community Hospital lab technician Alice Ploghoft does a test for COVID-19 in the hospital’s lab. farmer, a stay-at-home mom, people who work at the bank. We’ve had some long-term board members.” The Madelia system partners with Allina and Mankato Clinic on visiting physicians. They’ve also partnered with Veterans Affairs to do imaging, urgent care and surgery. Allowing vets to get

more services at area health systems rather than only at VA facilities was allowed under an order signed by President Trump. “That’s really helped. People don’t have to drive to the Cities or wait two or three weeks to get in. We’re not necessarily their primary care physician. That’s still handled by the VA.” MV MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 11


Julie Johnson Fahrforth opened the Blue Boat retail gallery in downtown Mankato recently and has plans for a renovation and expansion.

Eco-focused gallery The Blue Boat features local artists’ work By Grace Brandt Photos by Pat Christman

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hen Julie Johnson Fahrforth though she had to shut down like most opened up the Blue Boat, an “ecoother businesses during this spring’s stayretail gallery” in Mankato Place at-home order. Now, she’s open once more, on Civic Center Plaza, albeit by appointment she had two goals: to only, and is hoping to showcase local artists continue educating and to raise awareness customers while also for the many issues offering access to highTHE BLUE BOAT surrounding water quality, locally conser vation in 12 Civic Center Plaza Suite 1701A produced items. in Mankato Minnesota. Facebook: TheBlueBoat “I knew I was Showcasing local passionate about water Email: Theblueboatllc@gmail.com talent and art and the arts,” One of Fahforth’s she said. “I really biggest goals is simply wanted to put it together and offer the finer creating a space where local artists have things in life: eating well, taking care of the chance to show off their work. yourself and the planet, enjoying the arts, “There really isn’t a place in town where enjoying music. Not only are we an ecoit’s gallery retail, except for the Carnegie, retail gallery-café-music-bar, we’re very and they do a great job,” she said. “I strong on water issues. Part of that, all wanted something a little more accessible for the people who might not wander into those passions, are wrapped up into The the Carnegie, something to showcase all Blue Boat, which is a metaphor for the the artists and a place for them to sell their Earth.” paintings and ceramic pieces and glassware. Fahrforth opened her shop in October,

Spotlight

12 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business


Much of the work in the Blue Boat comes from local artists. I’ve had people stop in from Minneapolis who have purchased artists’ pieces. I’d like to get some traffic from visitors and tourists going through.” She’s trying to stick with water-themed art to go with her overall theme, but she said she’s opening up a little for portraiture as well. And she has had no difficulty finding local artists. In fact, many of them have come to her straight off the street. “A lot of them, like (some) musicians, will stumble upon this place and go, ‘What’s this?’” she said. “Some have just walked in off the street. They really dig it, and I dig it, too.” Fahrforth is now featuring about a dozen local artists, and the products range from hand-carved sumac walking sticks that double as giant flutes to a book by local author Cathy Brennan. There are also hemp chew toys, hand-crafted mugs and bamboo-fiber shirts. Artwork runs the gamut from intricate sketches to colorful pottery. (Fahrforth, who has an art degree from MSU, also has her own oil painting hanging up in her gallery, too.) Almost everything featured in The Blue Boat is local, though some artists hail from farther away in the state. But they all share a commitment to sustainable and eco-friendly artwork that’s “good for you and the planet,” as Fahrforth explains it. Megan Schnitker, owner of Lakota Made, is one local artisan whose homemade products are featured in The Blue Boat. Schnitker utilizes knowledge passed down from her tribe — the Rosebud Sioux Tribe of South Dakota — and its traditions to create plantbased medicinal and self-care products, from soaps to

deodorants to salves. Schnitker met Fahrforth through the Small Business Development Center and worked with her to host an indigenous market at The Blue Boat in March. She has sold her products there ever since it opened, and she said she’s had pretty steady sales so far. “I have absolutely loved working with (Julie),” Schnitker said. “The Blue Boat has been a great place for people to go and find eco-friendly products locally. It’s definitely helped me as a business owner to have a physical place where people can find my products while shopping downtown.” Randy Dinsmore is another local artist who sells merchandise — in his case, handcrafted wooden bowls — at The Blue Boat. Dinsmore said Fahrforth approached him after seeing some of his products on Facebook and asked if he’d like to sell pieces at her shop. He started showcasing his work there around Christmas 2019, and he said she’s sold several pieces already. “It has been great working with Julie,” he said. “I love the selection of work she has in the Blue Boat.”

Protecting water resources

Preserving Minnesota’s water resources has been a passion for Fahrforth since she attended college. She said she took some astronomy classes, including one titled “Life in the Universe,” and was awakened to just how vital water is to all life. “We all know how special our planet is, but that’s when I fell in love with water,” she said. “That’s when I opened my eyes and started to listen to the experts on the state of our water.” MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 13


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Fahrforth, who grew up in New Ulm, moved to Colorado for some time after college but came back to Minnesota to settle down, living on Lake Washington with her husband for nine years. Living on the lake only further showed her how important it is to take care of water resources. “I watched (Lake Washington) turn green and brown during the summer, and I could feel it — I felt not well myself, just watching it,” she said. “We need to make sure that the Earth is protected. Water is really important (for) swimming, recreation, fishing, drinking … There’s something that we can all do, (and) we all need to figure out what that is.” Fahrforth started by becoming involved with the Minnesota River Congress, a citizen-led group that started in New Ulm in 2014 and focuses on the natural resource and economic health of the Minnesota River Basin. She also became involved with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the MSU Water Resource Center. It was during her time working with these organizations that she felt inspired to take things a step further and open her own business.

14 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business

“Working on the committee made me realize how much we needed a brick-and-mortar space for people to walk into, a space where one could get the word out on how to solve our water quality issues, and a space to engage people,” she said. “The Blue Boat vision has been with me for many years, and all of a sudden, there was a space available. There’s all this information out there about water, (but) I felt very strongly that people should come in and learn about it and actually have that experience.” Fahrforth already has hosted a Minnesota River Congress meeting in The Blue Boat and hopes to co-host a “big water event” with MRC in the future, as well as more water-themed events. She’s also collaborating with MSU’s Water Resource Center to bring in an interactive water kiosk for kids to use. “There’s something that we can all do — farmers, city dwellers, (everyone),” she said. “We can all do our part.”

