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PAGE 2 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
From two employees to 125 Gopher Sport has grown by leaps and bounds BY PER KVALSTEN Staff Writer An Owatonna company that was started out of a passion for sports and athletics has grown by leaps and bounds. Two Owatonna men, Jim Pofahl and Malcolm Stephenson, started Gopher Sport on April 1, 1947. Both were athletes and together they came up with the idea of visiting local schools and selling them sporting equipment. “They would sell the equipment and then go back home and try to purchase what they sold to bring to the customers,” Gopher Sport Senior Vice President Dan Gorman said. “It continued to grow from there.” HISTORY Pofahl and Stephenson owned and operated Gopher Sport for the next 28 years. “When the company expanded into putting out catalogs business began to boom,” Gorman said. “The company was and is very proud of its catalogs.” When they were first introduced, the catalogs consisted of just 24 pages. Today, the newest edition to hit the market contains 450 pages offering more than 8,500 products, – 5,000 of which are stocked and ready to ship from Owatonna to anywhere in the world. Today, Gopher Sport produces and distributes 1 million catalogs a year. “The only products that are not kept on location are the bigger items like treadmills and playground equipment,” Gorman said. This is because it saves the customers and Gopher Sport money to order directly from the manufacturer and have the large equipment shipped to the customer. Other than athletic equipment for schools, the company briefly dabbled in
Katie Starman of Owatonna and Laura Knudson of Blooming Prairie package sporting goods for shipping in the distribution center at Gopher Sport in Owatonna. From its humble beginnings in 1947 to today, the company has grown dramatically over the years to become one of the nation’s leading distributors of athletic equipment. silk screening. This allowed them to put numbers and names on shirts and uniforms, and eventually grew into providing clothing for department store chains such as Shopko and Target. “We got out of the silk screening business in the 1990s,” Gorman said. “We decided we wanted to concentrate on physical education and sporting goods.” Gopher Sport offers everything from basketballs to dry line markers and even lockers. Everything and anything that can be or is used in elementary and high
school physical education classes is available through Gopher Sport. A direct marketing company, the firm doesn’t manufacture any of the products it sells. Instead, it brings all of the products customers would want together and adds an industry leading unconditional 100 percent satisfaction guarantee .“The only thing we make here at Gopher Sport is happy customers,” Gorman joked. OWNERSHIP The company started out privately-
owned and local, and continues to be that way today. Pofahl and Stephenson sold the company in 1975 and current owner Joel Jennings purchased it in 1979. SPIN-OFF SUCCESS Gopher Sport has started two other spin-off companies in the last 20 years and both have been as successful as the original firm. In the early 1990s, Play with a Purpose was created, focusing on products for daycares and preschools. Five years ago, Gopher Performance was introduced, concentrating on high school and college athletic training and fitness. All three companies are located at Gopher Sport headquarters. EXPANSION: NOW AND IN THE FUTURE Just three years ago, the company moved into a new 180,000 square foot corporate headquarters and distribution center. “We simply grew out of the old facility,” Gorman said. “The new building is designed with the future in mind. We have an entire second floor empty and waiting for future growth.” The facility features 30,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet for shipping and inventory. From its humble beginnings, Gopher Sport now employs 125 people. Looking to the future, Gorman said the company is excited to continue its growth and to serve its customers with the best possible service. “Our goal is to be the easiest company to do business with. From customer service to delivery time, we want to be there for our customers with the top quality
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Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 3
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While many school districts around the state are dealing with shrinking enrollments, the Blooming Prairie Public Schools have kept a fairly stable number of students over the last six years. According to Supt. Barry Olson, projections indicate the school district should maintain that trend for the next several years. There are currently 742 students enrolled in the Blooming Prairie high school and elementary school.
Enrollment holding steady at Blooming Prairie schools
BY LEMAR NELSON this year’s Kindergarten class boasts 65 stuStaff Writer dents and Grade 1 has an enrollment of 57 In an era of shrinking school popula- children. At the high school, Grade 8 and Grade 10 tions, the Blooming Prairie School District are currently small at 46 students, but there has kept a fairly stable number of students are 64 students in Grade 7 and 59 seniors over the last six years. are slated to graduate Current enthis spring. rollment figures According to showed a total Supt. Barry Olson, school population projections show of 742 students – the district’s enrollup from 716 stu2008-2009 Enrollment .....710 ment should stay very dents when the steady for the next 2009-2010 Enrollment .....699 2011-12 school several years. Those year began last 2010-2011 Enrollment .....694 numbers indicate fufall. 2011-2012 Enrollment .....742 ture grades will be There has been closer in numbers to some fluctuation the present Kinderin enrollment in garten enrollment, which bodes well for the the intervening years, with a low of 691 studistrict. dents in 2010-11, 694 in 2007-08, and 699 “The projected enrollment figures we in 2009-10, but all other years have shown used before the 2005 first bond issue were a school population of at least 710 students. just about right on the mark,” said Olson. The smallest elementary grades in terms “Actually, they have been very close to the of enrollment are Grade 5 and Grade 6, with original projections.” 49 and 47 students, respectively. However,
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PAGE 4 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
Austin Area Chamber of Commerce focuses on members
BY SANDY FORSTNER Executive Director The Austin Area Chamber of Commerce is a business organization that represents about 400 members; collectively, they employ more than 10,000 people. Our purpose is to “improve our area’s business climate, and thereby enhance the quality of life of all residents.” And we do so in a variety of ways. We serve as the “voice of business” in government affairs, advocating for policies that enhance our business climate. We organize events that draw people to our community, and generate economic activity.
