New York Times Recognizes St. Cloud Region's Economic Vitality

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By Eduardo Porter


Lessons From Rust-Belt Cities That Kept Their Sheen

May 1, 2018

St. Cloud, Minn., might look at first blush like one of America’s all-too-familiar ailing industrial cities, struggling to hang on to jobs as its companies skip town.

Electrolux’s planned closing of its chest-freezer plant next year to consolidate its operations in South Carolina was the latest blow, costing some 900 jobs. As Tama Theis, local Republican state legislator, told The Saint Cloud Times, “Gosh dang it, that’s a hard one.”

And yet despite the loss of its fifth-largest employer, the sleepy city straddling the Mississippi 65 miles northwest of Minneapolis doesn’t at all fit the tale of woe that spread across the Midwest over the last 50 years.

If anything, St. Cloud and nearby communities in Stearns County provide the setting for a counternarrative to the story of industrial America’s protracted decline. Walloped by the forces that hit every old manufacturing enclave — from globalization and automation to a rising demand for skills — the area sustained its prosperity through a mix of the right investments, favorable geography and sheer serendipity.

Since 1970, manufacturers in the county have added 5,000 jobs, for a total of 11,600. Total employment has tripled, to 90,000. The population has grown by more than half. And the median income of the county’s households rose 20 percent from 1980 to 2016, after inflation, to $57,728 — a smidgen above the national median.

“When Electrolux announced it was leaving, other employers were saying, ‘When can we get at that labor?’” said King Banaian, dean of the School of Public Affairs at St. Cloud State University. “There’s a tug of war going on, and workers are getting higher wages and performance incentives and bonuses and so on.”

The problem is that there are too few places like St. Cloud: Grand Rapids in Michigan’s Kent County, where employment more than doubled since 1970; Green Bay in Brown County, Wis., where it almost tripled.

Formerly vibrant industrial cities across the Midwest and Northeast today present a landscape of high unemployment and opioid addiction — stagnant communities of old-timers in the shadow of rusting industrial hulks, angry at a political system that has ignored them and at an economy that has left them behind.

Can they learn anything from places like Stearns County? Its experience may offer some tips for its struggling peers: Smart industrial zoning can give an edge to local companies; higher-education institutions can serve as anchors for economic development. But its most salient advantages come from its location and industrial mix, more to do with serendipity than policy. A lot of it, Mr. Banaian told me, may have been “plain darn good luck.”

n a recent report, Alan Berube and Cecile Murray of the Brookings Institution counted the cases of success and failure: In 1970, there were 185 urban industrial counties with a city of at least 50,000 people where manufacturing made up at least a fifth of all jobs.

Using the mix of industries in each county, they projected how many jobs it would have today if employment in each industry had grown at the same pace as in the nation as a whole. Seventy of the original 185 had significantly fewer jobs in 2016 than they would have had if they had followed the national trend. The other 115 almost matched or outpaced the national trend.

This is an imperfect measure of success. In many successful counties that experienced employment growth, workers nonetheless suffered lower wages and declining living standards. Still, on the whole these places did much better in terms of productivity and household income growth, too.

Unfortunately for the laggards, their edge may be difficult to replicate.

The picture in the South and the West is brighter. Fifty-five of the 63 urban industrial counties that Mr. Berube and Ms. Murray counted in the South in 1970, as well as all 24 of those in the West, saw jobs growth that was at least about on par with the national trend over the next 46 years. But their experience is of limited use to the North and the East. In 1970, these counties were smaller and younger. They were building an industrial base as the nation’s economic footprint was shifting from manufacturing to service, embracing technology and globalization.

Desegregation in the South and immigration in the West added a pool of productive workers, while investment flowed in to take advantage of their cheaper labor force and the virtual absence of unions. “Jobs were leaving Michigan, Indiana and Ohio and going to Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee,” Mr. Berube observed. In the more successful industrial counties, construction employment doubled, on average, from 1970 to 2016, as they absorbed new populations.

