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Macalester embraces 100 percent solar initiative

St. Paul’s Macalester College is aiming to be the first higher education institution in MSP to generate all of its electricity from renewable sources. In mid-April, the college announced a partnership with SunEdison, a leading builder of solar generation infrastructure, to purchase a share of the output of a soon-to-be-constructed community solar garden in rural Dakota County. The deal permits Macalester to offset up to 120 percent of its campus consumption.
According to the college and SunEdison, the solar garden should be mostly built out by the end of the year and will be operational sometime in 2016. As soon as the facility is reliably generating enough electricity to offset consumption on Macalester’s campus, the college will be functionally carbon-free (or better). The agreement will remain in force for 25 years, guaranteeing Macalester’s carbon-free status for a generation.
“Given our projected consumption patterns and the expected rising trend in electricity rates over the period of the agreement, we believe that the savings over the term of the agreement could be in the millions of dollars,” said David Wheaton, Macalester’s vice president for finance and administration, in a recent release.
Wheaton estimates that the partnership will cut the college’s power bills by 50 to 67 percent over the life of the agreement, though the exact savings depend on long-term pricing for carbon-intensive energy sources. It costs more than $1 million annually to power Macalester’s roughly 50-acre campus at current prices. Colorado College, a similarly sized institution near Colorado Springs, has saved more than $1 million per year since switching to solar.
Macalester also recently applied for a state grant to fund the installation of solar panels on the roof of Markim Hall, a building on campus. Those panels would supply some of the energy used on that part of campus and would help make up any deficit if output at the SunEdison garden dips temporarily.
Given the clear financial benefits — not to mention the cachet of being a sustainable trailblazer — other MSP higher education institutions may soon hop on the solar bandwagon. Just down Summit Avenue from Macalester, the much larger University of St. Thomas has committed to carbon-neutrality by 2035, and may push that timetable forward if circumstances dictate. Even the University of Minnesota, a far larger institution, has made noises about going carbon-neutral. Such moves could be a boon to Minnesota’s solar industry, which employed about 1,000 people last year, not to mention MSP companies like SimpleRay Solar.
Macalester’s ambitious 100 percent-solar initiative was made possible by the passage of a solar-friendly law during last year’s legislative session. Though Xcel Energy, Minnesota’s largest utility, recently warned the state utility commission that the law was promoting the growth of “utility-scale” solar installations that could have unintended consequences for the state’s energy grid, the commission isn’t bound to act on Xcel’s recommendations. Macalester officials have expressed confidence that the college can make good on its 100 percent-solar commitment in the still-unlikely event that the SunEdison deal falls through.