And we promote our members and our community as a great place to live, work and shop. Our focus is on our members, and creating an environment that is conducive to business FORSTNER success. Members are showcased through our website and printed materials, such as the “Welcome to Austin” relocation packet that is distributed to new residents. Two of our major marketing efforts are Buy Mower/Grow Mower and Chamber Bucks. Buy Mower/Grow Mower is
Buy Mower/Grow Mower Program The Buy Mower/Grow Mower program is a major marketing effort by the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce aimed to raise awareness as to the value and bene�its of shopping locally in Austin. Since its launch in 2008, taxable retail sales have increased more than $50 million per year within the community.
an effort to raise public awareness as to the value and beneﬁts of shopping locally. Since launched in 2008, taxable retail sales have increased more than $50 million per year in Austin. Chamber Bucks are money vouchers, good for products and services at participating member businesses. Nearly $500,000 are purchased and redeemed in member stores each year. The Chamber organizes two major community events, each year, Freedom Fest and Christmas in the City. Both are designed to showcase the community and spur eco-
nomic activity. We partner with Riverland Community College to provide a community leadership training program called Leadership Austin. We are also part of a community-wide effort to identify and complete 10 community projects that enhance the quality of life for everyone called Vision 2020. For more information about the Chamber, its members and programs, visit our website at www.austincoc.com or stop by our ofﬁce in downtown Austin, 329 North Main Street.
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Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 5
Quality, service are the foundation for Geneva locker plant BY JON FLATLAND Managing Editor Providing quality products and aboveaverage customer service is the foundation on which a Geneva locker plant operates. It’s also what has helped Geneva Meats & Processing continue to grow and even expand during trying economic times. Paul Smith, who manages the business, purchased Geneva Meats & Processing with a small group of local investors about ﬁve years ago. Today, it not only serves Geneva and the surrounding area, but has branched out to supply businesses across the region, including grocery stores, locker plants, restaurants and even convenience stores from Rochester to Nerstrand and all points inbetween. “Our core business is processing,” said Smith. “We slaughter cattle, hogs, lambs and more. We also process a large number of deer each fall.” The business operates under a policy that all animals processed at the facility are born and raised locally from family farms. The small number of providers of animals are personally known and validate their raising and method to Geneva Meats & Processing.
The plant is a USDA-approved facility, meaning it is required to meet stringent standards, including daily federal inspections. The business employs 14 people, including six full-time meat cutters, three full-time wrappers and a host of part-time help for clean-up, delivery and other tasks. “I’m extremely proud of the people we employ. We’ve got a great team that works very well together. They are a huge part of the success we’ve enjoyed because they produce top-quality products on a daily basis and make sure our customers are happy and getting exactly what they want, how they want it,” explained Smith. Last year, Geneva Meats got back into the venison sausage business, bringing Dean “Weiner” Anderson on board to handle production. A veteran of the meat industry for more than 22 years, Anderson has several tristate and national awards for his products. He has received a national grand champion award for summer sausage and twice was involved in winning the Clarence Knebal Award, which honors the best of the best on a national level. Anderson also boasts several grand champion and best of show awards within the tri-state area and is well established in
Paul Smith is the general manager of Geneva Meats & Processing and heads a group of investors that purchased the business about ﬁve years ago. The plant is a USDA-approved facility, meaning it is required to meet stringent standards, including daily federal inspections.
the meat and sausage industry. With his addition to the team, sausage sales at Geneva Meats & Processing have soared, becoming one of the businesses top money-makers. Besides its meat, Smith feels the best part of the business is its customers, and the company tries to support community projects whenever it can. “We’ve got happy customers and we want to keep them that way. And it’s important to us that we support Geneva and other communities in the area, that’s why we belong to several chambers of commerce and remain active in projects here and in other towns.” Geneva Meats & Processing is a generous contributor to area ﬁre department fundraisers, school projects and an annual cancer auction in Geneva. The company also donates to other worthy causes across the region. “We donate to causes we believe in because we want to support the communities and people who support us,” Smith said. “It’s also one small way we can thank our customers, and we’re happy to do it.” The company can be found online at www.genevameatsprocessinginc.com.
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PAGE 6 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 7
Innovation, growth defines 2011 for Minimizer Headquartered in Blooming Prairie, Minimizer manufactures poly truck fenders, poly toolboxes, customized mud flaps, and bracket kits. Family owned and operated for nearly three generations, Minimizer parent company Spray Control Systems, Inc., was founded in 1983 by Dick Kruckeberg. Dick was a truck driver and was consistently disappointed with his metal fenders bending, cracking and breaking. He invented his own solution: The Minimizer poly fender. Now, 27 years later, Minimizer has over 50 employees and goes to market via an international distribution network making its products available locally on a global level throughout North America. The product and the Minimizer lifetime guarantee are the foundation of the company’s success. Minimizer fenders never need paint, never fade, never rust, never crack and never need polishing. They are “Tested and Tortured” before they go on over-the-road trucks to make sure they can withstand any challenge. MINIMIZER LAUNCHES CHROME POLY 2011 brought considerable change and innovation at Minimizer. For over four years, Minimizer’s research and development team had been working on a new concept: Minimizer Chrome Poly. The goal was to provide the shiny look of chrome metal in a durable poly fender. The new fender was launched at The Great American Truck Show in Dallas, Texas on August 25, 2011. Industry representatives, distributors, vendors, end-users and the media were all on hand for the product kick-off. “We finally did it. The chrome poly fender is shiny like no other, it’s got the gleam of traditional chrome metal, but with the Minimizer poly features, uniqueness and durability our customers have always depended on,” said Craig Kruckeberg, Minimizer’s Owner, CEO and Chief Visionary. Minimizer Chrome Poly has already garnered significant industry attention and awards. In September, at the 2011 Thermoforming Conference in Schaumburg, Illinois, Minimizer Chrome Poly was a Silver Medalist in the Heavy Gauge Vacuum Forming Parts Competition. And Minimizer Chrome Poly also shined in The Great American Trucking Show Pride and Polish Truck Beauty Competition. Scott Rud of Scott Rud Trucking of Byron, entered his rig, a 2000 Peterbilt 379 complete with Minimizer chrome poly