The old industrial cities that developed around the Great Lakes in the first half of the 20th century have a different story. Population shrank on average. Construction employment did not grow. Only six of the 35 urban industrial counties scattered across the Northeast in 1970 held their own or gained employment compared with the national trend over the next 46 years. Of 63 urban industrial cities in the Midwest in 1970, only 30 managed the feat.

Macon County, Ill. — home of Decatur, “the pride of the prairie”— was an agribusiness hub and steel town that also housed mammoth production facilities for the likes of Caterpillar and Firestone Tire and Rubber. But it lost 40 percent of its manufacturing jobs from 1970 to 2016. Total jobs grew by less than half a percent over 46 years.

Employment in Racine, Wis., increased by 40 percent in that period. But had job growth followed national patterns it would have grown at twice that pace. Median household incomes fell a whopping 14 percent.

These older industrial cities that had helped build the American middle class were by 1970 riven by conflicts between management and labor, between cities and suburbs, and between blacks and whites. “The tension from segregation in the Midwest and North was a bigger deal,” Mr. Berube told me.


On top of all that, their old, heavy industries were particularly vulnerable. For instance, 17 of the 22 counties in the Northeast and Midwest where steel accounted for a disproportionate share of jobs in 1970 stumbled on their way to the present.

Can Decatur or Racine learn from Green Bay, Grand Rapids or St. Cloud? Perhaps the best example to follow would be to invest in education. Places with better-educated workers were generally the ones that managed the economic transformation of the last 50 years more successfully. In 1980, 18.5 percent of adults over 25 in these counties had at least a bachelor’s degree, compared with only 15.1 percent in the counties that stumbled. For Midwestern states like Illinois, Wisconsin and Missouri, which are starving many of their public universities of funds, the takeaway would be: Stop.

Mr. Berube and Ms. Murray’s analysis, like other research before it, also suggests that policies that reduce racial or economic segregation might add to economic growth. Smart industrial development policies can help, too.

Mr. Banaian noted how St. Cloud was smart to develop industrial parks along the transportation arteries connecting it to the rest of the country. Raw money may help, too. Electrolux is decamping to South Carolina from St. Cloud thanks, in part, to a tax incentive worth $73 million over 32 years, according to a state estimate cited by the company. Research by Enrico Moretti of the University of California, Berkeley, and Michael Greenstone of the University of Chicago suggests that for all policymakers’ gripes about government subsidies to corporate investment, they can yield a high return to the local economy.

In the end, a lot comes down to luck. St. Cloud isn’t just on the Mississippi. It is on Interstate 94, U.S. 10 and the BNSF Railway — putting it within reach of many markets. What’s more, it produces things like trailers, buses and snowmobile engines, which for some reason are not China’s or Mexico’s forte. Its service industries — a growing part of its economic base — thrive off the underserved rural towns in the western half of the state. Its medical center alone employs 10,000 people.

If the successful industrial counties of the Midwest have a lesson for their less successful peers, it must be that they can’t stop evolving. “It is hard for communities to become something else,” Mr. Berube said. That is precisely what declining industrial cities are being repeatedly called to do. And there is nothing to say that communities that successfully transformed themselves over the past 50 years will succeed again.

Right now, St. Cloud’s main problem may be a labor shortage. But already Mr. Banaian is worried about the internet. St. Cloud has a large retail and hospitality industry. People in the western part of the state will come into town to shop and eat and perhaps stay for the weekend. The internet, however, is putting many retailers out of business. “That part is going away,” Mr. Banaian said.

 Correction: April 30, 2018

An earlier version of this column misstated the value of a tax incentive that attracted Electrolux to South Carolina. According to a state estimate cited by the company, it is worth $73 million over 32 years; it is not worth $250 million.


Posted on May 8, 2018 .

