He tries to swing the big deals, while appreciating the smaller things.
First off, could you tell us a little bit about yourself? Your family, education, background/previous stops, career, etc.?
I was born and raised in Crookston. Over the years I’ve been fortunate to travel most of the world over, but never have found a place better to live and breathe than right here in C-town! I’m a product of Crookston’s educational system, both at Central High and UMC. It was in college that I met Tami, my darling wife of nearly 35 years. We are blessed with two sons and five grandchildren.
I’m a tree hugger! No, I’m not an environmentalist, but instead I enjoy bow hunting deer every fall. After studying business management, I was hired at Phoenix Industries and remained there for over fifteen years serving in roles such as Production/Operations Manager and Chief Executive Officer. I was so fortunate to have a tremendous mentoring group surround me that included among others: Dick Widseth, Lee Wall, Dave Bang, Don Sargeant, Ralph and Dick Taylor, Larry Altringer, Kelly Englestad, Allen Dragseth, and Ralph Pester. These guys not only taught me to be fair and honest in business but also trained me to be community minded and gave me real clear understanding of how creating good jobs will drive a town’s growth. Each one of these men gave a ton to the betterment of Crookston, and expected the same out of me. I was recruited to LM Windpower, where I served as President/CEO bringing over from Europe the sales, service and manufacturing operations of large wind turbine blades. This resulted in the construction of big production facilities and the creation of hundreds of new jobs to the region. I gained a whole new perspective of international business and understanding of how external economic activity and basic sector employment impacts a community. When Mr. Altringer, who was serving on the Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority Board of Commissioners reached out asking if I would consider the position of Executive Director, I truly was humbled, but also thought I could be a contributor to the future and ongoing success of Crookston.That was in 2011, and I have been honored and privileged to serve in this capacity with fantastic staff and strong Board leadership ever since.
I was talking with a community leader recently about a topic that had something to do with economic development in Crookston, and when you’re name came up, the person said “Craig’s a real wheeler-dealer.” The tone suggested the reference was a compliment. How do you react to someone saying that about you?
Indeed, negotiating is a skill set acquired over many years in business. My dad instilled this attribute in me at an early age. Buying and selling is a very natural process and bartering the value of goods and services is as old as mankind itself. I believe in making a profit - capitalism has made this country great, let’s not apologize for it. Making money and creating value is not wrong, it’s right. Being the proper steward of that money is what’s really important, and where a lot of people go amuck. Enlist creativity and recognize there are many various angles and methods that can be employed while negotiating, but always know your customer very well, they are paying the bills. In government work most of the time “the customer is the taxpayer”. Understand that customers must be respected, treated well, and that includes fairness, openness, and honesty.
From the point that you are initially contacted about a potential economic development or business deal and/or development in Crookston to the talk actually resulting in a done deal, how many out of 100 initial talks come to fruition?
4 or 5. That’s right, it’s a pretty small number. What makes the headlines as an actual deal is very small in comparison to the breadth of activity going on day to day. Ideas are manifold, risk is often underestimated, and financing is usually the back breaker. Of course, truth be told, I learn so much from those other 95, and I am thankful to be able to meet so many terrific people along the journey!
On the heels of the previous question, how many potential deals are you juggling and/or researching and/or doing due diligence on at any given time?
That number is a moving target with a lot of factors to consider such as the overall economic conditions, the cost of money, the ever changing marketplace and yes, tax policy and law to name a few. The answer to your question is always at least a dozen, and oftentimes twice that many.
Crookston’s child care shortage: Let’s fast forward 18 months. Do you think we’ll have a child care center open and operating one mile east of town? Somewhere else in town? Or will we still be working on opening a center somewhere?
The subject of childcare is so important. It’s just like housing. We need it, and without it we simply cannot grow this community as we would like to. Those two items along with proper alignment of education and training make up the three legs to our workforce development stool. The lack of childcare is actually determining the size of families today. A couple today making a choice not to have children due to a lack of adequate childcare should alarm us all. The issue impacts the future of our town, our schools, our churches, and our businesses. The childcare question is complex so I won’t venture into all of the details here, but simply say “yes”.
We need to continue assisting our home daycare providers to be successful. Additionally, we need another childcare center option. Having enough kids to fill a new center is probably easier than the difficult issue of adequately staffing the center. If we do not open a center one mile east of town, we will likely have turned down the least expensive option for our taxpayers.
My role is to simply educate the CHEDA Board and the City Council on those numbers and facts. If they choose to not take the least cost option, my job is to accept that, support that, and move on to another solution.