Launched in 2011, the Minimizer Chrome Poly was the result of more than four years of research and development aimed toward providing a shiny look of chrome metal in a durable poly truck fender. The new product has already garnered significant industry attention and awards, including a silver medal in the Heavy Gauge Vacuum Forming Parts Competition at last year’s Thermoforming Conference. A truck equipped with the chrome poly fenders also claimed second place in the Working Bobtail – First Show class at the Great American Trucking Show Pride and Police Truck Beauty competition. fenders. Scott took first place in the Work- lative leaders. I was really pleased to have prominently marketed and the company ing Bobtail – First Show class. Senator Parry visit our plant and discuss pursued promotion of fuel efficiencies, the many challenges and opportunities we cost savings and green initiatives by prodA SENATOR VISITS have and how we might partner with the uct. On June 14, 2011, Minimizer hosted a state to continue our successful trends.” Also in 2011, Minimizer enhanced its visit from Senator Mike Parry. The Senatradeshow presence and advertising to distor’s visit was in response to Minimizer’s MANUFACTURING AND tributors and end-user audiences. request for economic development support SALES IMPROVEMENTS The company joined an industry group for rural manufacturers. Throughout the last year, Minimizer’s called HDA/Truck Pride and expanded its Minimizer is expanding and adding em- research and development department re- presence with VIPAR, another industry ployees. The company requires enhanced sponded to market trends by creating new trade group. infrastructure such as roads, utilities and products for key markets, improving engiAs Minimizer moves forward, it is technological bandwidth to continue to ad- neering of existing products and enhanc- committed to providing innovative prodvance while staying in Blooming Prairie, ing several fender styles. ucts manufactured to the highest standards something the management team is comAdding a second shift at the plant in- in the Blooming Prairie community, and mitted to doing. creased manufacturing capacity by 50 employing quality people from our region. During his visit, Senator Parry noted, percent, and a new production calendar That’s what has always made Minimiz“For starters, I was impressed by a grow- increased capacity by 25 percent. er great. ing business like Minimizer in a small In addition, the company added nearly For more information about Minimizer community and that it was all started by 20 positions. and Minimizer products, call (800) 248a trucker with a unique idea. It’s a great On the sales front, the new headquar- 3855 or visit www.minimizer.com. example of old-fashioned ingenuity and ters building facilitated a more focused, someone saying ‘there’s got to be a better synergistic sales team. The company purway.’” sued a more targeted sales approach utiKruckeberg said of the visit, “It’s al- lizing function, channel and distribution. ways good to have dialogue with our legis- The guaranteed for life warranty was more
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PAGE 8 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
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CRWD busy tackling new projects
BY JON FLATLAND Managing Editor The Cedar River Watershed District has a busy year planned, and most of its efforts are geared toward improving water quality in the river and its adjoining creeks. A $91,000 state grant was approved to support the construction of water and sediment control basins in high-priority areas of the Cedar River watershed, upstream from the city of Austin. In addition, the state approved a third year of Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment funds for projects aimed at helping reduce ﬂooding and improving water quality in the watershed, as well as in subwatersheds of Dobbins, Wolf and Roberts creeks. Construction is expected to begin this fall on an upper Cedar watershed runoff reduction project that involves building water and sediment basins, or earthen embankments, in the upper Cedar River watershed. The $122,000 project covers 50,000 acres, half of which are in the Dobbins Creek subwatershed. Fox said about $30,000 of the cost for the two-year project will be covered by the CRWD. “The sediment control basins will form small ponds during heavy rains,” said
Cody Fox, whatershed technician. “Instead of allowing heavy farm ﬁeld runoff to go directly into streams, the ponds will trap soil while clean water is channeled through small tile and released.” Agricultural producers are asked to sign a contract to maintain the practice for 10 years, which is the lifespan of the basins. According to Bev Nordby, CRWD administrator, the project’s approach assures that water treatment starts on the top end and progressively works its way downstream while using best management practices. She added the district recognizes that water quality and ﬂood damage reduction goals can’t be accomplished without taking the battle to the source. “This initiative needs to start with ﬂow reduction and a targeted approach to the upper-most reaches of the watershed district’s most critical waterways.” The project will add to the Cedar River Watershed District’s on-going efforts to address issue areas of the Dobbins Creek subwatershed, where the state’s waterquality standards for turbidity, or dirty water, are consistently exceeded. Those issues include the south and north branches that converge near Austin, making the area prone to ﬂash ﬂooding.
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Blooming Prairie Area Chamber encompasses more than Main St. BY BECKY NOBLE Executive Director The Blooming Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce is made up of a group of people who own a business, previously owned a business, or who just deeply care about their community. The organization’s mission statement reads: To provide a framework for community growth and development by encouraging ﬁnancial investment, coordinating business activities, promoting commerce and fostering a sense of community pride. Take note of the two words – AREA and COMMUNITY. When referring to AREA and COMMUNITY, the Chamber of Commerce is talking about more than just Main Street in Blooming Prairie, the Highway 218 corridor or even Highway 30 and the city’s industrial park. These words refer to all businesses and people within the area who care about the Blooming Prairie COMMUNITY and wish to see it thrive and grow. Businesses in the AREA are not just retail, manufacturing, banking or insurance. Blooming Prairie is an agricultural COMMUNITY and is surrounded and
supported by agricultural businesses. It take all of these businesses to build a COMMUNITY. And it takes a COMMUNITY to support a business. Each year, the Blooming Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce organizes a large Fourth of July celebration, which is not a big fundraiser for the community, but rather, a way to show the surrounding AREA what the community has to offer to those who live around it. The Blooming Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce is not only involved in festivals and events that show off the COMMUNITY, it also assists in economic development efforts to help bring new businesses to the AREA and to sustsain growth and prosperity in the businesses that currently exist. The Chamber of Commerce is very proud of the COMMUNITY, its people, and all that it offers – including both business and recreation. For more information about the Blooming Prairie Area Chamber of Commerce, or to become a member, contact the chamber ofﬁce by calling 507-5834472.
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Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 9
Blooming Prairie Chamber of Commerce
The Blooming Prairie Chamber of Commerce is a very important part of our community. The chamber sponsors all sorts of events, including but not limited to the City Wide Garage Sale, B.P. Tour of Homes, Gopher 50 Race, Crazy Days, Holiday Dazzle, Old Fashioned 4th of July, and more.
