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Bioenergy Park to be developed on former Ainsworth plant site

Mary Eaton and Robin Larson of The Idea Circle Inc., announced Tuesday they have purchased the former Ainsworth Engineered LLC site east of Bemidji to develop a Bioenergy Park.

"We closed the deal at 3:01 p.m.," Eaton said. "We've been working with the folks in Vancouver (British Columbia) for two or three months."

Vancouver-based Ainsworth Lumber Co. announced Jan. 27 it would permanently close its oriented strand board mills in Bemidji and Cook, Minn. The Bemidji mill curtailed operations in October, putting about 140 area employees out of work.

"At this time our long-term plans are still in development," said Eaton, CEO of The Idea Circle. "Our interest is in creating bioenergy and economic opportunities for this region. We see great potential to boost the timber industry and to help bring jobs to our communities."

She said they have some tenants already signed up, and they are working on pending funding, such as government loans. She added they will announce tenants at an appropriate time.

"At this point, it just feels good to savor the moment," she said.

She also declined to name how much The Idea Circle paid for the complex.

"We feel we got a fair price," she said. "We're very excited for the Bemidji area. It's a great day for Bemidji."

Eaton said there could be potential for former Ainsworth employees to hire on at the Bioenergy Park, but since the focus will be on enviro-energy, it will be a question of skill fit.

The Bioenergy Park includes approximately 400,000 square feet of existing manufacturing, warehouse, distribution facilities and office space. It is situated on 396 acres and offers direct access to U.S. Highway 2, a railroad spur and a 12.5 megawatt cogeneration facility.

Tenant relationships being explored in the Bioenergy Park include manufacturers, utility companies, higher education and research and testing services supporting renewable energy development and energy efficiency improvement technology.

"This is a venture we've been working on for quite some time," Larson said. "Our desire is to return this facility to productive use as soon as possible. We have had several groups support our efforts including government, businesses, industry specialists and education."

The Idea Circle Inc. is a workforce and organization development corporation located in Bemidji. Eaton and Larson, who have doctorates in education, have been working with businesses throughout Minnesota and North Dakota for more than 20 years.