Gardening Matters empowers growers

Gardening Matters, a community gardening nonprofit based in South Minneapolis, is putting on an MSP-wide seed and plant distribution event Saturday, May 16, at three locations around town: St. Olaf Lutheran Church in North Minneapolis, Waite House in South Minneapolis and Great River School in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood.
The organization’s members can choose from three packages. Per Gardening Matters’ website, a Small Garden Package contains 12 seed packs and 12 seedlings, enough for a container garden, small plot or raised bed. With 20 seed packs and 20 seedlings, a Medium Garden Package is sufficient for a 12’ x 12’ backyard garden or community plot. A Large Garden Package, brimming with 40 seed packs and 72 seedlings, is ideal for a “very large” backyard garden or larger community garden plot.
Each package comes with a suggested membership fee, calculated at a significant discount to the seeds’ and plants’ retail value. Members can further defray their packages’ cost by participating in Gardening Matters’ work-share program, which requires at least one annual volunteer stint at a Gardening Matters event.
With snacks, kid-friendly outdoor activities and live music, each May 16 distribution hub will double as a “pop-up celebration of spring,” says Susan Phillips, Gardening Matters’ executive director — a great kick-off to the growing season after a long winter hibernation.
“Broadly speaking, Gardening Matters’ mission is to support MSP residents who want to grow their own food, either as part of a community garden or in their own backyards, while building connections and facilitating knowledge-sharing among its members,” says Phillips.
This mission is gaining traction by the month. The three May 16 distribution locations are just three of about 10 Food Resource Hubs across MSP: three in St. Paul and seven in Minneapolis, up from none in St. Paul and just three in Minneapolis when Gardening Matters launched the Food Resource Hubs program in 2011. Collectively, Food Resource Hubs serve 3,000 adult members and 3,000 kids, with about 20 urban acres under cultivation as a direct result of members’ activities.
(Incidentally, Gardening Matters is likely to rename the Food Resource Hubs program soon due to a conflict with an unrelated but similarly named federal program.)
Although Gardening Matters still plays a critical role in overseeing and organizing each hub, the organization ultimately aims for hubs to be semi-autonomous and largely self-sustaining. “Each of our hubs has a unique mix of members and a unique culture,” explains Phillips.
Gardening Matters’ hubs also serve as a focal point for education and leadership training, both critical to fostering self-sustaining networks — not to mention good gardening practices. Founded to support cooperation among community gardeners, the group’s community-building power isn’t to be underestimated: Phillips recounts the story of a Gardening Matters-affiliated North Minneapolis community garden whose members cooperated to clean up a blighted, drug-ridden property on their block.
Thanks to the connections the neighbors built in the garden, says Phillips, “they were empowered to tackle bigger issues in their community.”
Phillips is turning Gardening Matters into a force for advocacy and city-wide change, too. “Land tenure is a huge issue right now,” she says, noting that many MSP community gardens have long waiting lists. This year, Gardening Matters is launching a major push to empower renters who don’t have access to suitable outdoor plots. Container gardens, which can easily fit on porches or even windowsills, are viable solutions for thousands of land-poor urban gardeners; the challenge is educating people about how to properly set up and care for them.
Phillips is also spearheading educational programs and outreach initiatives targeting immigrant communities, particularly Latino and Hmong groups, whose first-generation members have prior agricultural experience but aren’t aware of the urban gardening resources available in their adopted city.
“In everything Gardening Matters does, the goal is to expand the number of [MSP residents] who feel empowered to grow their own food,” says Phillips.

Tangletown/Wise Acre's farm-to-table growth

The calendar still says winter, but Tangletown Gardens is ramping up hiring, and investing in initiatives to make the popular South Minneapolis business “even better at what we grow, what we produce, and what we create for our customers and the communities we serve,” says co-founder and principal Scott Endres.
That doesn’t mean, however, that Endres and co-owner Dean Engelmann will tear up a playbook that has worked for more than a decade.
“The growth of our business has always been organic,” Endres says. “We make sure things as are as good as they can be before taking the next step. Right now, we feel there is room to grow and refine all aspects of our business without having to take on new ventures.”
Tangletown Gardens’ current ventures keep Endres, Engelmann and their staffers plenty busy. The flagship garden center at 54th & Nicollet supports a flourishing garden design and consulting business that counts some of the Twin Cities’ most notable companies, nonprofits, government organizations and individuals as clients. Off the top of his head, Endres lists the Museum of Russian Art, the Minneapolis Park Board, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum and the U of M’s Horticulture Department as “garden partners.”
Endres and Engelmann met while enrolled in the University of Minnesota’s horticulture program. They worked in the landscape design business before setting out as partners and founding Tangletown. Careful product selection and innovative cultivation strategies play a role in their success, along with their backgrounds. According to Endres, Tangletown has “thousands of...perennial, annual and vegetable varieties,” along with “the most diverse group of unusual and hard-to-find woody plants in the Upper Midwest.”
In addition to the garden center, Endres and Engelmann run Wise Acre Eatery, a bastion of the Twin Cities’ farm-to-fork movement, and a 100-acre farm in Plato, which supplies Wise Acre and a flourishing CSA. According to Wise Acre’s website, “80 to 90 percent of what we serve is grown sustainably” on the Plato farm.
Since opening in 2012, Wise Acre has been joined by a host of farm-centric restaurants across town. But it remains unique. “Unlike the owners of any other restaurant we know of, we are the folks sowing the seeds, nurturing plants, and tending the animals in the morning, then delivering the harvest to our restaurant’s kitchen in the afternoon,” says Endres.
Endres and Engelmann grow produce year-round in state-of-the-art greenhouses to maintain their locally grown supply. The owners also keep Scottish Highland cattle, two heritage pork breeds and free-range poultry on the farm — a self-contained food ecosystem that relies on “biology, not toxic chemicals,” says Endres.
“Healthy soil creates healthy food and gardens, which ultimately create healthy people,” adds Engelmann.
This philosophy reflects Endres’ and Engelmann’s upbringing. Though horticulturalists by training, both grew up on small working farms in the family for generations. “Our fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers knew the way they treated their land would shape its future,” says Endres. “We farm today in much the same way as the farms we grew up on.”
Current Tangletown Job Listings in Minneapolis
  1. Garden Designer
  2. Container Designer
  3. Gardener
  4. Seasonal Garden Center Associate
  5. Seasonal Landscape Team Member