To provide a framework for community growth and development by encouraging financial investment, coordinating business activities, promoting commerce and fostering a sense of community pride.
Welcome to Blooming Prairie Blooming Prairie Chamber of Commerce 138 Highway Ave. South Blooming Prairie, MN 55917 Phone: (507) 583-4472 www.bloomingprairie.com
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PAGE 10 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
Study ranks Owatonna as ‘Top 10’ trade center BY JON FLATLAND Managing Editor A study by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs recently ranked the city of Owatonna among the top 10 trade centers among Greater Minnesota cities. The research, compiled by William J. Craig and Bruce W. Schwartau, ranks 48 Greater Minnesota cities into a “trade center” hierarchy from largest to smallest based on the sales of goods and services in each community. Craig and Schwartau
used statistics from the Department of Revenue to measure the activity of trade centers outside the seven-county metro area from 1990 to 2009. According to their report, the city of Owatonna had $239 million in taxable retail and service sales in 2009, an increase of 65 percent from $145 million reported in 1990. Those statistics earned the city the number 10 spot on the hierarchy. Brad Meier, president and CEO of the Owatonna Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, said the report only reinforc-
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es the belief of community leaders that Owatonna is a great place to live and do business. “We’re continuing to grow because we have the businesses, industries, services and attractions that people want. Owatonna also draws shoppers from around the region because our city and our retail merchants, particularly those along I-35, are easy to access.” He noted the expansion of Highway 14, which is expected to be complete by the end of the summer, provides the opportunity for more development and even better access to the city in the future. Troy Klecker, Owatonna’s community development director, said the community’s rapid retail growth during the years the study compared can be attributed to the city’s proactive approach to retail development and its ability to take advantage of several new opportunities. Target opened a store in Owatonna in 1996 and Cabela’s followed in 1997. Four years later, Wal-Mart relocated into a larger building, and between 2002 and 2006 the city became home to Mills Fleet Farm, Lowe’s and Kohl’s stores. Klecker believes the city’s growth will continue into the future as long as the city
“We’re continuing to grow because we have the businesses, industries, services and attractions that people want. Owatonna also draws shoppers from around the region because our city and our retail merchants, particularly those along I-35, are easy to access.” - Brad Meier, President/CEO, Owatonna Area Chamber of Commmerce
remains proactive, keeps its pro-growth mentality, and can take advantage of opportunities to attract new businesses.
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The Blooming Prairie Public Utilities began generating electricity to their customers on April 29, 1931. The initial startup costs of the power plant,generators and distribution system was about $80,000. There were 297 residential customers and 30 commercial customers in this first year. The 327 customers used just over 200,000 kwh’s of electricity. The utility was able to show a profit of $9533.35 for their first year of operation. Today your Blooming Prairie Public Utilities serves about 825 residential customers and 195 commercial/industrial accounts. Today’s customers consume almost 25,000,000 kwh’s hours of electricity. That amounts to around $2.5m in revenue, with an estimated
profit of $150-200k annually. With the addition of the Industrial Park Substation and Generator along with a large number of distribution improvements and 2 additional backup units for emergency generation, BPPU has re-invested about $4m in it’s electric system to try to ensure safe, secure and reliable service to their wonderful customers. In the past 3 years over $100,000 was returned to BPPU customers in the form of rebates for energy saving bulbs, appliances and other equipment.
Thanks for growing with us for these 81 years.
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Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 11
Check it out: Tim Wacek, owner of Floor Tech in Blooming Prairie, is opening a second location in Albert Lea. Floor Tech has been a mainstay on Blooming Prairie’s Main Street for the past 25 years.
Floor Tech expanding; new store opening in Albert Lea BY JON FLATLAND Managing Editor Tim Wacek, owner of Floor Tech in Blooming Prairie, knows a good opportunity when he sees one. So when Floorcrafters announced it was closing its store in Albert Lea, leaving that city without a full-service ﬂoor covering shop, Wacek decided it was time to expand. “We have talked about expansion before but no opportunity presented itself like this one did,” he said. “Floorcrafters closing opened the door. I think it’s going to be a good ﬁt for us, sort of a natural progression.” Floor Tech was started by Wacek and Duane Reichel and has been a mainstay on Blooming Prairie’s Main Street for 25 years, selling and installing ﬂooring of all
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kinds in area homes and businesses. Reichel left the business several years ago, but now his son, Derek, is getting involved. An employee of Floorcrafters for the past 10 years, he’s signed on to manage Floor Tech’s Albert Lea store. Wacek will be splitting his time between the two locations. The new Albert Lea location will be a “mirror image” of the Blooming Prairie store, carrying the same brands and product lines. It is located in a former Mexican restaurant at 2201 East Main St.and should be open by the end of March or early April. “We’re grateful for the wonderful support we’ve had in Blooming Prairie over the years and we’re looking forward to providing people in the Albert Lea area the same quality products and service.”
