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Nolan challenger Mills visits Bemidji: Tours LaValley Industries, new Lueken’s hydroponic greenhouse

U.S. Congressional candidate Stewart Mills (center) examines the aquaponics facility in development at Lueken’s Village Foods South on Thursday. Mills toured several Bemidji businesses while he campaigns for the Eighth Congressional District seat. At right is Minnesota House of Representatives candidate Dave Hancock. Aquaponic growers Dylan Sievers (far left) and Josh Burnham (far right) helped conduct the tour of the new facility. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- Business executive and GOP candidate for U.S. Congress Stewart Mills' campaign trail took him through Bemidji on Thursday.

Mills is challenging Rep. Rick Nolan, a Democrat, for control of the Eighth Congressional district. He is also a vice president at Mills Fleet Farm.

Along with candidate for Minnesota House Dave Hancock, Mills visited several local businesses, including pipeline construction equipment maker LaValley Industries.

Mills said the federal government had turned the Department of Energy into a "venture capital firm" through wasteful subsidies, which "certainly isn't workable" in his view. Allowing construction of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline from Canada would be a viable way of aiding the energy industry, he said.

"We need to build a Keystone Pipeline, and we need to depend on current technologies that actually work," he said.

The Environmental Protection Agency should not be eliminated, he said, "but we need to make sure that we're not engaging in redundant review and internal oversight process." He added some regulatory duties should be carried out by states and local watershed associations rather than the EPA.

Mills and Hancock also visited the new aquaponics greenhouse attached to Lueken's Village Foods South, which workers there described as the first of its kind in Minnesota. The new facility is designed to be an environmentally sustainable way for Lueken's to grow its own produce and flowers without having to ship them in from warmer climates during the winter. The waste byproducts of tilapia fish kept in large opaque tanks are used to provide nutrients to the plants, which also benefit from computerized light and temperature controls. Once fully operational, the greenhouse will use friendly bacteria and ultraviolet light to help make sure the plants are kept free of harmful pathogens.

Mills actually did his own research related to aquaponics while in college, he said.

When Mills met with Lueken's CEO Brent Sicard, Sicard said the recent state minimum wage increase could negatively impact the business. Mills later referenced this in comments on proposals to raise the federal minimum wage to $10.10 an hour, noting that overall the increase could cause business cutbacks, including cut hours and job losses.

"However, if you raise the minimum wage in actuality -- not artificially -- through a growing economy, then everybody benefits. Like John F. Kennedy said, 'A rising tide floats all boats'".

Since Mills Fleet Farm does not pay its employees at minimum wage level, the Minnesota Legislature's' decision to raise the state minimum wage to $9.50 an hour does not affect the company, Mills said.

"Our company doesn't pay anybody the minimum wage, so we're not affected by that," he said. "However, talking to people here today, certainly there are businesses that are very much affected by it."

The best way to increase wages is through economic growth, he said.

"Nobody's talking about minimum wage in North Dakota," Mills said. "That's not even an issue there, because they actually have a growing economy."

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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