The St. Cloud Regional Airport Air Transport Optimization Planning Study Update

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In 2017, the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation (GSDC) was instrumental in helping attain $250,000 from the Minnesota Legislature, appropriated through the MnDOT Aviation Fund, to complete a strategic planning study for the St. Cloud Regional Airport (STC). The goal of the comprehensive and broad-based study is to optimize the growth and development of the Airport and increase its economic impact on the region, which at last review was approximately $22 million according to a 2011 study.

In the fall of 2017, the GSDC launched a national RFP process to find the best experts to conduct the study, which is a public-private collaboration, including the City of St. Cloud and the Counties of Benton, Sherburne, and Stearns, with guidance and assistance provided by the Minnesota Department of Transportation Aeronautics (MnDOT) and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (MnDEED). The stated goal of the study according to the RFP is: “to determine how best to move the region forward in maximizing return on investment by growing the utilization, impact, and stewardship of the St. Cloud Regional Airport with the completion of a comprehensive, market-based study and strategic plan.”

In December 2017, after a competitive process, the GSCD and our partners chose Steven Baldwin Associates, LLC (SBA) as the consulting firm to undertake the requested tasks of the study. SBA is a nationally recognized aviation management consulting firm, headquartered in New York, which specializes in the management, organizational, and governmental review of airports, with expertise in strategic planning and economic development. SBA’s winning proposal included gathering a diverse team of experts to assist with the various planning study tasks, including: Mead & Hunt, Inc.; Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting; the St. Cloud State University, School of Public Affairs; the University of Minnesota Extension; and Public Solutions, Inc. 

The study runs from January – August 2018, and has several complex components including:

·         Forming a regional advisory committee of public/private stakeholders which meets monthly to help assess and define the work tasks and goals of the project;

·         Gathering, collecting, and analyzing inventories of historical, economic, and airport-related data and information, including conducting stakeholder interviews;

·         Conducting a benchmarking study with airports comparable to STC and an organizational assessment of the STC Airport’s operations, policies, and structure;

·         Conducting an analysis of Air Service Development (ASD) activities, including defining the STC regional service area, updating the STC passenger demand analysis, and researching ASD opportunities and constraints;

·         Conducting an analysis of STC facility and land use opportunities and constraints;

·         Conducting an economic impact study;

·         Conducting a parking policy and operations study;

·         Reviewing opportunities and constraints for innovations and technology enhancements; and

·         Conducting a review of governance model options for the Airport’s ownership and operation, among other tasks.

Study activities are scheduled to conclude in August with a final report of results and recommendations to be delivered to stakeholders and the Minnesota Legislature in September 2018.

Activities to Date

In addition to the tasks requested in the RFP, the consultants also proposed forming an advisory committee, known as the Regional Airport Study Advisory Committee (RASAC), composed of 15 regional business leaders and public entity stakeholders (including economic development and local/regional governmental officials). The RASAC meets each month to provide insight, feedback, and assessment on study tasks, results, and goals.

·         In January, at the initial RASAC meeting, the consultants introduced the project team, reviewed the duties and responsibilities of committee members, and reviewed the proposed scope of tasks for the project.

·         In February, the RASAC identified important tasks and activities that could supplement, compliment, or update the work tasks in the scope as well as prioritized topics and tasks. The committee also received a presentation from Mead & Hunt regarding the criteria, parameters, and purpose of the benchmarking study and reviewed possible candidate airports to include in the study.

·         In March, RASAC members received an overview from the St. Cloud State University and University of Minnesota researchers on the economic impact study and the parking policy and operations study; the committee offered suggestions on the geographic region surveyed and study content.

·         In April, RASAC members received a summary overview from Mead & Hunt of the results of the benchmarking study which surveyed a wide variety of operational, financial, and policy data of six airports similar to STC in operations or aspirational to STC in operations and enplanements.  

·         In May, RASAC members will receive a presentation from Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting regarding Air Service Development (ASD) activities, including defining the STC regional service area; updating the STC passenger demand analysis; and researching and analyzing ASD opportunities & constraints.

·         In June, RASAC members will receive a presentation by Steven Baldwin Associates on the airport’s facility & land use opportunities and constraints.