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PAGE 12 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
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Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 13
Powder coating gets extreme at BP business BY PER KVALSTEN Staff Writer Greg Peterson grew up around vehicles. His father, owned a repairable car business in Blooming Prairie while Peterson was growing up. “I loved the atmosphere of the shop,” Peterson said. Today, Peterson is in business himself in Blooming Prairie, as the owner of a successful powder coating company. The road to Extreme Powder Coatings began in 1982 while he was racing in California. “At that time, I was racing go-carts in Sacramento and I saw powder coating,” Peterson said. “I put it in the back of my mind.” In 2000, Peterson was back in Blooming Prairie and ready to open his own powder coating company. “I was 40 years old and knew there was a need for this business,” he said. “I wanted to powder coat racecars initially. Bryan Hernandez, an employee at Extreme Powder Coating in Blooming But, I found out that I needed to expand to Prairie, prepares the body of a race car for powder coating. run a successful business.” Peterson opened Extreme Powder Coating gave customers superior products “We have loyal, happy customers that Coating at what is now Darrick’s Preand grew a loyal clientel that remains to- have remained with us for the last 11 ferred Auto on the south side of town. For day. years,” Peterson said. the next seven years, Extreme Powder
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His company has served local customers like Metal Services, Todd Manufacturing and Minimizer for many years. But, the customers aren’t all local. In fact, Peterson has done projects for customers all over the country. Work that has come through Extreme Powder Coating includes two projects for Target Field, as well as a ceramic exhaust for the 2011 Ridler Award-winning 1956 Ford in Detroit. Peterson still does many racecars throughout the year. In fact, his firm powder-coated about 100 of them in 2011. It only took seven years for Extreme Powder Coating to outgrow its first facility. Peterson then built a 12,500-squarefoot full-service facility with a commitment to excellence for its customers. The company has seven employees, including Peterson’s daughter Tiffany, and his mother, Barb. Other employees include Dain Schultz, Gary Harris, Daryl Bouwman, Bryan Hernandez and Robert Arnold. “I own the place, but Tiffany and my mom are the bosses,” he joked. EXTREME POWDER COATING Continued on Page 18
PAGE 14 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
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Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 15
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PAGE 16 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
From home to storefront, photography studio flourishes BY RICK BUSSLER Publisher A local photography studio may have only moved from one end of Blooming Prairie’s Main Street to the other, but it’s a move that has paid off in a big way. Jamie Bodenstab started Studio J Images in her home nearly four years ago. She converted the entire main floor of their house located near downtown along Main Street into a studio. She soon figured out running a studio in a house with a family wasn’t the best idea. “It didn’t work out very well,” Bodenstab admits. “Space for my family was a big issue. I wanted my family to have their home back so we decided to separate the two,” she said. Besides the family concerns, Bodenstab had another pleasant problem on her hands. She was quickly running out of space in the home studio. “I was growing too rapidly that I needed additional space to accommodate more equipment and bigger sets,” she said. In November 2010, Bodenstab moved into the business district less than a mile Blooming Prairie photographer Jamie Bodenstab moved her business, Stu- away from her home and opened a studio in an office building at 415 E. Main St. dio J Images, from her home to a Main Street location in November 2010. The local photographer is happy to have
a hand in helping to revitalize Main Street as the building she moved into had previously been empty for five years. “It helps the strength of our town to have more small businesses,” said Bodenstab, who operates the only photography studio in Blooming Prairie. “This has been a great business opportunity for me.” Prior to opening the studio, Bodenstab had her work cut out for her. She spent two months renovating the building to turn it into a functioning studio. She changed colors throughout the building and added new lighting and flooring among other changes. “Most people are shocked to see what I have done when they walk in here,” Bodenstab said. Making the big move into the Main Street studio has increased sales by more than 40 percent, according to Bodenstab. She has seen a dramatic increase in business from Blooming Prairie residents since opening the downtown studio. She also serves clients from many other areas, including Hayfield, Austin, Owatonna and Albert Lea. STUDIO J IMAGES Continued on Page 19
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Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 17
In its sixth year, Blooming Prairie Boys & Girls Club is going strong BY LEMAR NELSON Staff Writer Now in its sixth year of ofﬁcial operation, the Blooming Prairie Boys and Girls Club is more active than ever and continues to provide a community service each day for children in the community. Almost 40 school-age children attend the club daily and participate in a variety of activities and programs of ﬁve main areas – character and leadership development; education and career development; health and life skills; sports, ﬁtness and recreation; and the arts. Every member spends the ﬁrst hour of each school day in “power hour,” a period of time in which homework and curricular assignments are completed. Following that, they go into classes offering a variety of learning experiences on one of many different topics. Snacks are offered each day, and both meals and snacks are served in the summer Children at the Blooming Prairie Boys & Girls Club enjoy snack time during the after-school program. The club is one of only two Boys & Girls Clubs months. A competent staff of trained profession- operating in southeastern Minnesota. als supervises the activities of the memIn the six years of operation, more bers, all under the direction of the Branch itself is guided by a board of directors. Director Mary Sherman-Ahrens. Two The Blooming Prairie club is a branch of than 400 boys and girls, ages 6 to 18, are full-time staff members, three part-time the Rochester parent club, and those clubs or have been members of the club. Curpersonnel, and several volunteers keep the are the only such clubs in the entire south- rently the club has 132 members, a large majority of whom attend almost every day operation running smoothly, and the club eastern part of Minnesota.
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of service. As many as 47 children attend each month and the club is a safe haven for youth 5 days a week, 12 months a year. The Blooming Prairie Boys & Girls Club is a community-based organization that provides young people with a fun, safe, and constructive environment when they are not at home or at school. It offers programs and services designed to build character and strengthen life skills. Through a system of informal guidance, club staff form strong bonds with young people and help them make smart choices in life. For many club members, the staff is the most inﬂuential positive adult role models in their lives. The club mission is to empower all young people, especially those who need mentoring the most to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring community members. The club mission is to empower all young people, especially those who need mentoring the most to realize their full potential as productive, responsible and caring community members. BOYS & GIRLS CLUB Continued on Page 22
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PAGE 18 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
EXTREME POWDER COATING Continued from Page 13
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The new building is located in the industrial park in Blooming Prairie. Peterson designed it to be industrial and functional. “I want the customer to walk in and say this company can do my powder coating,” Peterson said. Powder Coating is the newest surface ﬁnishing technique around. First used four decades ago in Australia, the process has seen many changes and improvements. This dry process includes ﬁnely ground particles of pigment and resin that are electrostatically charged and sprayed onto an object. The selected item is grounded, causing the particles to adhere to the part, which them moves to an oven, where the ﬁnish is baked on permanently. It has been said that powder coating is the ﬁnish of the future. Almost anything metal can be powder coated, but the process also works on wood and some other materials. With over 10,000 colors to choose from, there is something for every customer. Extreme Powder Coating showcases a 19-foot by 34-foot oven in its shop that is capable of handling. just about anything a customer has at any size.
POWDER COATING Powder coating is a dry process involving ﬁnely ground particles of pigment and resin that are electrostatically charged and sprayed onto an object. The selected item is grounded, causing the particles to adhere to the part, which them moves to an oven, where the ﬁnish is baked on permanently. “I put that oven in to never be locked in to a size,” Peterson said. “We can do an item that is 40 feet long, if needed.” Even with its success over the past decade, Peterson’s daughter has been working with social networking sites like Facebook to help grow Extreme Powder Coating even more. “That’s my goal, to keep the company growing and to continue giving our customers the best possible service and products,” said Peterson. “We like happy customers here.”