Tiny Diner is top Small Business Revolution story

Kim Bartmann’s Tiny Diner has just been honored as the country’s top “Small Business Revolution” story by Deluxe, a business services company based in the Twin Cities’ northern suburbs. The South Minneapolis restaurant was the first stop on Deluxe’s nationwide Small Business Revolution tour, which will profile 100 U.S. companies during the coming months in honor of Deluxe’s 100th anniversary.
Small Business Revolution was initiated in response to what Deluxe sees as the country’s increasingly impersonal, digitized economy; a place where conducting anonymous online transactions is often easier than seeking out independent, brick-and-mortar businesses owned by our friends and neighbors.
“We’re less likely to know who we’re buying from,” according to Deluxe’s Small Business Revolution website. “We’re exchanging data instead of sharing experiences. In too many places, the magic and the meaning [of doing business] have begun to fade.”
According to Deluxe, Small Business Revolution taps “award-winning independent filmmakers and photographers to honor” businesses that “create something more personal, more local, more meaningful for all of us.”
Bartmann’s participation required a couple of phone interviews and a “fairly long day of shooting,” Bartmann says—not a bad deal for national exposure.
“I was thrilled to be approached,” she says. Bartmann owns Tiny Diner and seven other restaurants across the Twin Cities. “I’m interested in taking part in anything that promotes small business here.” She found her way onto Deluxe’s radar, she says, because she’s a prominent booster for the Twin Cities Metro Independent Business Alliance, a key small business organization.
Deluxe immediately bought into “the pretty powerful little project we have here,” says Bartmann. Tiny Diner is “engaging sustainable food production in a real way,” she says, “thinking through how we can close the loop in the traditionally wasteful restaurant industry.”
As a diner that offers food at a moderate price point and caters to a regular, neighborhood-centric crowd, says Bartmann, Tiny Diner has an even greater responsibility to be sustainable than high-end “destination” restaurants.
Case in point: Tiny Diner’s patio-top solar setup is “the largest visible solar array” in the Twin Cities, she said, as all larger arrays are on high roofs or hidden behind greenery. Despite the array’s size, Bartmann offset about 90 percent of its cost through various state and federal rebates.
Bartmann is justifiably proud of Tiny Diner’s food, too. “Our challenge is to think about how we can make typical diner food, like hash browns, better,” she says. “You can go and eat at a lot of restaurants, but you’re not always being fed.”
After Tiny Diner, the Small Business Revolution tour hit The Shed Fitness and Bogart’s Donuts, both also in Minneapolis. The tour heads south to Kansas next, though Deluxe is still accepting nominations for businesses to be featured in the tour’s later stages, regardless of location.

Midwest Innovation Summit showcases startups focusing on sustainable technologies