Looking to the future

Moving forward, Fahrforth has quite a few big plans, but they depend on how everything settles in the wake of COVID-19. She was


picking up a good amount of business before the stay-at-home order, and she briefly reopened June 1, but she decided for the safety of herself and her customers to make her shop open by appointment only. People can call her or visit her Facebook page, The Blue Boat, for updates and information. “The Blue Boat is moving into Phase II,” Fahrforth said. “The first phase was created fast, more a pop-up feel, and we will now be renovating to suit the downtown entertainment district more. However, it will be created by artists and musicians, and The Blue Boat will have a unique vibe.” Fahrforth said that she is always looking for new artists to feature, especially different ethnic groups. The latest artist to display her work in the gallery is Somali artist Wardah Sabrie. “(Wardah) really adds a nice flavor to the other pieces,” Fahrforth said. “I want to make sure everyone, all ethnic groups, are comfortable in displaying their art in the Blue Boat. That’s really what the Blue Boat is, a metaphor for the Earth, and it’s all of us.” She also has dreams of one day offering a full breakfast-throughdinner menu, as well as applying for an on-sale liquor license. Her goal is to work with local farmers to use organic and sustainably grown food, as well as collaborating with ethnic groups in the area to offer a diverse menu. She would also like to feature live music Fridays and Saturdays. Right now, The Blue Boat’s back room space is available for private parties and events. Customers can utilize their own catering services and make use of seating that’s available both indoors and on Fahrforth’s patio. More than anything, though, Fahrforth said she hopes that she can continue to educate people on how important it is to take care of some of Minnesota’s most precious natural resources. “I am just a small piece of the connector set of people solving water quality issues. I am here mostly to support the people who do this every day.” MV

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Ali Woods, owner of the Blackbird Boutique, a mobile shop housed in a vintage 1963 Shasta Airflyte.

Pop-up fashion Blackbird Boutique set in unique pink camper By Grace Brandt | Photos by Pat Christman

A

li Woods, owner of the Blackbird Boutique, arrives somewhere, she unpacks some of her won’t hesitate to admit she doesn’t really like merchandise to be set up outside, while more is left wearing pink. That might surprise folks, given indoors. Then, when she’s done selling, she simply that her mobile boutique, housed in packs everything back inside the a vintage 1963 Shasta Airflyte, is a trailer and drives away. very distinctive bubblegum color. Since opening in July 2019, “(Pink) is my favorite accent Woods has “popped up” all over color,” Woods said. “You’d never Mankato and North Mankato and BLACKBIRD catch me wearing pink, but I’ve got area towns, spreading out in a BOUTIQUE everything with a pink accent. I collaborating businesses’ parking Facebook: The Blackbird went with pink (for my trailer) lot for the day. Where and when Owner: Ali Woods because it’s a vehicle color that you she arrives is always changing, do not see driving around town. I since she bases it on her schedule knew it would catch people’s eye.” for the week and also what might It’s true Woods makes quite a scene when she pulls be most exciting for her clients. into her latest location, hauling “Birdie” along behind “I like to pop up and make it random, because that her. All of Woods’ inventory — which ranges from makes it more fun for my customers,” Woods said. clothes to jewelry to other accessories — fits inside “It’s like, ‘Oh, she’s there, let’s go!’” the trailer, which also has a fitting room. When Woods

Profile

16 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business


drivable and then I took it home to do the rest.” Woods purchased the camper in April 2019 and ended up completely gutting it: tearing out cabinets and seats, redoing the floors and painting the entire space. She did almost all of the work herself, though her fiancé (now husband) Logan, her father and Ali Woods set her boutique up at a park in Lake Crystal recently. her future father-inlaw also pitched in. Woods was born and raised in What she didn’t know, she North Mankato, where she still researched online and taught lives. After graduating from herself how to do. Mankato East, she started “When I think of an idea, I go studying business at South with it,” Woods said. “I don’t Central College. At the same hesitate. I don’t wait. I just do it. time, at only 19 years old, she I’m a doer.” started her own wedding Woods’ goal was to finish the decorating company, Ali Marie’s camper in time to have it included Weddings and Events. in North Mankato’s Fun Days “I was decorating weddings and parade that July, giving her about learning how to run a business two months to finish renovations. while (actually running) a Although there was snow on the business.” ground until May, Woods was She ran her wedding business able to finish everything in time for seven years and built up a to join in the parade, throwing out wide client base, but she — what else — pink candy. eventually got tired of having so “We had some great feedback,” much stuff piled up at her house. she said about her grand debut. She decided to sell her inventory “It’s something fun that nobody’s and start with something new. At ever seen. It was the first time the time, she was working at a they saw it, at the parade.” local boutique, and she was Traveling in style interested in starting something Woods’ original goal was to find similar — but with a twist. “I thought, ‘It’d be so fun to retro-style clothes at local thrift have a store, but that’s a lot of stores, but after hunting for overhead that I don’t want to be clothes for a few days, she came paying,’” Woods said. “I thought, to the conclusion it would be too ‘How can I do that but have no difficult to regularly find enough overhead?’ And I thought, ‘I’ll put clothes that fit the theme. it on wheels.’” “I took a couple days doing that Woods started looking for an and thought, ‘This is just too RV she could pull behind her hard,’” she recalled. “I can’t specifically go out and find the vehicle, hoping to find something exact style I’m looking for because vintage because she likes that it’s not new. So I started looking look. She found someone in into wholesale. I decided that’s Casenovia, Wisconsin — about the route I wanted to go.” four hours away — who was Now she orders her inventory selling a 1963 Shasta Airflyte. She from online sources, bringing in liked what she saw enough to new pieces all the time. She make the drive and see it in describes her style as “typical person. boutique clothing with an Ali “I went, saw the camper that twist.” day, went back home, thought “I like funky, I like unique,” she about it and sent him a check the said. “(It’s) something that you next day. He fixed it up to get it

haven’t seen in a while. I like to bring that vintage style back… I like the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Some of my items have that, but some of them are just a fun new style that we haven’t seen yet. It just depends. It’s always changing.” Woods’ camper is equipped with several racks of clothing, as well as a fitting room with a mirror. In recent months, because of COVID-19 concerns, Woods has usually set up most of her inventory outside so that people can maintain distance while shopping. “You’re welcome to go in and out,” she said. “If you need to try something on, you’re more than welcome.” So far, Woods has mostly stayed around the North Mankato area because there are more places for her camper to easily park. She explained Mankato only has a handful of spots where she can settle down for the day, and she’s only allowed to pop up within the city four times a year. She also travels to some events, such as county fairs, where she tries to stay the length of the event. “A lot of events have been canceled, so it’s just easier to stay here and pop up in local parking lots,” Woods said. “But I will travel wherever.”

Down the road

Woods has been building up a steady following of customers throughout the past several months, with people following her social media pages to see where she will pop up next. “Over the past few months, I’ve gotten tons of new likes on Facebook. The exposure has been awesome. I think I’ve only heard positive feedback. It’s very motivating, especially in times like this.” She said she plans to keep doing what she’s been doing going forward with no new plans in the works… yet. But as soon as she has them, she promises her customers will know. “If I have an idea, I’ll make it happen,” she said. “Everyone on my following will definitely know if anything exciting is about to happen.” MV

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 17


Lindsay Schweiss, co-owner of newly opened MN EIS in New Ulm.