Blooming Prairie School
Feb. 20 – No School, Presidents’ Holiday March 6 – High School/Elementary Parent Teacher Conferences, 4:30 PM-8 PM March 23 - End of 3rd quarter, students dis missed at 12:45 PM, Teacher In-Service March 26 - Teacher In-Service, no school for students March 27 – Start of 4th Quarter April 6, 9 - No School, Easter Break April 10 - Teacher In-Service, no school for students May 28 - No School, Memorial Day May 30 - Last day for seniors May 31 – Last day of school, end of 4th Quarter, students dismissed at 12:45 PM, Teacher In-Service June 3 - Graduation
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Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 19
STUDIO J IMAGES Continued from Page 16
“I did not envision the business growing as much as it has,” she said. “It has proven to be a positive thing for me to have a store front.” Bodenstab is bucking a trend amongst the photography industry. There are fewer studio storefronts throughout the country as many photographers work outside the traditional studio. But she sees that trend changing in the years to come. As a photographer, Bodenstab specializes in senior photos, newborn photos and family and children photos. She does not
do weddings. “I love to interact with children of all ages. I not only get to take their photos, but I also develop relationships with my clients.” She especially enjoys working with graduating seniors on their photos. “When seniors walk in the door, they are number one. Everything is catered to them,” Bodenstab said. “I want to make it as comfortable and stress-free as possible for them.” Bodenstab doesn’t always stay within
the walls of the studio when it comes time to take photos. She utilizes a variety of outdoor settings. She has even shot a kid on the back of a speed boat. About ﬁve years ago Bodenstab went back to college for graphic design. She had every intention of going into design work, but a family helped point her in the direction she ended up today. “I had a family come to me wanting me to take their senior photos,” she said. “I didn’t realize I could combine being creative and artistic into a photograph until I
took my ﬁrst photos. I realized this ﬁt me better than graphic design.” The studio operator has no regrets of moving from her house to a building on Main Street. And yes, Bodenstab’s family is happy once again. They have been able to reclaim their home as it has been converted from a studio back into a house.
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PAGE 20 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
Ag curriculum, programs thriving at BP high school BY LEMAR NELSON Staff Writer Thanks to current agriculture teacher and FFA advisor William Rinkenberger, the agriculture curriculum at Blooming Prairie High School is growing and flourishing. The once dormant curriculum has had a rebirth under Rinkenberger’s tutelage and local residents – especially those still actively farming – are grateful. Approximately 60-75 students are enrolled in the agriculture curriculum, and Rinkenberger holds an average of five classes each day. He sees some of his students multiple times daily, and enthusiasm is one of the watchwords of the program. “I would like to think that my biggest accomplishment is bringing some credibility and stability to a program that had almost disappeared from the curriculum,” Rinkenberger said. Most students would agree. In addition to the regular classes, Rinkenberger is the FFA advisor, a program that now boasts 40 members – up from a low of 15 when he joined the high school faculty. Since then, several judging teams are again competing on a high level
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in region and state contests. For example, this year the general livestock judging team will compete at the state FFA convention, plus two individuals will vie for honors as dairy handlers. The FFA’s dairy foods team entered state competition last year, and Jenna Krell and Emma Pittman have competed statewide in the Creed and Public Speaking contests, respectively. Rinkenberger joined the school staff in 2003, took one year off to be a teaching assistant at the Midwest Dairy Association in North Dakota, and then returned to Blooming Prairie, where he is in his eighth year. A graduate of Fosston High School and the University of Minnesota-Crookston, he worked in the dairy industry before pursuing a teaching career. “One thing I have tried to do is to continue to grow the program and keep some stability in the curriculum. We’ve increased our enrollment in ag-related courses each year, and I am proud of that. Success breeds success, and that continues to be my goal,” he said.
New emergency radio system coming
BY PER KVALSTEN Staff Writer Steele County ofﬁcials are conﬁdent the county will be switching to the ARMER radio system by the spring of this year. The FCC mandated emergency personnel like police, ﬁre and ambulance to switch to an 800 MHZ frequency by Jan. 1, 2013. “The biggest and most important reason the switch to 800 MHZ is the interoperability,” Steele County Deputy Chad Forystek said. “Being able to communicate with other agencies is crucial. Plus, it is digital, not analogue, allowing much clearer sound.” Steele County began to analyze the current radio system in 2008. The system in place has been around since the early 90s. “The county board decided it wanted to go with ARMER,” Forystek said. ARMER stands for “Allied Radio Matrix for Emergency Response.” It is the state of Minnesota’s radio system and was designed to address communication failures such as those which occurred in New York City on 9/11. “This system has been used by counties in the Metro for many years,” Forystek said. “It was utilized during the 35W bridge collapse and passed with ﬂying
colors. Every agency sent to the site of the bridge easily and effectively communicated with each other.” Counties are not required to join ARMER, but need to be 800 MHZ compliant by the deadline. In Southeastern Minnesota, Waseca and Mower Counties have already switched to their own 800 MHZ system. “We are working with these counties to ﬁnd ways to communicate easily between the systems,” Forystek said. The perks of having this new system are more channels to speak to each other and smarter communications. It will allow ofﬁcers to speak with other ofﬁcerrs without interrupting other agencies. For example, a “talk group” could be used for one-on-one conversations between ofﬁcers assisting in a major incident. In Steele County alone, 332 radios have been purchased. There are no speciﬁc numbers to how much this switch is costing the county, but ofﬁcials are saying that the costs are well worth the results. Law Enforcement will be switched ﬁrst in the spring and ﬁre and ambulance to follow. “We are very close to making the switch,” Forystek said. “We are just waiting on ﬁnal approval from the FCC for a license to transmit from the water tower on 26th Street.”
Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 21
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PAGE 22 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
Improving the land for future generations Toquam family has been farming in area since 1940
BY PER KVALSTEN Staff Writer The Toquam family has been farming in the Blooming Prairie area for five generations and remains, to this day, very much a family affair. The first Toquams to come to the Blooming Prairie area arrived in the fall of 1939 with the first crops planted in the spring of 1940. “At that time my dad, Clifford, had 560 acres of land,” Orlo Toquam said. “Only 45 of those acres were actually ready to be farmed.” The farmland northeast of Blooming Prairie where the Toquams are farming today was, at one point, mostly grass. With the use of drainage, Clifford and his father, Odin, who came in 1950, began to turn the land into tillable farmland, and eventually all of the 560 acres became productive farmland. Oddly enough, the land the Toquam
Five generations of the Toquam family of rural Blooming Prairie have been farming in the area since 1940. Pictured, l-r, are Orlo Toquam, his son Roger Toquam and Roger’s son Brennen Toquam. Not pictured are Roger’s other two sons, Josh and Isaiah, who are also involved in the family farming operation. family farms is located at the highest elevation of the Ripley Watershed. CATTLE DRIVES
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brought cattle from North and South Dakota to Claremont and Bixby. Cowboys drove the cattle over six miles to the green prairie grass area named “Greenvalley.” Greenvalley is the area where Clifford, in 1940, chose to bring his family to start farming. Orlo remembers his father and grandfather talking of this time. ORLO TAKES OVER In 1965, Orlo and his late wife, Carole, purchased the farm and land from his father. Orlo continued to put tile in the fields to ensure proper drainage and allow for maximum yields. At that same time, a turning point happened for the Toquam family that remains today. Orlo attended an adult farm management class with rural Blooming Prairie’s Gene Francis. “That was the best farming decision we ever made,” Toquam said. “We took what was more of a tradition of families farming to making farming a profitable business.”
In the 1930s, during the Dust Bowl period., the federal government stepped in to help the starving cattle. Railroad cars
TOQUAM FARMS Continued on Page 23
BOYS & GIRLS CLUBS Continued from Page 17
The vision is to give every child access to a safe, nurturing, educational environment that positively impacts their lives. Area organizations and companies often donate tickets to events and special materials to the club membership. Twins and Timberwolves, circus, and hockey tickets were provided last year. Visits to farms, zoos, and camps also kept members occupied with new and exciting opportunities. Aside from the nominal membership
fees, funding for the club and its programs comes from businesses, grants, and individual donations. Some money-making activities, such as bake sales, provide some funds, but the one big fund-raising event held by the club is the Annual Gala, which is held in February. Hours of operation at the Blooming Prairie Boys & Girls Club are from 3 to 6 p.m. five days a week during the school year and from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. five days a week in the summer.
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Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 23
TOQUAM FARMS Continued from Page 22
“We took what was more of a tradition of families farming to making farming a profitable business. We looked at the financial side of everything and made decisions based on what made money and what didn’t.” In 1967, he converted a dairy cow barn into a hog barn and raised hogs. They continued to raise grain, but instead of small grains, they planted row crops. ROGER’S TURN In 1983, Roger entered the business and married Rhonda in 1987. Right away they focused on the hog side of the farm. “Raising hogs is consistent,” Roger said. “The hog prices don’t change very much throughout the years. This is completely different than crops.” Because of this, Roger built a 400-foot barn and retired the old barn Orlo built. This brought his hog count from 220 to 2,000. Over the years, Roger has slowly added acreage and in 1998 built a second hog barn. He currently has just fewer than 4,000 hogs. “We treat our pigs very well, supplying them with plenty of water, food and a safe environment,” Roger noted. The pigs are checked twice each day by someone entering the barn and making sure the air quality inside it is fresh and the temperature is set where the pigs are comfort-
able. The barns are temperature controlled year-round to make their living environment as comfortable as possible. The family grows corn and soybeans, as well as sweet corn and peas for a local canning company. The majority of their corn goes to a local ethanol plant, which Orlo helped found in 1993. “Every generation of Toquams that has farmed has had the same philosophy: We don’t own the land; we borrow it from our grandkids,” Roger said. BRENNEN, JOSH AND ISAIAH Roger and Rhonda’s three sons have since begun their farming careers. All three have been helping out on the family farm since a young age. This hard work and love of agriculture helped the three grow their own businesses. Brennen, the eldest son, farms land and owns some equipment. Josh farms land and has his own semi-truck and other equipment. Isaiah, the youngest and a Blooming Prairie High School senior, owns a semitruck and farms as well. The close-knit family credits faith in God, each other and love for the land as reasons why the Toquam farm is five generations strong.
Businesses continue to invest in Owatonna Chamber of Commerce BY BRAD MEIER President/CEO What are the results of your investment in the Owatonna Chamber? It’s an investment 600 businesses make each year for various reasons, to market, network, support the business community, for economic development or public policy work. The chamber’s mission is, ‘dedicated to the prosperity of our member businesses and the vitality of the area.’ What are the tangible results of the work of the business organization? Membership – the number of members has grown back to over 600 members giving the Chamber a stronger voice on business policy issues, and generating a larger network for you to connect and do business. In addition, the Owatonna Chamber has one of the largest market penetration rates in the nation, meaning there is a high level of participation by the business community. Advocacy – obtaining $10,000 for Lean process initiatives at City Hall was a positive accomplishment. In addition, the policy committee advocated for more transparency and clarity in its work with the City of
Owatonna. Model Chamber – We are very excited to have received the 5-star Accreditation from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This is an achievement that puts the Owatonna Chamber among the top 1 percent of chambers nationwide and an elite honor only one other chamber in the state of MN has achieved. Economic Development – We’ve assisted 33 new and growing businesses year to date. The Chamber also facilitates the Owatonna Partners for Economic Development (OPED) which is a partnership with the City, County, Incubator, Utilities, and Chamber. Our promotions committee also hosts a variety of community events. Tourism – has seen the lodging occupancy grow by 4 percent in 2011 vs. 2010. Owatonna was also awarded the National Trappers Convention for 2012, an event that will attract close to 8,500 attendees. Group tours-bus tours increased by 50 percent from 2010 numbers. Community – continue to direct community members to chamber member businesses through phone calls and walk ins.