Hundreds of entrepreneurs, investors and corporate executives gathered at the Depot Hotel in Minneapolis on October 27 and 28 for the Midwest Innovation Summit, an annual gathering that showcases what’s next in technology and manufacturing across the region. About 75 exhibitors were on hand, including promising Minnesota startups like 75F—winner of this year’s Minnesota Cup— and Water Meter Solutions, which operates out of CoCo Minneapolis.
“The Midwest Innovation Summit is about attracting entrepreneurs and business leaders from all across the region to display any solution that uses natural resources more efficiently,” says Justin Kaster, executive director of Midwest CleanTech Open, the summit’s sponsor. “Many of the exhibitors here are committed to sustainability for ethical and environmental reasons, but [Midwest Innovation Summit] really shows that clean technology is a great business opportunity as well.”
In innovation capitals like the Twin Cities, Kaster adds, entrepreneurs and investors have “started to respond to that value proposition” over the last decade. “Everyone realizes that clean technology is a win-win situation now,” he says. “You don’t have work overtime to convince people of that anymore.”
Several Twin Cities companies have clearly bought in. Water Meter Solutions makes two water-saving technologies. Floo-id is a “smart toilet monitoring device” that allows property managers and homeowners to monitor their toilets’ water use in real time, quickly identifying leaks and other issues that could affect their water bills. Floo-id is powered by flowing water, making it energy neutral. Water Meter Solutions’ other technology, H2O Pro, performs a similar function for entire buildings’ water systems, offering value to multi-unit landlords.
Nearby, Minneapolis-based Irri-Green’s exhibitor booth showed off the Genius irrigation system, a patent pending lawn-watering setup that analyzes landscape contours and other factors to deliver water as efficiently as possible. Each Genius irrigator’s range overlaps precisely with that of the next, “eliminating the wasteful, overlapping arcs of water that conventional irrigation systems” produce, says Irri-Green.
Garden Fresh Farms, a Minneapolis startup and 2013 Minnesota Cup division winner with an aquaculture facility in the city, was on hand as well. The fish in the company’s growing tanks continuously fertilize the plants suspended above them, creating a self-sustaining ecosystem that produces plant and animal products for harvest.
These local companies are part of what Kaster calls “a regional ecosystem of innovation.” He urges entrepreneurs, investors, nonprofits and government entities across the Midwest to “think bigger than the city or county level” and “move past the state versus state competition” that can hinder the exchange of ideas, people and investment. The Northeast, Kaster says, is a great example of a region where innovators have banded together to create sustainable, big-picture solutions, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.
“We have a tremendous amount of intellectual and creative capital here in the Twin Cities,” he says. “Events like the Midwest Innovation Summit are conduits for ideas and investment from nearby areas” that ultimately raise the profiles and prospects of local innovators.

TechDump expands job and recycling opportunities

Tech Dump, a technology recycling nonprofit based in Golden Valley, opened a second location on North Prior Avenue in St. Paul on September 22. The facility collects more than a dozen varieties of tech waste, from old computer monitors and TVs to batteries, cell phones and printer cartridges.
Tech Dump complements its commitment to responsible waste disposal with a mission to create jobs for “economically disadvantaged adults” who live in the area. The organization is an offshoot of the nonprofit Jobs Foundation, led by Probus Online founders George Lee and Tom McCullough. Lee and McCullough claim that for every 72,000 pounds of waste Tech Dump handles, the organization creates one job for one year.
Tech Dump finds its employees through partnerships with such Twin Cities nonprofits as Goodwill Easter Seals and Better Futures Enterprises, and referrals from current employees. “[The nonprofit partners] provide soft skills training and other pre-employment resources, then refer employees to us when we have openings,” says Amanda LaGrange, marketing director, Tech Dump.
She adds that,  “employees are very protective of our organization,” so they can recognize potential candidates who “really want to change and work toward a new future.”
Once hired, employees take on escalating responsibilities until they “graduate” from Tech Dump and find work at another employer. “We want to develop the skills that will make our staff the best employees in their next position,” LaGrange adds, such as “showing up to work on time each day, respecting managers and co-workers, accepting feedback and going the extra mile.”
Tech Dump handles old electronics in two ways: recycling and repurposing. For the former, Tech Dump employees take apart each piece of equipment, separate its electronic components and reduce them to the simplest state possible before shipping them off to a specialized facility for recycling. For the latter, Tech Dump workers repair or replace damaged or broken components and restore each piece of equipment to good working order.
With both processes, any stored data is destroyed (by force, not just erased) before usable components are harvested or recycled.
Tech Dump is cheap and inclusive, too. “We only charge for the items we have to pay to recycle, like CRT/tube TVs and monitors, rear projection TVs and fluorescent bulbs,” LaGrange says. Tech Dump is also “open to anyone—businesses and residents of any city, county or state.”
Ironically, Tech Dump started out as a furniture recycler. But an experimental “Tech Dump Day” in 2011 was wildly successful, turning Lee and McCullough on to local demand for responsible e-recycling. The pair exited the furniture recycling business in 2013 and set about building Tech Dump into a socially responsible powerhouse.
To sharpen its approach and develop new practices, Tech Dump regularly communicates with other recyclers, like Isadore Recycling in Los Angeles and Recycle Force in Indianapolis, which provide employment opportunities for teens and adults who have spent time in the criminal justice system.

Tech Dump is open Monday through Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., for waste quantities of any size. Tech Dump also operates trucks that travel off-site, by appointment, to pick up larger amounts of waste.