·         In July, RASAC members will receive a presentation by Steven Baldwin Associates on opportunities and constraints of the use of technology and other innovations at the airport.

·         In August, RASAC members will receive a presentation by Steven Baldwin Associates on governance model options for airports in general and options for STC specifically.

All tasks for the study are currently in process and in various stages of completion, with major components such as the benchmarking study and the Air Service Development analysis having been completed already.

We would like to thank our dedicated RASAC members for their participation and feedback, which has proven useful and valuable.

We look forward to continuing to work with all involved to a successful conclusion to this important project, which has already resulted in important and beneficial data which will help team members to craft recommendations moving forward.

Overall, with the completion of the study and the involvement of a large, diverse group of private-public stakeholders and advisers, we hope to raise general community awareness that the STC Airport—whether one individually uses it or not—plays a very important role in our community and the economic development of our region. From corporate jets to general aviation users to our commercial service via Allegiant to two leisure destinations (Mesa/Phoenix, AZ and Punta Gorda/Ft. Myers, FL), all this activity enhances the appeal of our region to businesses, leisure travelers, and community members throughout an 11-county region. In fact, nearly 75% of the airport’s economic impact is through indirect means—through attendance at events, and the use of area hotels, restaurants, rental cars, and shuttles, as well as the jobs that provide those services. Even community members who don’t directly use the services of the STC Airport, still benefit from the activities the Airport supports. This is an important message and one that the study, once concluded, will help us disseminate.

Posted on May 1, 2018 .

Park Industries & New Flyer Receive Workforce Grants

By Larry Hosch,

We are excited to see 2 local manufacturers receive workforce development grants from the MN Job Skills Partnership (MJSP). Under the MJSP program, businesses and local education institutions work together to meet the businesses training needs and secure MJSP funding.

Park Industries, St. Cloud State University and SCTCC: Received $350,000 to add 60 additional employees over the next three years. Park Industries will partner with St. Cloud State University and St. Cloud Technical and Community College to deliver customized training for all current and new employees. The customized training will allow the company to keep pace with its business expansion and maintain its lead as North America’s largest manufacturer of stone working equipment.

New Flyer and St. Cloud State University: Received 350,000 to focus on customized training on improving processes, procedures, communications and skills.  All 1,388 employees – 347 of them new – will receive training in Basic Principles of Business Operations; Introduction to Hoshin Kanri (a lean manufacturing approach); Hoshin Kanri Time Management Level 1; and General Electrical Safety. Select employees will receive additional training in High-Voltage Safety and Hoshin Kanri. 

If your business or you know of a business that might benefit from the MJSP program or other training incentives such as the Job Training Incentive Program please contact Gail Cruikshank, Talent Director or Larry Hosch, Business Development Director.

Posted on May 1, 2018 .

Hosch to Meet International Investors at Select USA 2018

GSDC Business Development Director Larry Hosch will be participating in the 2018 SelectUSA Investment Summit in Washington D.C. in June. The SelectUSA Summit plays host to over 1,000 international investors who are seeking to establish or expand their businesses in the United States.

With the closure of Electrolux in Q4 2019, GSDC is working with our local partners and businesses to identify job opportunities that will support the growth and expansion of our current businesses.  At the same time with 860 affected Electrolux employees GSDC is looking at what opportunities might exist with matching up businesses that are looking to expand in the area as an opportunity to grow our economy and to keep our skilled workers in the Greater St. Cloud area.  The SelectUSA Summit offers an opportunity to select and identify investors through a matchmaking process that will complement our region, employers, and workers.

Contact Larry Hosch ( for information.

Posted on May 1, 2018 .

2 Saps Looking For Drips

By Patti Gartland, GSDC President

April in Minnesota used to be my least favorite month. It’s that awkward time of the year when winter is behind us (usually) and we’re anxious for our summer season fun to begin. Outdoor conditions are typically wet and dreary.  But, that all changed for my husband and me about 8 years ago when we were introduced to a new hobby: maple syruping! Instead, we now await April in great anticipation. Will this year yield a record-breaking harvest? Or, perhaps it will be a heart-breaking low harvest (like 2018 has turned out to be).