Sweet treats on MN Street MN EIS opens in New Ulm By Grace Brandt Photos by Pat Christman

L

think we all need something happy to indsay Schweiss, co-owner of newly experience right now, something to forget opened MN EIS in New Ulm, has one about some of what’s going on, and I think simple goal for her business: making this is the kind of place people happy. And with where you can come and an ice cream shop that forget your troubles.” offers as many sweets and treats as MN EIS does, it’s a very achievable Filling a need MN EIS goal. Schweiss and her 10 N. Minnesota Street “We want people to partners, Greg and Bria in New Ulm come in here and just get James of Waconia, opened 5077-354-0660 that happy feeling you get EIS on June 18. The Email: info@mneisnewulm.com MN from being in an ice cream partnership was a happy mneisnewulm.com/ shop,” Schweiss said. “I accident. Schweiss, a

Feature

18 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business

Facebook page: MNEISNewUlm


Kendal Conrad gives a customer a sample. The shop has a constantly rotating choice of flavors. native of Janesville, Wisconsin, had moved to New Ulm 14 years ago and was working as an occupational therapist. But she said she felt ready for a change. “I have felt like an ice cream shop is something that our downtown has needed for several years,” she said. “The thought has kind of been brewing. I’ve wanted to take my own kids to an ice cream shop… It just felt like that was missing here in town.” At the time, Schweiss followed the Facebook page of Greg and Bria James who own three businesses in Waconia. One of these businesses is The Main Scoop ice cream shop. Schweiss reached out to the Jameses almost a year ago, when she was first considering opening her own ice cream shop, in the hopes of gleaning some business advice. It turned out the Waconia couple already had been approached by the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce about starting an ice cream shop in New Ulm and they had just bought a building downtown to start moving

forward with the idea. “I just randomly messaged them, asking basically for a favor, if they’d talk to me about it, and here we were all on the same page, down to the name of the place,” Schweiss said. “Once we met, it was pretty clear we all had a very similar vision for the shop, and they brought a ton of really good business knowledge and experience. I’m someone local who wanted to be here and really see out the day-to-day operations, so we were really a great fit for each other.” Schweiss said it took about 10 months of planning before the shop was ready to open. Originally, they planned to open earlier this year, but when the COVID-19 situation happened, the date was delayed. “Obviously, there was a time where I’m sure, like many people who were thinking of opening a business, we kind of stepped back and said, ‘Wait a minute … Is this smart? Should we open during a pandemic?’” Schweiss said. “There were so many unknowns.

But we decided to just keep moving forward with the planning. May came, and we decided that there was not much that people (could) do right now to feel normal. Everything’s so different right now. We wanted to be able to give people something that brought some normalcy back to their summers.” The three co-owners decided to officially open in June. The shop has been busy ever since, with a mixture of carry-out orders and customers who stay inside to enjoy the ambiance. “The community has really embraced it and we’ve been busy,” Schweiss said. “It’s been a really good decision for us to move forward on it.”

A tasty mix

MN EIS manages to pay homage both to New Ulm’s heritage and Schweiss’ own background. Its name — the German word for ice or ice cream — is a nod to New Ulm’s German roots. Meanwhile, the ice cream offered inside comes from

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 19


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Schweiss’ childhood memories, since it is supplied by Madison, Wisconsin-based Chocolate Shoppe. “I really liked the idea of opening up an ice cream shop that had this German New Ulm flair but also bringing in an ice cream from my home state,” Schweiss said. “I’m probably biased, (but) I think the customers would agree that you cannot beat this ice cream. It is so good.” MN EIS features a constantly rotating menu of 24 flavors, which are chosen out of the Chocolate Shoppe’s more than 100 flavors. Flavors range from staples such as vanilla and chocolate all the way to black licorice, loaded French toast (cinnamon French toast ice cream drizzled with maple syrup and cream cheese) and Matcha green tea. The menu also sometimes features nondairy, non-fat Italian ice, soybased vegan ice cream, caffeinated ice cream, sherbet and even bourbon-spiked espresso ice cream. (You can find that in “Exhausted Parent” flavor.) While Schweiss posts the menu of the day every morning, she cautioned that it changes as quickly as they happen to run out of a flavor. “This is the kind of shop where you’re never going to quite know what you’re going to get when you come in,” she said. “The Chocolate Shoppe carries a really wide variety of flavors, so we have a lot of freezer space in the back that we keep pretty fully stocked. As soon as one is emptied out, we’re replacing it with something new and different. We can post a menu in the morning and, an hour later, it could look a little different. When you have a big flavor variety, you’re usually pretty much guaranteed to find something you like here.” Schweiss’ favorite fruity flavor — and already a customer favorite — is rhubarb crumble. She also recommends “This Just Got Serious,” which is salted caramel ice cream with sea salt fudge and cashews. If it’s too hard to choose a tasty flavor, you can order a “flight” of ice cream, which comes with six flavors, for $10. Another ice cream-based dessert is the


“Mootaco,” a taco-shaped waffle cone that’s filled with cookie dough, ice cream, whip cream and chocolate sprinkles. There are also shakes, malts and floats.

Other sweets and treats

For people who want to try something a little different, there is also “spaghettieis,” a German dessert that looks like spaghetti but is made from ice cream. First, vanilla ice cream is run through a spätzle press so that it comes out looking like noodles. Then, it is drizzled with homemade strawberry topping in place of Bolognese sauce and sprinkled with white chocolate flakes that mimic the look of Parmesan cheese. If customers want, they can also order “meatballs,” which are really made of cookie dough. “It’s really fun,” Schweiss said. “It looks just like a bowl of spaghetti, and it’s delicious.” MN EIS offers a wide variety of treats and sweets besides just ice cream, enough to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth.

Looking forward

Besides two confectioners, there are about two dozen other employees, Schweiss said, mostly high school and college students. “We’ve got some great, fun friendly staff,” she said. “They’re amazing. They make this place really fun. It’s been a busy summer, so we’ve definitely needed the staff for it.” Schweiss said once it’s safe, she’d like to host birthday parties and other events in the shop. She plans on organizing some kind of activities for local celebrations, such as HermannFest in September and Oktoberfest

While a variety of other sweet treats are available, ice cream is at the center of the New Ulm shop. following that. She also plans to keep the shop open year-round. “I think right now everyone is just playing it by ear and taking things a day at a time,” she said.

No matter what the next few months look like, though, Schweiss said she’s glad she took the plunge and opened the shop.

