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Business call

Leaders of local companies talk about looking ahead at business summit

May 27, 2011
By Deb Gau ( , Marshall Independent

MARSHALL - From local residents to area business leaders, the consensus was loud and clear. Marshall needs to grow to prosper, and other communities in Lyon County need Marshall to grow, too.

Representatives of major employers, local government and economic development all spoke out during a Lyon County business summit held Wednesday night. While speakers were supportive of the Marshall area business community, they urged teamwork to support it and develop the city.

"Hopefully, you're as excited about the future as the people who talked tonight," said Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce director Cal Brink, in closing statements to the audience.

Article Photos

Photo by Deb Gau

Cameron Macht of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development shared 2010 Lyon County census data with the audience at Wednesday’s business summit.

A wide variety of information was presented Wednesday, from overviews of area economic development projects, state census data, and overviews from several major area employers.

The driving force behind the summit, said Brink, was a business retention and expansion program in Lyon County, as well as grassroots development efforts like the My Marshall program.

The Business Retention and Expansion program visited and surveyed 87 businesses in Marshall and surrounding communities last fall, said Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig. The information collected from the surveys offered some possible areas to improve Marshall's business climate.

The majority of businesses surveyed said they were preparing for change, whether expanding or downsizing.

Of the businesses surveyed, more than 25 were planning expansions either at their current location or a new location. However, survey respondents said their businesses had difficulty recruiting employees, including employees with precision production and specialty skills, unskilled labor, and professional or management employees, Martig said.

My Marshall conducted its own surveys of local residents, Brink said. Respondents of that survey said the top things that Marshall could improve were shopping options, job opportunities, growth and welcoming new community members.

The BR&E program's first priority is to support existing local businesses, Martig said. However, development and support does include some expansion projects, especially for infrastructure and attracting workers.

City projects like development at the Marshall airport and industrial park, or completion of an amateur sports center, are steps toward economic expansion, Martig said.

"If you can't get your workers to move here, is that economic development?" Martig said.

Representatives of area businesses, including the Schwan Food Co., Ralco Nutrition, US Bank and North Star Insurance, were united in expressing support for Marshall and optimism for the future. Greg Flack, CEO of the Schwan Food Co., commended summit organizers for their efforts.

Flack said Schwan's was looking forward to new growth after a period around 2008, in which he said the company was dealing with some challenging acquisitions, and was not fully prepared to serve a changing customer base.

"Marshall is and will remain a very important part" of the Schwan Food Company, Flack said. At the same time, he said, "I consider Schwan's first and foremost a national company headquartered in Minnesota."

Jon Knochenmus, president of Ralco Nutrition, said his business is growing and expanding into new product lines.

Knochenmus said Ralco had seriously considered the possibility of moving to South Dakota, but decided against it because of close connections with the area.

As a local business, he said, Ralco has a vested interest in supporting the community.

"We have talent out here that has to be developed," Knochenmus said.

Curt Kovash, senior vice president of program management at US Bank, said the business has grown to include about 1,000 employees in the past decade.

Education and community growth are especially of interest for US Bank, Kovash said. Attractions like the amateur sports center would be a benefit for both Marshall and local businesses, he said.

"We need to find a way to continue to have people come into town," Kovash said.



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