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A Range of Possibilities
Minnesota’s Iron Range wisely uses a broad public/private partnership to assist its manufacturers
By Lynn Shelton
February 2019

Lynn Shelton, vice president of marketing, Enterprise Minnesota
(Lynn Shelton, vice president of marketing, Enterprise Minnesota)

One way Enterprise Minnesota sustains its role as the nexus of all things related to manufacturing is through our State of Manufacturing® survey. Every spring we ask manufacturers to analyze their companies’ prospects through a public opinion poll and through a series of focus groups. Another significant explanation, although less “public,” is that our people are out working with manufacturers, all day, every day, in every part of the state.

Bob Kill, our president and CEO, tries to get out of the office a couple of days each week to visit manufacturing executives. Our consultants are at work on shop floors and in conference rooms helping executives, managers, and all levels of employees on the shop floor maintain their strategic edge and sharpen their operational efficiencies. And our business developers are continually on the road, making hundreds of stops at manufacturing companies, often just to check in.

Bottom line: We really know what’s going on with Minnesota’s manufacturers.

Some of the more enjoyable reports we get along the way come from Jim Schottmuller, our business developer who covers northeast Minnesota. In the fourth quarter alone last year, Jim made more than 50 stops with Iron Range manufacturers. He reports that many companies up there are “rockin’ and rollin’.”

One of them is Heliene, a Canadian company that recently retooled a factory in Mountain Iron to manufacture sophisticated solar panels, an effort that includes hiring 130 workers. The company reportedly invested some $18 million in the plant, including a $3.5 million loan split equally between the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). Terms of the loan are also reported to guarantee $15 per hour wages, fully subsidized health and dental insurance, and a retirement plan.

We have always enjoyed working with companies on the Range in part because they truly understand the value of public/private partnerships, something we think is essential to helping Minnesota’s manufacturers thrive and grow.

The IRRRB has been an essential tool to the growth and quality of life on the Range since its creation in Minnesota in 1941. The organization’s footprints are all over the Range as it helps ensure the economic stability of its communities, its workers and its employers. An example of this can be seen in a program that Heliene is undertaking to help improve its internal auditing processes. Under the program, Heliene can receive these services from a grant in which IRRRB will reimburse half of its costs. This program is available to manufacturers of all sizes across the Range.

Other institutional friends in the northeast include the Northland Foundation, one of the state’s much acclaimed Minnesota Initiative Foundations, that helps its residents with grantmaking, business lending, and other special projects. Today it is run by Tony Sertich, an institution himself in the northeast (first as a legislator, and then as president of the IRRRB).

I also have to mention APEX, a private sector-led business development organization composed of influential leaders committed to attracting, retaining and expanding business. Since 2003, the organization has impacted over 4,300 jobs in the region, resulting in a regional payroll of over $174.9 million and $24 million in state and local taxes annually.

APEX President and CEO Brian Hanson has said he considers Enterprise Minnesota one of its “great network of partners where we can pick up the phone and have a trusted conversation.”

“Our business recruitment activities focus on the positives of manufacturing in Minnesota. Our partnership in Enterprise Minnesota’s State of Manufacturing project is quite helpful because the data reinforces the great things going on in manufacturing and also helps us be mindful of the challenges we face. The State of Manufacturing gives us the opportunity to address these challenges.” 


Lynn Shelton is vice president of marketing at Enterprise Minnesota 

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