MV

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MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 21


Business and Industry Trends ■

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22 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business

Energy Utility-scale battery storage increases

Utility-scale batter y storage systems are increasingly being installed in the United States. In 2010, the United States had seven operational batter y storage systems, which accounted for 59 megawatts of power capacity (the maximum amount of power output a battery can provide in any instant) and 21 megawatthours of energy capacity (the total amount of energy that can be stored or discharged by a battery). By the end of 2018, the United States had 125 operational batter y storage systems, providing a total of 869 MW of


installed power capacity and 1,236 MWh of energy capacity. Battery storage systems store electricity produced by generators or pulled directly from the electrical grid, and they redistribute the power later as needed. These systems have a wide wide variety of applications, including integrating renewables into the grid, peak shaving, frequency regulation, and providing backup power. Historically, most battery systems are in the PJM Interconnection (PJM), which manages the power grid in 13 eastern and Midwestern states as well as the District of Columbia, and in the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). Together, PJM and CAISO accounted for 55% of the total battery storage power capacity built between 2010 and 2018. However, in 2018, more than 58% (130 MW) of new storage power capacity additions, representing 69% (337 MWh) of energy capacity additions, were installed in states outside of those areas.

Retail/Consumer Spending Vehicle Sales Mankato — Number of vehicles sold - 2019 - 2020 1500 1200 900 600 300

Natural gas exports slow

After establishing a record high of 8.0 billion cubic feet per day (Bcf/d) in January 2020, U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) fell to an average of 3.1 Bcf/d in July 2020. July exports were similar to LNG exports in May 2018, when the available liquefaction capacity was about one-third of the current capacity. During the week of July 12–18, 2020, LNG weekly exports were loaded by only four vessels for a total of 2.0 Bcf/d — the same levels as the second week of December 2016. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects U.S. LNG exports to remain at low levels for the next few months. Global natural gas demand has declined in response to COVID-19 mitigation efforts.

Crude stays low

Daily Brent crude oil spot prices averaged $43 per barrel in July, up $3 from the average in June and up $25/b from the multiyear low monthly average price in April. The Energy Information Administration expects monthly Brent spot prices will average $43/b during the second half of 2020 and rise to an average of $50/b in 2021.

Gas near $2

U.S. regular gasoline retail prices averaged $2.18 per gallon in July, an increase of 10 cents/gal from the average in June but 56 cents/gal lower than at the same time last year. EIA expects that gasoline prices will gradually decrease through the rest of the summer to reach an average of $2.04/gal in September before falling to an average of $1.99/gal in the fourth quarter.

CO2 emission drop

EIA forecasts that U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, after decreasing by 2.8% in 2019, will decrease by 11.5% (588 million metric tons) in 2020. This record decline is the result of less energy consumption related to restrictions on business and travel activity and slowing economic growth related to COVID-19 mitigation efforts. CO2 emissions decline with reduced consumption of all fossil fuels, particularly coal (24.9%) and petroleum (11.6%). In 2021, EIA forecasts that energyrelated CO2 emissions will increase by 5.6%, as the economy recovers.

1,077 913

0

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

Source: Sales tax figures, City of Mankato Includes restaurants, bars, telecommunications and general merchandise store sales. Excludes most clothing, grocery store sales.

Sales tax collections Mankato (In thousands)

- 2019 - 2020

600

$427,187 $361,041

500 400 300 200 100 0

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

Source: Sales tax figures, City of Mankato

Lodging tax collections Mankato/North Mankato

- 2019 - 2020

$16,939

70000

$54,494

52500 35000 17500 0

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

Source: City of Mankato

Mankato food and beverage tax - 2019 - 2020 175000 140000

$65,272 $30,747

105000 70000 35000 0

J

F

M

Source: City of Mankato

A

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O

N

D

C. Sankey

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 23


Agricultural Outlook

By Kent Thiesse

Several ag issues key in this election year

E

very two years since 1990, key agriculture issues have been discussed as part of the candidate forums that are held at Farmfest in early August. The Minnesota U.S. Senate and Congressional candidate forums were held again in 2020; however, this year’s forums were conducted in a virtual format. Farmfest Virtual 2020 featured all of the major candidates for the Senate and the rural Congressional districts, who discussed many of the key issues affecting farm families and rural communities in Minnesota and the Midwest. Many of these same topics will likely frame the discussions on ag and rural policy issues in Washington, D.C. before the November election and over the next few years. Following are some of the main issues that were discussed during the Farmfest forums:

COVID-19 Impacts and Assistance

There was considerable discussion about the financial impacts of COVID-19 on crop and livestock producers and on the ag processing and biofuels industries, as well as coronavirus impacts on rural families and communities. The Coronavirus Food Assistance Program (CFAP) was credited with providing some much needed assistance to farmers, especially for small-to medium sized livestock producers that have dealt with low prices and limited packing plant access since the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. However, it was pointed out that the current CFAP program did not provide any assistance to biofuel producers, to crop farmers that had already sold their 2019 crop production, for market price losses incurred on the 2020 crops, or to livestock producers that had to euthanize hogs or poultry. 80 percent of the CFAP payments were paid out after sign-up; however, it appears that USDA will also make the final 20 percent of the CFAP payments to crop and livestock producers. The deadline to sign-up for CFAP payments has now been extended until September 11, 2020. For more information on the CFAP payments go to: https://www.farmers.gov/cfap.

Farm Financial Challenges

One of the major discussion items by the Senate and Congressional candidates was the continued

24 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business

tight margins and low profitability in farming. Profit margins in crop production have been quite tight in recent years, which has put many farm operations at the brink of financial disaster. Crop production expenses and land rental rates have remained relatively stable for many producers, while crop prices for corn, soybeans and wheat have remained below breakeven levels, and are now at the lowest levels in several years. For farm operators that experienced crop losses in 2019 or may have a crop loss in 2020, due to weather issues, the financial situation may become even more severe in the future. The livestock sector is not faring any better from a profitability standpoint and has seen profit levels deteriorate quite rapidly since the U.S. outbreak of COVID-19 earlier this year. Dairy farmers have been dealing with very low milk prices for several years, which has resulted in many dairy producers exiting the industry in the past few years. However, a large number of dairy farmers have received CFAP and dairy margin coverage (DMC) program payments in recent months, which together with an improvement in milk prices recently, has helped to mitigate the financial losses that were incurred earlier this year. Hog producers were able to show a slight profit margin very early in 2020, following some optimism in the pork export markets; however, the return to lower market prices and the necessary euthanizing of hogs following the COVID-19 outbreak, has created significant profit challenges for the hog industry. Cattle feedlot operators and beef cow/calf producers have also faced negative margins at most times during the past year or so. Profitability challenges have also existed in the poultry and sheep sector of the livestock industry.

Ag Trade Agreements

Most of the U.S. Senate and Congressional candidates that participated in the Farmfest forums expressed concern about the continuing trade disputes between the United States and China, as well as the slowness in the implementation of the Phase 1 trade agreement with China. If implemented fully, the Phase 1 agreement would significantly increase Chinese purchases of U.S. ag products, including grains and meat products; however, some panelists expressed concern that


declining relations between the U.S. and China may again lead to restrictions and tariffs on U.S. ag products being imported by China. In the past couple of years, the added Chinese tariffs on ag imports from the U.S. greatly lowered U.S. exports of soybeans, pork and other ag products to China, resulting in much lower commodity prices in the U.S. The other trade issue that garnered considerable attention during the forums was implementation of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) by the three countries, which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Canada and Mexico, along with China, are the three largest trading partners for U.S. ag exports.

