Solid Support on Display

The Weekly Report – July 8, 2024
Recent legislative tours highlight the value of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and its leader Tim Penny as advocates for manufacturing.

In early June we joined State Senator John Jasinski (R-Faribault) and retiring State Representative John Petersburg (R-Waseca) as they toured two thriving Owatonna manufacturing companies, Advanced Coil Technology and Modern Metal Products. Both Jasinski and Petersburg have been strong supporters of Minnesota manufacturing at the Capitol, and it was a treat to give them an inside look at a pair of vibrant manufacturers.

The tours were among the dozens we help coordinate each year to strengthen connections between manufacturers and their elected officials. The day differed a bit from others because we were joined by former U.S. Representative and current Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation President/CEO Tim Penny, one of our key allies in the region. Penny’s involvement shows both the strong connection between Enterprise Minnesota and the Initiative Foundations across the state, and the strength of our relationship with him.

As the leader of one of the six independent Initiative Foundations established by the McKnight Foundation in 1986 to strengthen the communities and economies of Greater Minnesota, Penny has a clear understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing manufacturing. A long-time proponent of our annual State of Manufacturing® survey regional focus groups and rollout events, Penny recognizes how critical a strong manufacturing sector is for vibrant communities. He notes that many small towns are thriving today because they’re home to a healthy manufacturing company.

“I marvel at the strength of the manufacturing sector here in our corner of the state. It really is a significant share of our economy. We’re a long way from markets, so I think it’s the strength of the companies and the quality of the workforce that make the difference,” Penny says. “We hang on to a lot of manufacturing, whereas I think in other regions of the country, they’ve lost a lot of manufacturing jobs.”

Penny also notes how committed area manufacturers are to their employees and communities, clearly on display during our recent tours. He was impressed that the third and fourth generations of owners now lead Modern Metal Products. “They said that when they have a good year, they first pay their higher taxes, and next, reward their employees,” he says.

Always willing to boost the manufacturing sector in his region, Penny is eager to participate in tours like the ones at Advanced Coil and Modern Metal Products. “The more we can help elected officials understand the challenges faced by the manufacturing sector, the better,” he says, noting that issues including regulation, workforce needs, and education funding are critical for manufacturers in Greater Minnesota.

Penny shares our belief in the value of showing, not just telling, policymakers how manufacturing affects their constituents. “It’s hugely important just visiting these plants and seeing what’s being produced here in our corner of the state,” he says. “You drive by, but you don’t realize what’s going on inside there and how many local people are working there. I don’t think there’s anything better than bringing legislators right down on the plant floor.”

We echo Penny’s comments, and thank our hosts, Shawn Pfieffer, president of Modern Metal Products; and Sarah Richards, owner of Advanced Coil Technology (and the owner/CEO of Jones Metals in Mankato) and Devon Barnes, general manager of Advanced Coil. These companies make great products, take pride in their presence in southern Minnesota, and love their employees and treat them well.

We also enjoyed having Penny’s nine-year old grandson along for the tours. It’s always a treat to introduce the next generation to manufacturing, and his grandpa says he was wowed by the operations, particularly the paint room at Modern Metal Products.

You can read more about Tim Penny’s work with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation in the Four Questions feature of the fall issue of Enterprise Minnesota magazine, scheduled for publication in late August.

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