Our ‘sugar bush’ is located in Cass County on 33 acres near Boy Lake. It’s a quick 20 minute drive from our family cabin. Our first season entailed 17 taps that we borrowed from the friends who introduced us to the art of syruping. Our harvest has grown to 60 taps that are scattered over an approximate 10 acre section of the site. The scope of a harvest is heavily dependent on weather. Optimal conditions are above freezing and sunny during the day with nighttime temperatures dropping below freezing.

The sap collected from the trees is converted to sweet syrup (aka liquid gold) through a simple but time intensive evaporation process. We cook it over a wood-fired cooker built (and routinely modified for efficiency improvements) by my husband. A rule of thumb is 40 gallons of sap to make 1 gallon of syrup, but the ratio with our harvests ranges between 25 and 38 gallons of sap to produce 1 gallon of syrup. Our boil rate is generally 5 to 6 gallons per hour. That translates to a 50-gallon boil resulting in approximately 1.5 gallons of syrup, consuming a 10-hour day, not including the finishing boil, filtering and bottling processes. 

Syruping requires a good amount of physical work. The sap drips into 3.5 gallon sacs hung from the tap on each tree. The sacs are emptied into 5 gallon buckets and transported (by foot, sled, or utility trailer – depending on the snow conditions we’re working in) back to the evaporator. Over the course of an hour, about 5 gallons of sap is slowly trickled into the evaporator pan. Deadfall from the property is our fuel source which means lots of wood cutting and splitting. Keeping a strong, rolling boil in the evaporator pan requires careful fire tending.

But, we’ve also found our syruping harvest to be quite the social attraction. More often than not, we’re joined by family and friends who find the entire process quite intriguing. There’s typically plenty of camping style food and beverage, refreshing walks through the woods collecting sap, sampling the ‘near syrup’ towards the end of the day, and retreating back to the cabin for some cozy time in the cabin or around the campfire. And our guest helpers always relish the rewards of heading home with a supply of “2 Saps Maple Syrup.”   

If you’ve never been introduced to the process of harvesting maple sap and converting it into the delightful sweetness of maple syrup, I highly encourage it!  While this year’s harvest is coming to an end, consider attending next year’s annual Maple Syrup Festival hosted by Saint John’s Abbey and Saint John’s University at the Abbey Arboretum in February/March/April (Find details at Saint John’s Maple Syrup).

For me, this quote by John Burroughs conveys the spirit of the season:

“A sap-run is the sweet goodbye of winter.  It is the fruit of the equal marriage of sun and frost.” (Signs & Season, 1886)

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Posted on May 1, 2018 .

Exclusive GSDC Investor Event

Professionals in Transition

As much as our region is experiencing exceptional growth unfortunately we have also witnessed some consolidations, business sector changes and simply downsizing.

The people impacted by these changes have established families and careers here.  They have the desire to remain in our region.  We WANT them to stay in our growing region.

To this point, GSDC has created a model that has worked exceptionally well in connecting these talented employees with employers seeking their skill set.  To date GSDC has hosted two events for Pilgrim’s (formerly GNP) and two events for Capital One.  These events are an exclusive opportunity for GSDC Investors to meet and network with these individuals in hopes to secure a potential new career opportunity or obtain some helpful connections in their search for new employment.

GSDC is very proud to coordinate these opportunities and will continue to do so as we are asked to help secure this top talent within our region.

For more information about these networking events please contact Gail Cruikshank.

Posted on May 1, 2018 .

Free webinar / Your #1 customer: job applicants

Through GSDC efforts to create and offer educational opportunities to our employers in the areas of recruitment and retention, we have created an employer webinar series, an employer Talent Summit along with a variety of resources.

Our webinars are hosted from 12-1 p.m. and are free to attend. Registration is required.