Ethanol and Renewable Energy

Many farm operators, ag and community leaders, and investors in renewable energy plants, are concerned about government policies related to the development and use of ethanol and other biofuels. Many States in the Upper Midwest, including Minnesota, have a very strong and well-established corn-based ethanol industry, which utilizes over 35 percent of the corn produced each year in the United States.8 In the past few years, the U.S. Environmental 6 Protection Agency (EPA) has issued numerous blending waivers to gasoline refiners, which has 4 demand for ethanol and resulted in overreduced supply in some areas. The ethanol industry has also been negatively impacted by reduced gasoline 2 consumption following the COVID-19 outbreak, as well as0 by the slowness to implement E-15 as an J blend F M in AtheMU.S.J J A S O N D ethanol fuel The biodiesel industry in the U.S. has also been growing significantly in recent years, which has become more important for soybean usage in the past couple of years, due to the challenges with the 8 soybean export markets. In 100 addition to the direct benefits to farmers, 6 renewable energy plants have become cornerstones 85 in rural 4 communities by providing jobs, adding to the local tax 70 base, and enhancing the overall economic vitality of the communities. Even with all the 2 55 economic, environmental, and community benefits of renewable energy, many special interest groups are 40 calling0forJ reductions elimination of the F M Aor M J J A S Federal O N D renewable fuel standards (RFS), and other measures 25 F the M renewable A M J fuels J industry. A S O N D that wouldJ hurt There is also concern as to how climate change legislative proposals, such as the “Green New Deal” or further implementation of the “California Fuel Standards” might impact future development of 100 biofuels. 85

The Next Farm Bill 70

The next two-year session of Congress will likely include 55the beginning of discussions on the next Farm Bill. In fact, some members of Congress and those 40 running for Congress would like to replace the current Farm Bill sooner than 2023, when the 25 J F Mexpires. A M Future J J farm A program S O N D current legislation payments, payment limits, CRP, carbon sequestration, crop insurance, and risk management programs for livestock producers are all likely to be part of the

Agriculture/ Agribusiness Corn prices — southern Minnesota

(dollars per bushel)

— 2019 — 2020

20

8

16

6

$3.52

12

4

8

2 0

4

$2.75

J

F

M

A

M

J

J

A

S

O

N

D

0

J

Source: USDA

Soybean prices — southern Minnesota — 2019 — 2020 8 20 100 16 6 85 12 4 70

(dollars per bushel)

$7.93

8 55 2 $7.93 4 40 0 0 J F M A M J J A S O N D 25 J F M A M J J A S O N D J F M A M J J A S O N D Source: USDA

Iowa-Minnesota hog prices

185 pound carcass, negotiated price, weighted average

— 2019 — 2020

20 100 25 16 85 22 12 70 19 8 55 16 4 40 13 0 J F M A M J 25 10 J F M A M J J F M A M J Source: USDA

Milk prices

25 22 19

$48.92

16

$37.97

13

J A S O N D J A S O N D J A S O N D Minimum prices, class 1 milk Dollars per hundredweight

— 2019 — 2020 25 22

$17.6

19 16 13 10

$13.79 J

F

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A

M

J

20 25 16 22 12 19 8 16 4 13 0 J 10

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Source: USDA. Based on federal milk orders. Corn and soybean prices are for rail delivery points in Southern Minnesota. Milk prices are for Upper Midwest points.

C. Sankey

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 25

10

J

J


Construction/Real Estate Residential building permits Mankato - 2019 - 2020 (in millions) $4,368,482

Commercial building permits Mankato - 2019 - 2020 (in millions)

$3,038,490

6000000

20000000

5000000

15000000

4000000 3000000

10000000

2000000

5000000

1000000 0

J

F

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A

M

J

J

A

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O

N

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Source: City of Mankato Information based on Multiple Listing Service and may not reflect all sales

Existing home sales: Mankato region - 2019 - 2020 (in thousands) 268 300

263

Median home sale price: Mankato region - 2019 - 2020 (in thousands)

250

$190,000 $190,000

200

240

150

180

100

120

50

60

0 J

F

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A

M

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J

A

S

O

N

D

Source: Realtors Association of Southern Minnesota

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Source: Realtor Association of Southern Minnesota

Interest Rates: 30-year fixed-rate mortgage

Includes single family homes attached and detached, and town homes and condos

Housing starts: Mankato/North Mankato

— 2019 — 2020

- 2019 - 2020

5.5

40

4.9

32

3.5%

4.3

24

3.7

12 6

16

2.9%

3.1 2.5

0

D

Source: City of Mankato

0

$4,673,843 $10,296,543

8 J

F

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A

M

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A

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N

D

Source: Freddie Mac

0

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Source: Cities of Mankato/North Mankato

Have Room to Grow Your Business

Call 507.344.6364

advertising@mankatofreepress.com

26 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business


discussions on the next Farm Bill. It will be interesting how issues like COVID-19, the struggling farm economy, and climate change impact the development of the next Farm Bill. There are numerous other issues and programs that impact Greater Minnesota in a variety of ways, including rural health care, expansion of broadband coverage, and infrastructure needs. Take time before the November 3 election to analyze where candidates stand on important issues that affect agriculture, rural businesses, families, and communities. Some very key policy decisions regarding the future of the agriculture industry and rural life will likely be made in the next few years.

REPAIR. MAINTAIN. REMODEL. As your full-service construction partner, Rice Companies can also help you maintain, repair and remodel your facility through our Rice Service division. Whether you need a new roof, a small addition, or something as simple as a door replaced, we can help.

507.625.2634

Kent Thiesse is farm management analyst and senior vice president, MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal. 507-381-7960); kent.thiesse@ minnstarbank.com

Gas prices-Mankato

MANKATO

— 2019 — 2020

54 43

$2.46

32 21 10 0

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Gas prices-Minnesota

$1.89

Aug. 10

Percent change

Archer Daniels

$39.75

$44.49

+12.0%

Ameriprise

$154.67

$160.83

+4.0%

Best Buy

$86.48

$104.22

+20.5%

Brookfield Property

$12.90

$11.97

-7.3%

Crown Cork & Seal

$67.06

$73.82

+10.0%

$6.14

$8.46

37.8%

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Fastenal

$43.48

$47.93

+10.2%

General Mills

$64.76

$63.75

-1.6%

Itron

$65.54

$66.47

+1.4%

Johnson Outdoors

$89.37

$88.10

-1.4%

3M

$154.65

$161.44

+4.4%

Target

$119.99

$132.94

+10.8%

U.S. Bancorp

$36.14

$37.47

+3.7%

Winland

$0.75

$1.10

46.7%

Xcel

$66.27

$72.45

+12.7%

$1.89

M

July 12

Consolidated Comm.

