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Lt. Gov. Smith visits Worthington

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, joined with commissioners from multiple state agencies, visited Worthington Wednesday, leading a morning panel discussion with local business leaders.

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Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith (from left), along with Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle and Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development Shawntera Hardy, listen during Wednesday's roundtable discussion at Prairie Holdings Group. (Ryan McGaughey/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, joined with commissioners from multiple state agencies, visited Worthington Wednesday, leading a morning panel discussion with local business leaders.

The visit was part of the fourth annual Commissioners on Wheels tour, which is focused on issues and investments related to water, energy and agriculture in Greater Minnesota. The discussion took place inside the new Prairie Holdings Group facility.

“I’m just eager to hear how things are going,” Smith said after introductory remarks from Randy Simonson, president of Newport Laboratories and member of the Prairie Holdings Group Board of Directors. “I’m especially interested in understanding what you see as your biggest opportunities.

“Minnesota is very exceptional because we have been the home of so much invention, so much innovation,” she continued. “What is it about Minnesota that makes it that kind of a place, and what do we do need to do to keep it going?”

Among the business leaders to speak during the discussion was Glenn Thuringer, president and CEO of Bioverse. Thuringer explained that Bioverse is a 20-year-old company that has “a neat economic development story,” and that it now has a line of about 75 products and 210 labels.

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“What made it possible to keep the business in Minnesota is (the city) had just spent a lot of time building the BAC (Biotechnology Advancement Center) and we were able to offer some very favorable terms,” said Thuringer, adding that the role of Worthington’s Connie Schmidt in the company was another integral factor.

Bioverse settled earlier this year into its new facility on Research Lane -- in the midst of Worthington’s Bioscience Park -- and is continuing to build an international presence. Regulations, though, can be complicated and burdensome, Thuringer said, and any state assistance in that arena would be appreciated.

“We have been working with Mexico coming on two years,” Thuringer said Wednesday. “About two months ago, we sent our first shipment … but it has gotten hung up in (Mexican) customs.

“We’re also looking for opportunities to service bigger bodies of water,” Thuringer added. “The technology is right in front of us, and we’re probably looking for a little more incentive to pursue that.”

Thuringer said Worthington is ripe for growth with what’s already in place within the Bioscience Park, and also credited Minnesota West Community and Technical College’s Worthington campus as an important asset to the city economically. However, he pointed out,  housing needs are a critical issue.

“We can do economic development with education as the foundation … but we have too many kids that fall out because we don’t have dorm living,” he said.

Added Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Abraham Algadi, “We need to attract the right talent by providing the right infrastructure to support it.”

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Len Bakken, director of human resources at Worthington’s JBS plant, also spoke about community assets and needs. He noted that JBS employees are often attracted to the city through Worthington’s low crime rate and its cultural diversity. One challenge he acknowledged is a lack of available water.

“We would like to build a distribution center (on our property) … and we’ve got a lot of room to grow,” said Bakken, noting such work can’t be done without advancing the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System into Worthington.

Housing, Bakken agreed, also needs to be addressed. In the meantime, Bakken said JBS focuses heavily on retention and recruitment of its employees, explaining that considerable effort is made to accommodate the 56 languages and dialects spoken at the facility.

“We talk about, ‘how do we become more inclusive to our employees and make them welcome in the community and at work … and how to get their voice heard more in the community,” Bakken said.

Worthington Public Utilities General Manager Scott Hain also brought up Lewis & Clark, which Smith said was important.

“Getting this project completed is such a priority of the governor’s,” she said. “Sometimes things don’t go as well as they should, and that’s kind of the case with this bonding bill.”

Smith also stated she’d visited Worthington’s JBS plant in 2014 and was impressed with several facets of the facility. Algadi added that companies such as JBS are working with the WREDC to help address the city’s housing needs.

“With our Worthington Housing Challenge Fund … believe it or not, there’s interest in the private sector to partner with us,” Algadi said. Department of Employment and Economic Development Commissioner Shawntera Hardy subsequently told Algadi to not “give up on state government” and to offer feedback that would help create effectiveness in maximizing opportunities in the housing sector.

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“It’s really about the partnerships,” Worthington Mayor Mike Kuhle added, describing a new effort that would bring 120 beds to Minnesota West.

Smith inquired about available transportation within Worthington, and Kuhle responded by informing her of the local taxi service operated by a joint powers group.

“Anything that can be helped with on that … would help economic development and make it a better place for our workers than Sioux City or Sioux Falls,” Kuhle said.

Related Topics: TINA SMITH
Ryan McGaughey arrived in Worthington in April 2001 as sports editor of The Daily Globe, and first joined Forum Communications Co. upon his hiring as a sports reporter at The Dickinson (North Dakota) Press in November 1998. McGaughey became news editor in Worthington in November 2002 and editor in August 2006.
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