Our first webinar was held on February 20th whereas Luke Riordan, Founder and CEO - Dayta Marketing, provided a tutorial of our new community portal. To view this webinar, click HERE for information regarding the balance of the webinar series.

Lastly, we have compiled a variety of recruitment and retention resources for your use as you wish.  You can find these helpful resources at our employer resources page.

Choose from Diversity Resources, Hiring Veterans, Connecting with your College partners, Employer Resources Partners and more.

All of these resources and more are available for your use at any time by visiting our community portal at

Posted on May 1, 2018 .

Grant helps dislocated workers

Career Solutions, a partner in the St. Cloud Workforce Center and a key partner with GSDC in our focus on Workforce Development is working hard to create programs to assist in the training and development of the workforce to meet our employer needs in the community.

Please help us congratulate Career Solutions as the recipient of their first Pathways for Prosperity Grant in our region!

Career Solutions Receives Grant from Department of Employment and Economic Development for $250,000

~Workers with employment barriers receive training for in-demand careers~

ST. CLOUD, MN April 24, 2018

Career Solutions, a partner of the Minnesota WorkForce Center- St. Cloud is pleased to announce it has received a $250,000  Minnesota Pathways to Prosperity Competitive Grant from the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). 

Pathways to Prosperity Competitive Grants fund programs and services designed to provide workforce development and training opportunities to adults in Minnesota experiencing barriers to employment. These programs help job seekers develop increased career awareness, participate in education training and skills-training programs, and connect to employment in high growth, high demand industries with long-term opportunities.

"The Pathways to Prosperity initiative plays an essential role in the training of our state's workforce, and in reducing economic disparities in our communities," said Governor Mark Dayton.

"Pathways to Prosperity is the state’s marquee workforce development solution to reducing disparities in our state," said DEED Commissioner Shawntera Hardy. "Each program pairs education, training and resources for wrap around services to assist Minnesotans in finding and keeping jobs that pay family-sustaining wages while ensuring that businesses have the talent that is needed to compete."

Career Solutions along with Adult Basic Education, St. Cloud Technical & Community College (SCTCC),  employers, and community-based partners in the Central Minnesota Planning Region 3 anticipate serving 24 individuals with this Career Pathways Manufacturing project.  The targeted population for this project includes:  individuals of color, low-income, homeless, lacking a diploma, individuals with a criminal background and those with limited English language skills. 

Career Solutions will provide a variety of services to individuals in central Minnesota including:

  • Career exploration guidance
  • Job readiness training, including helping job seekers acquire the “soft skills” that are critical for workplace success such as teamwork, leadership, communication and conflict resolution.
  • Literacy training leading to a diploma
  • Industry-specific certifications to include: Manufacturing Certificate, Production Technologies Certificate and/or a credential in Automation, Machining, Welding or further career with a Diploma in Manufacturing. 
  • Work-based training opportunities

Among the services Career Solutions will offer employers are:

  • Serving as a point of contact for manufacturing employers in the area for recruiting and training opportunities
  • Customized recruiting and screening
  • Employee retention assistance and improving the supply of qualified job candidates

Career Solutions Executive Director Tammy Biery stated, “We are grateful for the opportunity to work collaboratively with both Adult Basic Education and SCTCC to positively impact the current workforce need for skilled workers. We are eager to assist job seekers in our community gain new skills, leading to stronger employment opportunities in a high growth industry, working for our local manufacturing employers.”

About Career Solutions:

The Local Workforce Development Board, along with the Joint Powers Board, is responsible for the policy guidance and oversight of all job training and job placement activities in Stearns and Benton Counties.  Since its beginning in 1988 as Stearns-Benton Employment & Training Council (SBETC), Career Solutions has provided quality employment and training services to youth and adults and is dedicated to increasing the economic vitality of the Central Minnesota Area.  Career Solutions provides assistance in building a skilled workforce – workers who can do the jobs of today and learn the jobs of tomorrow. For more information, visit 

Posted on May 1, 2018 .