32

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Stocks of local interest

D

$2.52

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N

54

10

GLENCOE

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5

21

SAUK RAPIDS

S

— 2019 — 2020

43

ricecompanies.com

RICE COMPANIES LOCATIONS

Gas Prices 5

//

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C. Sankey

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C. Sankey

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 27


Minnesota Business Updates

Best Buy, known for its tech products and its services such as Geek Squad, has acquired two health techrelated companies in recent years, and its CEO has spoken of bigger ambitions in the field. The two businesses are focused on making it easier and safer for aging adults to live independently in their homes.

■ Brookfield’s retail rents fall Brookfield Property Partners, which owns River Hills Mall in Mankato, collected just 34 percent of rent across its retail portfolio in the second quarter, helping drive another sharp decline in earnings this year. Its office holdings also took a hit. The real estate arm of Brookfield Asset Management reported a net loss of $1.5 billion from April through June, compared with $23 million of net income over the same period in 2019. Company executives blamed its poor April through June results on coronavirus-caused mall closures. Most of its malls didn’t reopen until June, and the company has seen improved rent collections since July. Brookfield Property Partners CEO Brian Kingston said the company was “cautiously optimistic that the worst of the economic shutdown is behind us.”

■ Johnson sales fall Johnson Outdoors, a leading global innovator of outdoor recreation equipment and technology, today reported lower sales and net income during the Company’s 2020 third fiscal quarter compared to the prior year quarter. Year-to-date revenue and net income also declined. “As expected, the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the quarter. Strong momentum in Fishing, Watercraft Recreation and Camping in May and June could not offset the pandemic-related impact on operations in April. Stay-at-home mandates hit during the heart of our primary selling season,” CEO Helen Johnson-Leipold said during an investors call. At the beginning of the third quarter, the company temporarily suspended operations at some locations. Production and shipments resumed in its North American operations on April 22.

■ Best Buy leader steps down An executive who led Best Buy’s efforts to expand in health-care and connected devices is stepping down from his role. Asheesh Saksena, president of Best Buy Health, will leave that post but remain a strategic advisor to CEO Corie Barry.

Employment/Unemployment Initial unemployment claims Nine-county Mankato region Major June Industry 2019 2020 Construction Manufacturing Retail Services Total*

63 141 59 218 481

Local non-farm jobs Percent change ‘19-’20

241 1,047 344 1,692 3,324

Construction

126000 126000 Manufacturing

Retail 113000 Services 113000 Total*

June 1,599 1,674 1,031 4,446 8,750

2020 6,330 15,925 8,281 43,626 74,162

3500

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132,033

139000

Services consist of administration, educational, health care and social assistance, food and other miscellaneous services. *Categories don’t equal total because some categories not listed.

Major Industry 139000 139000

- 2019 - 2020

Nine-county Mankato region

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Minnesota Local non-farm jobs 12000 3500 3500 10000

+295.9% +851.3% +703.2% +881.2% +747.6%

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28 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business

700 D

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3,027 2,868

240000 180000 120000 60000

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- 2019 - 2020

(in thousands)

Percent change ‘19-’20

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supplies. But the growth in digital sales, which Fastenal defines as web sales occurring on Fastenal.com and sales through its internet-connected vending machines at customer locations and vendor-managed inventory programs, wasn’t as robust as in the first quarter. For the six months ended June 30, total sales grew year over year by 7.6% to $2.876 billion from $2.677 billion. Net earnings for the second quarter was $238.9 million compared with $204.6 million for the second quarter of 2019. Net earnings for the first six months were $441.5 million vs. $398.7 million in the first six 139000 months of the prior year. Going forward, Fastental says its ecommerce strategy will focus on customer relationships and supply chain 126000 management compared with just a central focus on digital transactions.

Total Company net sales declined 21.5 percent to $138.4 million, versus $176.3 million in the prior year third quarter.

■ 3M cuts 1,700 more jobs 3M Co., which announced plans in January to trim 1,500 jobs in cost-cutting efforts, continued to slim down in the second quarter, eliminating another 1,700 positions in a mix of job eliminations and attrition, the Star Tribune reported. The bulk of the job reductions were related to the sale of 3M’s drug-delivery business to New York, N.Y.-based Altaris Capital Partners. That deal sent 900 former 3M employees to a new company called Kindeva Drug Delivery, but another 1,300 positions that supported the business were eliminated. 3M also said it eliminated 400 jobs to address “structural enterprise costs and operations in certain end markets as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and related economic impacts.”

113000 100000

■ Fastenal focuses on ecommerce 139000

The second quarter was another solid one 126000 126000 for digital growth for Fastenal Co., a 113000 wholesale distributor of industrial and construction 139000

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300000 240000

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(includes all of Blue Earth and Nicollet Counties) 300000 240000

June 180000 Unemployment rate 120000 Number of non-farm jobs Number of unemployed

60000 J

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3500 12000 2800 10000

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2019

2020

3.1% 59,827 1,903

7.3% 58,458 4,625

J S

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Unemployment rates Counties, state, nation County/area

- 2019 - 2020

2800

Mankato/North Mankato Metropolitan statistical area

240000

300000

D

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300000

Minnesota number of unemployed

N

N

- 2019 - 2020

Nine-county Mankato region

N

F

Employment/Unemployment

F M A A M J

Local number of unemployed 12000 12000 3500 10000 10000 8000 2800 8000 6000 6000 2100 4000 4000 1400 2000 2000 700 0 0 J F 0 J F

J

3500

Blue Earth Brown Faribault Le Sueur Martin Nicollet Sibley Waseca Watonwan Minneapolis/St. Paul Minnesota U.S.

June 2019

June 2020

3.3% 3.2% 4.2% 3.5% 4.5% 2.9% 3.5% 4.0% 3.8% 3.3% 3.2% 3.8%

9.2% 8.5% 7.5% 7.5% 7.3% 6.6% 6.2% 7.9% 6.1% 9.2% 8.5% 11.2%

Source: Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development C. Sankey

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 29

0

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Sponsored by the Carl & Verna Schmidt Foundation

The right way to take a high-interest loan By Annie Millerbernd | NerdWallet

F

or the millions of Americans who struggle to afford an unexpected expense, high-interest payday and online loans may seem like acceptable options despite the inherent risk. But guidance issued by federal regulators in the spring could bring a competitor to small-dollar lending: banks. The guidance omits a previous suggestion from the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. that loans from banks should have annual percentage rates of 36% or lower. While some consumer advocates say a rate cap is a necessary consumer protection, researchers say banks can check a borrower’s credit and offer affordable loans — something payday lenders whose APRs often reach above 300% typically don’t do. If your only option is a high-interest loan, no matter the source, take control by understanding the rate and monthly payments and choosing a lender that checks your ability to repay.

