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BELTRAMI COUNTY: Greater Bemidji eyes Mayflower Building

Greater Bemidji is looking to create a business accelerator in the Mayflower Building in Bemidji. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- Greater Bemidji has a master plan to develop Bemidji into the “go to” place for talent in the manufacturing industry. A piece of that plan was revealed at Tuesday’s Beltrami County Commissioners meeting -- the Mayflower Building.

Dave Hengel, executive director for Greater Bemidji, said the economic development organization can create 40 high-paying manufacturing jobs by fall if an accelerator building is procured for the Minnesota Innovation Institute (MI2) project.

MI2 is a group of companies and organizations, including colleges and universities, working together informally and organized through Greater Bemidji. The project focusses on employee recruitment, placement and retention. Hengel’s plan includes a training center and a research and development facility.

“The first facility that we are going to target is the Mayflower Building,” Hengel said. “It is an ideal building for this.”

The Mayflower, a Kraus-Anderson building, is located near the Mississippi River between Lake Irving and Lake Bemidji near downtown Bemidji. Hengel said the building is a flexible facility and one of the few places left with original brick made in Bemidji.

On April 15, Hengel came before the board to tell commissioners about the MI2 project, which is anticipated to bring jobs to the area. He said he would be coming back to request funding.

“I guess a couple weeks might be enough because this has happened so quickly,” Hengel said. “I am here today approaching you hoping you will consider investing in this project in a couple ways.”

Hengel asked commissioners to contribute $150,000 to be pooled with other contributions to purchase the Mayflower building. He said he has two companies committed to expanding in Bemidji that will fill the top floor of the building, but could not name them at this time. In order for the plan to be successful, the building must be at 75 percent occupation. Greater Bemidji will be moving its office to the location, as well, if the building is purchased.

Hengel reported commitments to date include $450,000 from the Neilson Foundation and $200,000 from Greater Bemidji. A $150,000 contribution from the Blandin Foundation is pending.

Hengel anticipates $100,000 from private and corporate donations. He will be approaching the city of Bemidji on May 12 for $150,000, as well.

Hengel also asked commissioners to approve a contract with Greater Bemidji for $40,000 in county consolidated funding to support a pilot partnership with MI2.

Commissioners unanimously approved Hengel’s requests during the regular board meeting Tuesday. Board chair Jim Lucachick abstained from the vote to allow himself to participate in upcoming private proposals. Lucachick expressed support for the project.

Commissioners will allocate $150,000 in county development funds to support the MI2 project with “the proper development agreement in place” and $40,000 in consolidated funds.

“We’re in, but all of those pendings need to be in before we commit those funds,” Lucachick clarified.

Commissioner Joe Vene asked if Kraus-Anderson would be willing to sell the building.

“I would hope so,” Hengel said. “We have approached Kraus-Anderson. Traditionally, I will tell you, commissioner, that Kraus-Anderson tends not to want to sell their buildings.”

Hengel cannot make an offer on the building until funding is in place, which includes the funding from the county.

Hengel reported once the accelerator building is purchased and renovated, a minimum of 45 new engineering jobs would be created. He said in healthy economies, 20 percent of employment comes from manufacturing. Bemidji’s manufacturing base is 3 percent.

Greater Bemidji has been in contact with Beltrami County Health and Human Services as the project evolves. People eligible for the Minnesota Family Investment Program, the state's welfare reform program for low-income families with children, will benefit from MI2 by receiving training in manufacturing. Hengel reported that MI2 has an 80 percent job placement rate.

A Haas Technology and Education Center (HTEC), certified and supported by Haas Automation, is also included in the MI2 plan. The training facility would be housed at Northwest Technical College and available for all students in the area, including Bemidji State University.

MI2 would not only benefit students in Bemidji colleges and high schools, but those in Blackduck, Kelliher and Red Lake, as well. Hengel said online simulator coursework and mobile equipment will allow for in the classroom learning.

“This center will be that showcase facility to juice people up to get more people in the pipeline and increase the number of talent, if you will, going into the manufacturing industry,” Hengel said.

Crystal Dey
Crystal Dey covers crime, courts, tribal relations and social issues for The Bemidji Pioneer in Bemidji, Minnesota. Originally from Minnesota’s Iron Range, Dey has worked for the Echo Press in Alexandria, Minnesota, The Forum in Fargo, North Dakota, The Tampa Tribune in Tampa, Florida, the Hartford Courant in Hartford and West Hartford News in West Hartford, Connecticut. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Crystal Dey on Twitter @Crystal_Dey.
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