PAGE 24 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
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Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 25
MCHS taking micro�ilming project from idea to reality BY JON FLATLAND Managing Editor Several grants from the Austin Area Foundation, the Hormel Foundation, the Minnesota Historical Society and the Minnesota Historical and Cultural Grants program are being used to further several new projects at the Mower County Historical Society in Austin. One of the biggest is the preservation of historic government records. Earlier this month, the organization began a project that has taken two years to go from idea to reality – microﬁlming the records of 12 Mower County townships. “This was one of the ﬁrst big projects I started working on when I joined the historical society and we’re so happy that it’s been given a green light. It took a while,
Elise Fitzgerald, township records microﬁlming coordinator, looks over records at the Mower County Historical Society.
but it’s becoming a reality.” The grant funds will be used to complete the microﬁlming process, create a set of microﬁlm for each township, and to cover the salary of a coordinator to carry out the project, which is expected to be complete by June. Heckman said township government is an important unit of government in rural areas, which is why the historical
society took on the microﬁlming project. “If these records aren’t preserved, we’ll lose some important information about the organization and settlement of rural Mower County,” he said. Heckman plans to seek more grant funds to add more townships to the project in the future. The project began after Heckman discovered some townships had lost records through ﬁres, ﬂoods, and other incidents. Microﬁlm was chosen as an alternative format because of its longevity. The historical society will keep a copy of the records and make them available to the public and researchers, and each township will receive a copy of the records on microﬁlm to store as a backup to their actual records.
Parade of Progress
Jensen Heating & Plumbing
Blooming Prairie Ambulance
Farmers & Merchants State Bank
Century Plastics 500 2nd Ave S.W. Hayfield, MN 55904
Blooming Prairie Bus Co.
Henefield Law Office
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Blooming Prairie Utilities Blooming Prairie
PAGE 26 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
Oak Glen Wind Farm Now Producing Electricity Minnesota’s largest municipal-owned wind farm is now operational. The Oak Glen Wind Farm near Blooming Prairie, MN has begun producing renewable electricity. “The wind farm of 24 turbines is producing electricity ahead of schedule and under budget,” said project general manager Oncu Er of Avant Energy. Er said Avant Energy is the project management firm on behalf of the wind farm’s developer -- Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (MMPA), comprised of eleven municipal utilities: Anoka, Arlington, Brownton, Buffalo, Chaska, East Grand Forks, Le Sueur, North St. Paul, Olivia, Shakopee and Winthrop. The projected output of the roughly $90 million project is approximately 44 megawatts (MW), making it the largest municipally-owned wind farm in the state. Oak Glen Wind Farm began producing electricity at the end of October – a full two months ahead of schedule. Production from the Oak Glen project is among the 326 MW of wind power added to the electrical grid from newly-constructed wind farms in Minnesota in 2011. MMPA is excited to have the Oak Glen Wind Farm in Steele County. We will continue to work hard to be a good neighbor and look forward to becoming a bigger part of the Blooming Prairie community.
Photograph Provided By Doug Hughes
Progress • The Times • February 14, 2012 • PAGE 27
Parade of Progress
Wind farm blows huge bene�its into the region BY RICK BUSSLER Publisher The largest municipal-owned wind farm in Minnesota has blown its way into Steele County and now the area will begin reaping far-reaching economic and other beneﬁts for years to come. Oak Glen Wind Farm located a few miles outside of Blooming Prairie just began producing renewable electricity within the past few weeks. The farm sports 24 huge wind turbines with 126-foot blades. “This is a phenomenal project for the area,” said Oncu Er, project general manager with Avant Energy, the Minneapolis based management ﬁrm for the farm. “It is a huge thing to produce electricity and power for the community.” According to Er, there are many beneﬁts coming out of the wind farm, which is located on 3,000 acres of mostly agricultural land in Blooming Prairie Township. This is the ﬁrst wind farm ever created in the county. For starters, the project created more than 100 construction jobs beginning last May. “We tried to use a lot of local contractors for this project,” said Er, noting construction took approximately six months. Because of the construction, several township roads around the wind farm received some badly needed improvements, Er said. Many ﬁeld access roads were also improved during the building process. “The farmers in the area will be able to use the newly improved roads for years to come,” he pointed out. Er estimates the wind farm will produce about $160,000 in production taxes each year. “This is a signiﬁcant amount of money that will beneﬁt the county,” he said. The landowners whose property has been impacted by the wind turbines will reap payments each year for at least the next 15 years, Er said. He declined to reveal how much the farmers are receiving for the use of their land. After the 15 years, the landowners will have the option to renew the lease. Another huge beneﬁt of the wind farm is sustainable energy production in rural Minnesota. “The electricity is produced right there and it is consumed right there,” Er said. He noted the turbines will be cranking out electricity for both the city and rural areas around Blooming Prairie. The renewable power from Oak Glen will help the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency (MMPA), which owns the farm, meet state requirements for 12 percent of its electrical energy to be generated from
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renewable sources energy by 2012 and 25 percent by 2025. Oak Glen is an important component of MMPA’s commitment to local, sustainable energy production and is expected to provide approximately 10 percent of the agency’s energy needs. The capacity of the wind farm will equal 44-megawatts, generating enough electricity to power 14,000 homes. From the project’s inception more than ﬁve years ago, Avant and MMPA worked with local ofﬁcials and the community to establish transparent and open communications, contributing to widespread community support. “We had a great relationship with everyone,” Er said. “It was much appreciated to have the cooperation.” The project cost an estimated $90 million, which was about $10 million under budget. Er said, “This is a long term investment for us.”
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The Oak Glen Wind Farm, located a few miles north of Blooming Prairie, recently began producing renewable electricity. The farm includes 25 wind turbines bearing 126-fot blades. The wind farm is owned by the Minnesota Municipal Power Agency and managed by Avant Energy.
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PAGE 28 • February 14, 2012 • The Times • Progress
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