Understand your rate

There is no federal interest rate cap on small loans of a couple thousand dollars or less, and bank regulators can’t impose one. But 45 states cap APRs on $500 loans, while 42 states have caps on $2,000 loans. Check the National Consumer Law Center’s fact sheet to see the APR cap in your state. The NCLC advocates for a federal 36% rate cap. Associate Director Lauren Saunders says without one, high rates could permeate other credit products. Many lenders that offer APRs of 36% or lower tie your rate to how risky it is to lend to you, based on your credit history. If you’ve had trouble making loan or credit card payments in the past, the lender may see you as a high-risk borrower and assign a rate close to 36%. APRs are useful for comparing loan products, but seeing dollar amounts can help consumers evaluate whether they can make the required payments on an installment loan says Alex Horowitz, senior research officer with The Pew Charitable Trusts. If the only loan you can qualify for has a rate above 36%, calculating the monthly payments can help you understand what you can afford. A bank would have to charge $50 to $60 on a $400 loan repaid over three months to make it profitable, Horowitz says. That’s an APR of about 75% to 90%. A 2017 study from Pew found that many consumers 30 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business

think that’s a fair rate. Small-dollar lending is currently dominated by online lenders, says Leonard Chanin, deputy to the chairman at the FDIC. But U.S. Bank’s “Simple Loan” offers a rare example. The loan usually has an APR of about 71%. Borrowers with autopay pay a $12 fee for every $100 borrowed and repay the loan over three months. Chicago-based online lender OppLoans provides loans to borrowers with bad credit and has APRs as high as 160% in some states. CEO Jared Kaplan says it’s costlier for his company to acquire and underwrite customers, which leads to higher rates. “Whether (your APR is) at 79, 99 or 160, you’re dealing with a risky customer base and the price should justify that risk,” he says.

Choose the right lender

Lenders that don’t determine your ability to repay using information like your income, existing debts and credit information tend to offer high-interest loans with short repayment periods, making them difficult to pay off and trapping you in a cycle of debt. Banks and other lenders that can access your bank account information and payment histor y can determine whether you can afford the loan. Applicants for the Simple Loan must have a checking account for six months and have direct deposits sent to the account for three months before they can apply, says Mike Shepard, U.S. Bank’s senior vice president in consumer lending. That ability to underwrite an existing customer, rather than someone it doesn’t already know, helps make a bank loan affordable for consumers, Horowitz says. MV


Sponsored by the Carl & Verna Schmidt Foundation

Can you have too much credit? By Liz Weston | NerdWallet

P

eople who care about their credit scores tend to obsess about some things they probably shouldn’t, such as the possibility they might have too much credit. Let’s bust that myth right upfront: The leading credit scoring formulas, FICO and VantageScore, don’t punish people for having too many accounts. And right now, having access to credit could be a lifeline. In June, the median duration of unemployment was nearly 14 weeks, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. “Median” is the halfway point, which means half of the unemployed had been out of work longer. After the Great Recession, the median length of unemployment peaked at 25 weeks. Most households don’t have enough emergency savings to get through extended unemployment. Access to credit ultimately could be what staves off eviction, keeps the lights on and puts food on the table. Obviously, you can have too much credit if it would tempt you to spend recklessly. And the more accounts you have, the easier it might be to forget a payment — which can be devastating to your scores — or fail to detect signs of fraud. But that doesn’t mean you should worry about applying for the credit you need in the misguided notion that having too much credit is bad for your scores. “It’s not about the number of accounts,” says Ethan Dornhelm, FICO’s vice president of scores and predictive analytics. “It’s about how those accounts are handled.”

It’s not how many cards

Before the advent of modern credit scores in the 1980s, lenders did worry that people who had access to a lot of credit would suddenly run up big balances, then default, says credit expert John Ulzheimer, who formerly worked for FICO and for Equifax, a credit bureau. But data scientists have since learned otherwise. People who had been responsible with credit in the past tend to continue being responsible. “I’ve got a gajillion credit cards,” Ulzheimer says. “I could charge up every single one of my cards tomorrow, but I’m not going to do that.”

Although you can’t have too much credit, you can have too much debt. Having big balances relative to your credit card limits, or a bunch of cards with balances, can definitely hurt your scores, credit scoring experts say. “There’s no right number of credit cards,” says Jeff Richardson, senior vice president marketing and communications at VantageScore Solutions. “But if you have 22 cards and they all have balances, that can add up.” Even small balances and balances you pay in full can be problematic. Credit scoring formulas consider how many of your accounts have balances and how much of your credit limits you’re using, among other factors. The scoring system uses the balances reported by your creditors, which are generally the amounts from your last statement. You could pay those balances off promptly, but they still show up on your credit reports and affect your scores.

Credit-building strategies

If you’re trying to polish your credit, Ulzheimer recommends using one or two credit cards and not charging more than 10% of their limits. That may require making more than one payment each month to keep the balances low or asking issuers for higher credit limits. If you do use more than a couple of cards, paying the balances off before the statement closing date will typically result in a zero balance being reported to the credit bureaus, and that can be good for your scores. Be careful about canceling unused cards, however. Closing credit accounts can hurt your scores, since it reduces your total available credit. If you’re concerned a lender might close an unused card, you can use it occasionally and immediately pay off any charges so you have a zero balance on the statement closing date. If your credit scores are already high, however, Ulzheimer questions how much effort you should invest in making them higher. Once your scores are over 760 on the commonly used 300-850 scale, you’re getting the best rates and terms lenders offer. MV

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 31


NEW BUSINESS

NEW BUSINESS

TGK Automotive Specialists 1771 Bassett Drive, Mankato

J's Sambusa 507 Belgrade Avenue, North Mankato

PROGRAM EXPANSION

NEW BUSINESS

NEW PRODUCT

Star Light Early Learning Center 605 Parkway Avenue, Eagle Lake

Moen Welding & Repair 523 Industrial Street, Saint Peter

Ed Allen Designs 1716 North 3rd Street, Saint Peter

Corporate Technologies gocorptech.com

Functional Chiropractic Rehab fcrmankato.com

Handi Medical Supply handimedical.com

Inspire Health & Wellness inspirehealthcoach.us

TGK Automotive Specialists tgkauto.com

NicBlueCares nicblucaresnow.com

Welcome New Greater Mankato Growth Members!

Moen Welding & Repair moenwelding.com

32 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business


2020

2020 SPONSOR:

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

WHY JOIN

GREATER MANKATO GROWTH?

Due to COVID-19, we will not be holding Business After Hours through the rest of 2020. The originally scheduled dates will move to 2021. Thank you for your patience and understanding as EXPOSURE Build your Brand; we navigate this challenging time. NETWORKING TW WORKING ORKING grow your business. Stand out and get noticed!

BE IN THE KNOW

LEARNING

Gain access cces to Member Exclusive Content to help grow your business.

TALENT RETENTION

Keep your employees engaged and retained with access to our member only events and programs.