Design for Good/The Common Table create food systems exhibit

The AIGA Minnesota  Design for Good initiative (#designforgood), first launched nationally by AIGA in 2011, is partnering with The Common Table for a first-of-its-kind showcase at this year’s Minnesota State Fair. The exhibit will highlight the diversity of local food systems, with input from “organic farmers, farm-to-table restaurants, nonprofits working on healthy soil initiatives and other organizations involved with sustainable agricultural initiatives,” says Sandy Wolfe Wood of AIGA Minnesota.
Among other things, the exhibit highlights Design for Good’s commitment to “design thinking,” an “iterative problem-solving process” that “has the power to find innovative solutions to our most challenging social problems,” says Wolfe Wood.
Design for Good's showcase is part of The Common Table's exhibit about local food stories in the Horticulture Building at the state fairgrounds. The Common Table enlisted AIGA Minnesota and the Design for Good initiative to design the graphic and multimedia storyboards for the 18 partner organizations. These storyboards are supported by the Storytelling Pavilion, a structure designed and constructed by The Common Table team that resembles branching trees with a canopy of airy honeycombs. The exhibit is both kid and family friendly, and will remain as a permanent exhibit at the Minnesota State Fair for years to come.
Many of the partner organizations are based in the Twin Cities. Notables include Red Stag Supperclub, Wedge Community Co-op and Birchwood Cafe. All of them source organic and sustainably farmed produce from farms near the Twin Cities.
Several producers will be on hand as well, including Homestead Gardens of Welch (an innovative plot that utilized cold-climate permaculture techniques) and Moonstone Farms. Industry thought leaders from the Institute of Agriculture and Trade Policy, Environmental Justice Advocates and the Central Minnesota Sustainability Program will participate too. 
Design for Good has grown into a key initiative for AIGA Minnesota, which is one of the country’s largest AIGA chapters and one of the state’s largest design organizations. According to its website, Design for Good’s ongoing programming aims to build “a core group of designers interested in design for social impact...who want to be engaged with social change, who have ideas of what issues are most salient, and who can share stories of successful collaborations that have made a difference in the world.”
Fairgoers who aren’t affiliated with AIGA Minnesota, The Common Table or any of the exhibit’s partner organizations can still lend their time and talents to the event in exchange for free State Fair admission on the day they volunteer. The Common Table is handling volunteer scheduling here.

Minnesota Cup announces division finalists

Now it's down to 19.
The eighth annual Minnesota Cup continues to draw attention in announcing the division finalists, whittling the top contenders down to just three companies in each category. The contest features high tech, bioscience and health IT, clean tech and renewable energy, general, and student divisions. Four contenders are competing in the social entrepreneur category.
Finalists include OrthoCor Medical, which proposed ideas for noninvasive therapeutic devices to alleviate pain, and PreciouStatus, a mobile application that allows care providers to interact with patients' family members throughout the day.
Division finalists will deliver an eight-minute presentation to a panel of judges, and winners will be announced on August 29. The grand prize will be awarded on Sept. 6 at an event held at the University of Minnesota.
This year's competition has been closely watched, in part because it offers the highest total prizes in the Cup's history. One finalist from each division will receive $25,000 in seed capital ($10,000 in the student division), and runners-up each receive $5,000. The grand prize winner will get an additional $40,000.
Cup co-founder Scott Litman believes that the contest serves as a catalyst for innovation in the state. He notes that selecting the top ideas is always a challenge, since the Cup draws impressive applicants every year. Those who've won in the past or have been finalists went on to attract significant investment, he adds: "Our track record shows the level of intelligent and inspiring entrepreneurs in the state is truly remarkable."
Source: Scott Litman, Minnesota Cup
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Eco-friendly lighting manufacturer expands operations and goes global

