Tru Shrimp breaks ground for training and engineering center in Balaton

Photo by Deb Gau The first shovels of dirt were taken for a shrimp production training facility at the Ralco Technology Campus in Balaton on Monday. From left to right: tru Shrimp Operations Manager Robert Gervais, ISG Principal and Managing Partner Brian Gjerde, Ralco President and tru Shrimp Board Chairman Brian Knochenmus, Ralco President Emeritus Jon Knochenmus, tru Shrimp President Michael Ziebell, Miron Construction Vice President of Food and Beverage Dan Voss, and Kasey Holm, of Heartland Mechanical, Inc.

BALATON — It was a big day for the community of Balaton. But that was just a start, speakers at a Monday afternoon groundbreaking ceremony said.

“Today is a landmark day for the tru Shrimp Company on so many levels,” said Ralco President and tru Shrimp board chairman Brian Knochenmus. Construction of a new training facility at the Ralco Technology Campus was a key development in plans to establish an inland shrimp production industry in the Midwest.

Representatives of Ralco and tru Shrimp, along with project engineers and builders, area officials and legislators, celebrated the start of construction for the new Balaton Bay Reef Training and Engineering Center.

tru Shrimp hopes to have the 12,000 square-foot facility open by next summer said tru Shrimp President Michael Ziebell. At Monday’s ceremony, pink stakes in the ground outlined the dimensions of the training center, which Ziebell said will adjoin the current Ralco Technology Campus buildings. A large American flag hung from the ladder of a fire truck served as a height marker.

“To give you a reference of how tall the building is, it’s to the top of the flag,” or 40 feet, Ziebell told the audience.

The facility will hold a “reef,” a stack of the tanks tru Shrimp will use to raise marine shrimp inland. The Balaton Bay Reef will be capable of producing 65,000 pounds of shrimp a year, but productions wont’ be the facility’s main focus.

The facility will serve as “our final engineering check” to test tru Shrimp’s production technology, and as an area where tru Shrimp employees can be trained in, Ziebell said. A full-sized shrimp production facility would have a staff of about 70 people, he said.

“The vast majority will need to come through here,” for training, he said.

The training facility will be just one part of tru Shrimp’s plans to establish a shrimp production industry in the Midwest. Other planned facilities include a full-size production facility in Luverne, and a shrimp hatchery and processing facilities in Marshall.

One of the exciting things about tru Shrimp’s first steps toward commercial shrimp production is that it will have an impact on a national, and even a global scale, speakers at the groundbreaking said.

The opportunity to help a new form of agriculture thrive was one reason Rep. Chris Swedzinski, R-Ghent, authored a bill in the Minnesota House of Representatives to provide incentives to entrepreneurs who want to get into shrimp farming. Swedzinski said Monday that staying competitive, and offering incentives for agriculture and business to stay in Minnesota, are key challenges for the state. Minnesota needs to have a “light at the end of the tunnel” for entrepreneurs, he said.

At the groundbreaking ceremony, Ziebell, Brian Knochenmus and Ralco President Emeritus Jon Knochenmus thanked area residents and the many people who supported tru Shrimp.

“We want to make you proud of us,” Ziebell said. With the new training facility, he said, tru Shrimp will do everything it can to make that happen.


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