It’s not just st WHO WHO you ou know, it’s who knows k YOU. Networking IS Powerful.

Receive our member only emails making you the first to know the latest news.

MEMBER QUARTER 2, 2020 EXCLUSIVE REFERRALS BENEFITS We only refer member REPORT NOW businesses. Word of mouth and direct referrals come from being a valued member of GMG.

AVAILABLE!

SHAPE YOUR CREDIBILITY Raise your reputation by COMMUNITY belonging. Research shows

Your investment helps us continue to build the best environment for your business and its employees.

that businesses who belong to a chamber of commerce are more successful.

Check it out at

greatermankato.com/publications

greatermankato.com/join April 2018

Greater Mankato Growth saw many accomplishments across our four business units in Quarter 2 of 2020 including our COVID-19 response work.

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 33 greatermankato.com/join


Ag Makes the World Go 'Round Thank you to everyone who came to our celebration of agriculture!

Another big thank you to the City of Mankato and the Mankato Moondogs, and to the GreenSeam investors, the GreenSeam Board of Governors and our multiple committee members who make GreenSeam possible.

Meet Garrett Lieffring GreenSeam has partnered with Lead For Minnesota and is hosting a Fellow, Garrett Lieffring, who has been placed with GreenSeam for the next two years. He is from Truman, MN where he recalls helping on his grandfathers farm. After graduation he went to Winona for college and graduated in Business Marketing. Since college, Garrett has been working in the medical supply business. He is excited to get back into agriculture and economic development as well as being closer to his home town. In this fellowship, Garrett will be organizing and managing programs for GreenSeam based in Mankato.

SAVE THE DATE! 38TH ANNUAL

December 3, 2020 greenseam.org/events/forum2020

34 • SEPTEMBER 2020 • MN Valley Business


A Perfect Outdoor Activity in the City Center 24 NEW sculptures are installed and ready for you to see on the 10th Annual CityArt Walking Sculpture Tour! This exciting exhibit of outdoor sculptures is displayed year-round in the City Center of Mankato and EXPOSURE North Mankato. Build your Brand; Visit cityartmankato.com forgrow a map your business. Stand out and get and brochure!

WHY JOIN noticed!

GREATER MANKATO GROWTH? NETWORKING TW WORKING ORKING It’s not just st WHO WHO you ou know, it’s who knows k YOU. Networking IS Powerful.

BE IN THE KNOW

LEARNING

Sculptures pictured: Top right: "After the Party" by Pocket Toscani Gain access cces to Member Left: "Great Blue Heron" by Jonathan Kamrath Exclusive Content to help Bottom right: "An Owl's Perspective" by Gail Katz-James & Sue Hartley grow your business.

MEMBER EXCLUSIVE BENEFITS

TALENT RETENTION

Receive our member only emails making you the first to know the latest news.

REFERRALS We only refer member businesses. Word of mouth and direct referrals come from being a valued member of GMG.

Keep your employees engaged and retained with access to our member only events and programs. hen many businesses, jobs and life events have had to hit the pause button during this pandemic, our local and regional developers and businesses are continuing to invest in the regional marketplace Raise your reputation by with unwavering momentum. Starting now and in future months, we will belonging. Research shows Your investment us showcase some groundbreaking moments fromhelps our member businesses that businesses who belong continue to build the best who have been able to keep moving full steam ahead. to a chamber of commerce environment for your are more successful. and its employees. "We take a lot of pride in being business a community bank with local decision

Greater Mankato Momentum

W

SHAPE YOUR CREDIBILITY COMMUNITY

makers, and there is no better community feel than Belgrade ave. Our new bank is designed specifically to be easier to do business with and to be more personal." - Nick Hinz, President, Frandsen Bank & Trust

"It was important to us that Frandsen’s new building design integrate into the historical features of downtown. A great amount of attention was spent on ensuring that old town feel with strategic placement of the structure and materials used on the project that will enhance the already existing charm of Belgrade Ave.” - Ryan Evenson, CEO, APX Construction Group Business Expansion: Frandsen Bank & Trust Developer: APX Construction Group Location: North Mankato, MN Photo Credit: Michelle Isebrand Photography

greatermankato.com/join April 2018

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 35 greatermankato.com/join


READY FOR YOUR ARRIVAL Gathering with loved ones means more than ever. Laugh, hug, play and relax. The eight hotels and resorts along Alabama’s Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail offer legendary locations to safely reconnect. From the shores of the Tennessee River to Mobile Bay, come experience world-class hospitality in picturesque settings. Plunge into resort pools. Relax in luxury spas. Play RTJ golf. Enjoy farm-to-table cuisine. We are open and will be here waiting for you. Visit rtjresorts.com.


UNITED PRARIE BANK INTEGRATED BUSINESS EXPERIENCE (IBE) STUDENTS PERSEVERED AMIDST THE PANDEMIC Spring 2020 IBE companies donate $6,824.09 to local charities Students during the spring semester still successfully completed the Integrated Business Experience Program despite the pandemic that caused classes to move online. IBE teams, Noble Ice, Do You, and Gold Horn, had to pivot drastically to accommodate running a business during a pandemic. These companies took on the challenge, figuring out online orders and safe deliveries, the IBE students used their innovation and drive to successfully finish out the semester. A total of $6,824 and 113.5 service hours were donated to local charities by the companies.

Company: Noble Ice Product/Service: Backpack cooler,

stainless steel tumbler, collapsible reusable straws Donation Amount: $2,826.01 Charity Chosen: Feeding Our Community Partners

Company: Do You. Product/Service: Lawn chairs, can

covers, baseball hats

Company: Gold Horn Product/Service: Hydro dipped water

Donation Amount: $1,652.53 Charity Chosen: Community Against

Domestic Abuse

bottle, Mav flag, stickers Donation Amount: $2,345.55 Charity Chosen: My Place

The United Prairie Bank Integrated Business Experience (IBE) allows students to combine a suite of required courses into a semester-long real-world entrepreneurial experience that gives them a head-start on their business careers. As they work together to apply their knowledge to planning, launching and operating an actual business, the students gain the leadership skills, entrepreneurial mindset and hands-on experience that employers look for in new hires. For more information or to apply for the program: cob.mnsu.edu/ibe

Follow the COB

An Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity University. This document is available in alternative format to individuals with disabilities by calling the College of Business at 507-389-5420 (V), 800-627-3529 or 711 (MRS/TTY). BUSC594AD_08-2020

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 37


Did you know? We are here for you during these challenging times. Many of us are feeling a lack of control and unease about the current situation. We value you and what you bring to the community and want to help you in any way we can.

However, there is one thing we can control and that is our loyalty to you. We will get through this together and emerge stronger than ever.

Get Connected To Your Customers Today! Josh Zimmerman Digital Advertising Director

507.344.6322

jzimmerman@mankatofreepress.com

MN Valley Business • SEPTEMBER 2020 • 38

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