Most people don't think about the light bulbs that illuminate their homes and offices, but Jennifer Sethre isn't like most people.
One of the partners in the new Minnetonka-based venture Lumena, Sethre has been deeply involved with the lighting industry during her career, and is eager to drive more attention and sales to this fresh venture.
Started about a year ago, Lumena is an LED lighting manufacturer that already has operations in Miami and Denver, as well as a 700,000-square-foot factory in China. Going up against major competitors, the company is working to replace the traditional lighting used at large facilities like hospitals and factories with eco-friendly LED alternatives.
"When starting Lumena, we didn't want to be average," says Sethre. "We didn't want to be one more lighting manufacturer. We want to be great, and we think that takes just a little extra effort."
Although the company has barely had its first anniversary, business is already booming, thanks to strategic partnerships, sales and marketing efforts, and a market eager for new products. Sethre believes that the timing is crucial--before now, the LED lighting market wasn't quite ready, she thinks. But now, with the increasing push for environmentally friendly alternatives and a lower price point for products, the time is right.
"Our success is due to our innovation, I believe," says Sethre. "It may sound cheesy, but we really do pride ourselves on our products. We're excited to see where we can take this, and we believe that we'll just keep expanding from here."
Source: Jennifer Sethre, Lumena
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Novus Energy uses innovative approach to create energy from waste products

Discarded potato waste, manure from dairy cows, and piles of old onions: could these be the ingredients for a renewable fuel source?
Those at Novus Energy think so, and they're working to take "low-value" products such as these and turn them into high-value energy.
Started about seven years ago, the Minneapolis company based its name on the Latin word for "novel, new, fresh." The three founders saw the effects of the ethanol boom and thought that there would be an even better way to achieve energy independence.
"Our chemistry is very innovative, and makes us different than traditional approaches," says CEO Joseph Burke. "We create energy from waste, taking items that might be discarded and turning them into biomethane and liquid fertilizer."
The startup faces challenges in terms of funding and adoption of its technology, Burke says. In the case of its fertilizer, the liquid organic emulsion it produces isn't yet in high demand since it's not as utilized in the agriculture market.
However, with growing interest in organic farming, and a social trend toward more sustainable products, Burke is confident that Novus will be the fresh approach the market needs.
Currently, the firm employs four people, and plans to grow at a manageable rate. Burke notes that the company is structured to bring in partners in order to have a smaller staff, so it can remain a nimble startup. In terms of market growth, though, the opportunities seem endless.
"Wherever there's a combination of low-value feedstock and food processing, we'll have a market," says Burke.
Source: Joseph Burke, Novus Energy
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

New urban farm looks to Kickstarter for initial funding

Urban farming is experiencing a huge boom in the Twin Cities, and is expected to grow stronger in the near future. Community gardens, employer gardens, and mini-farmers'-markets are popping up everywhere, and more municipal initiatives are geared toward encouraging growth.
So it's not surprising that a major new farm could take root. Stone's Throw Urban Farm brings together seven farmers and 12 vacant lots in both Minneapolis and St. Paul, covering four acres altogether.
To get the necessary startup capital, the group just launched a Kickstarter campaign. One of the farmers, Alex Liebman, notes that they wanted to put themselves on the path of independence, where they didn't rely on external funding in order to run.
The farm will offer shares in its community-supported agriculture (CSA) program, and will sell at the Mill City Farmers Market, but it turned to Kickstarter for the funds needed for initial projects, like building a hoophouse that will house spring transplants.
"Our goal is to provide a financially viable source of employment, while also tackling bigger ecological issues," says Liebman. Vegetables and fruits are grown without chemical fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides, and the farmers will hold tours and volunteer days so local residents can participate in the farm.
"There's a lot of coordination with this many sites, and so many people involved," Liebman notes. "But the benefits outweigh the challenges. There's a lot of excitement and great ideas happening right now."
Source: Alex Liebman, Stone's Throw Urban Farm
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Ad agency Broadhead builds on its success with rural clients

Some ad agencies specialize in certain sectors like apparel, sports, or retail. Minneapolis-based Broadhead may be the only one that deals so extensively with cows.
The firm tends to do most of its work for clients in rural America, says CEO Dean Broadhead. That encompasses companies that focus on food safety, agriculture, farm veterinary services, dairy, and fertilizer.
Started in 2001, the agency came together after Broadhead worked at some major agencies in the Twin Cities. He'd always wanted to set off on his own, he notes, and after working with clients involved in rural businesses, he decided to keep following that route.
Recent projects have included creation of a crop nutrition guide for The Mosaic Company, and the development of a program to help wounded veterans through sponsorship by beef and dairy producers.
He stocked his firm with people who have a passion for rural life--either out of interest or because they grew up on farms--and the result has been strong growth and a robust client roster. The agency has consistently grown about 25 to 30 percent per year over the last few years.
"We're very happy with double-digit growth," says Broadhead. "That allows us to expand at the pace we want to expand. It makes us more well-rounded and a better value to the client."
Source: Dean Broadhead, Broadhead
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Suntava sees growth opportunity in purple corn kernels

Most people think of purple corn as a nice decoration in late fall. But when Bill Petrich looks at the dark kernels, he sees growth opportunities.
He's CEO of Suntava, a company founded to use plant-based ingredients in new ways. Petrich signed on to helm the firm after reading the founders' business plan. He says, "It's a fascinating idea. I offered to advise them at no charge just to learn more about it, and the more I got involved, the more I saw that this is a venture that could change lives for decades to come. It's game-changing."
Derived from a non-GMO purple corn hybrid, Suntava's signature extract can be utilized in a number of ways. Most notably, the corn can produce a natural coloring source that can act as an alternative to the popular Red Dye 40, found in many products.
Synthetic dye is made from petroleum, and several studies have pointed out health risks associated with its use, Petrich says. Consumers are demanding more natural sources, and he believes that Suntava is a good fit for that market shift.
The company is also able to produce whole grains and nutraceuticals (foods with health benefits) that can be used in dietary supplements, cosmetics, and foods like corn chips and cereals. The high anti-oxidant level of the corn makes it even more attractive as an ingredient and food additive.
Although the corn isn't organic now, that's a direction in which Suntava may go in the future. For now, Petrich notes that using the corn creates a sustainable system: "With this product, we're not disrupting the food chain, we're enhancing it. We're getting more out of an acre of land in every way. And in the process, we're producing what's essentially the next superfood. That's pretty exciting."
Source: Bill Petrich, Suntava
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Environmental consulting firm Bay West eyes more growth and hiring

In the past three years, St. Paul-based Bay West has boosted its employee number from 110 to 150, with a remarkably low rate of turnover. Company president Lon Larson believes that's just the beginning.
"We're on an upswing," he says. "We're really in a place where we're ready for the next phase of growth."
The environmental consulting firm was founded in 1974, but has seen particularly remarkable growth in the past few years as demand keeps rising for its services, including munitions cleanup, waste management, and emergency response. Recently, the company has garnered over $70 million in business orders as part of existing contracts.
"It sounds simple, but we really work on our core competencies," says Ed Bacig, the company's vice president of operations. "We make sure we're paying attention to customer service, and we make sure that our employees are happy and working in an environment where their ideas are being heard."
Over the past five years, Bay West has put considerable effort into a coaching program that boosts satisfaction among employees and keeps that turnover rate under five percent.
Larson adds that the company has been able to pursue more hiring through the use of teleworking. A significant investment in IT infrastructure gives Bay West the power to recruit employees from across the United States, and create teams that might be geographically separate, but are aligned through collaboration technology.
"We're seeing a lot of traction and momentum," says Bacig.
Source: Lon Larson and Ed Bacig, Bay West
Writer: Elizabeth Millard

Clean tech company EarthClean goes global with new contract

If all goes as planned, firefighters in Japan and South Korea will be racing to fires with innovative technology from Minnesota.
The countries have been talking about distribution arrangements with South Saint Paul-based EarthClean Corporation, developer of TetraKO, a system that transforms water into a liquid that sticks to vertical and ceiling surfaces. Once applied and exposed to heat, TetraKO converts to steam, leading to longer fire suppression and fewer incidents of rekindling.
EarthClean has garnered attention in the past year for its equity financing rounds and awards in the Cleantech Open and the Minnesota Cup competitions. Also, earlier this year, the company benefitted from being part of an international marketing project out of Stanford University.
Those opportunities have allowed the firm to move forward in its global reach, according to company founder and president Doug Ruth. Last month, the company signed a $4.3 million deal with a clean technology and industrial coatings company based in South Korea.
"Right now, it seems that international sales may be bigger for us than domestic," says Ruth. "We're in the process of negotiating with a Japanese distributor and doing testing with the Tokyo Fire Department."
Expansion globally is easier, he adds, because in some countries, government entities make decisions on fire department purchases, unlike in the U.S., where fire departments each make their own purchasing decisions.
Ruth expects to begin testing and negotiations with departments in Australia and New Zealand, as well as countries in Europe. The company has eight full-time and four part-time employees, and could do more hiring if more big deals come along. "We all feel really good about where the company is headed," says Ruth. "We're on track."
Source: Doug Ruth, EarthClean
Writer: Elizabeth Millard
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