Doing nothing will not solve the problem. Continuing to talk about it will not solve the problem. It will require an investment. There are a lot of smart people working on this, and offering up opportunities and ideas. I appreciate everybody’s contributions, we will get there! There is too much at stake not to.
I know if I ask you if the Epitome Energy deal is an “if” or “when” proposition, you will say it’s an “if” because there are investors and partners to find and other hurdles to clear. But I’ve had a couple pretty important people in Crookston tell me they don’t know if the soybean crush and biodiesel facility will ever become a reality in Crookston. Can you characterize the prospects, in your mind, for this actually happening?
Crookston is so incredibly fortunate to be named as the future home of Epitome Energy. What this will do for our local economy and for our regional producers cannot be overstated. I’m an optimist. So when you ask me if this will actually become reality I instinctively say “absolutely”! The CHEDA Board and City Council last February gave me unanimous support and clear directive to “do whatever it takes to get this done”.
Rest assured there are problems and details with every deal, just as there are always naysayers to new ideas and potential changes. With Epitome Energy we need to look at the fundamentals. The completed feasibility study is powerful. We are well located geographically and boast of a wonderful site with utilities, roadways and rail access. Our NW Minnesota region annually produces approximately 70 million bushels of soybeans on 1.8 million acres.
This new facility would require an input of 21 million bushels of soybeans per year. These numbers do not even include any North Dakota acreage, but clearly demonstrates our area farmers can deliver the inputs to satisfy the production requirements. The economic impact study revealed our producers will gain 20 cents on the basis per bushel, wow! That’s big to our grower’s bottom line! The output of the facility would be 30 million gallons of biodiesel. Currently the State of MN has a mandate called B20. This twenty percent mandate in our current law requires an import of 40 million gallons of biodiesel each year into our state. Those 40 million gallons are being produced outside of Minnesota, so somebody else is capturing the value added economic benefit, not us. This 30 million gallon facility would greatly lower that import need. Additionally, we are working diligently towards the creation of a side soybean crush research and innovation campus utilizing our strong partnering alliance with UMC and AURI. This drives new technological and educational platforms which will offer tremendous opportunities for Crookston. In summary, we have supply (soybeans) and we have demand (biodiesel). The fundamentals are strong.
On one of the coldest mornings of this past winter, you went into your rural Crookston yard, with the rising sun as a backdrop, and did the scientific experiment in which you throw boiling water into the air and it instantly becomes vaporized. Your wife captured the moment on slow-motion video in which the vapor circle perfectly encircled you and the sunrise, and you submitted it to the Times. We posted it on our social media sites and it generated more traffic than any content we’d posted in months. Learning of this prestigious recognition, I’m sure you’ll need a moment to compose yourself. But could you share your thoughts on this occurrence?
I’m not sure if throwing a pan of boiling water above my head would be regarded as prestigious, it could be regarded as really stupid! This Mpemba effect is something you can do when it’s really cold outside. It simply takes advantage of the fact hot water freezes faster than cold water. It was particularly clear that January morning, and the sun was just starting to peek over the eastern horizon so we thought it would be a real cool backdrop if I could get the arc just right. It’s better to be lucky than good! All the credits must go to my camera person and video producer, she’s fantastic!
Let’s say you’re stranded on a deserted island. You have an endless supply of food and water and you have shelter, but you don’t know if you’re ever going to be rescued. Somehow, you have a TV and stereo that work. For all of your time there, you can only listen to three songs and watch three movies. What three songs and three movies would you have with you on the island?
Three songs? The first one is called “That’s the Way Love Goes” by Merle Haggard, and I sang this to my future wife just trying to get her to notice me. She thought I was just making up the lyrics (and even today claims it’s not really a song) keeping it my favorite! Secondly, Buddy Holly’s “Oh Boy!” which I still sing to her often today. Last, I’m going to go with “It is Well With My Soul” written by Horatio Spafford, not only for the message it delivers, but his motivation behind writing it. If you don’t know his story, look it up and you’ll gain clear understanding.
Three movies? I suppose I’d have to go with “Castaway”, just because! Then “Apollo 13” which dished out plenty of adventure and patriotism. That’s two Tom Hanks flicks, so I’ll add in Denzel and pick “Remember the Titans” which speaks to teamwork through any/all adversity and reminds me of our 1980 Class A Championship Pirate football team. Talk about Crookston’s demonstration of community support! And what an awesome group of guys I got to share it with!
People tend to overuse the word “hero” these days, so I’m not asking you to list any of your personal heroes. But could you mention three people that you look up to or particularly admire, and explain why?
Joseph. He was Abraham’s great grandson and the eleventh son of Jacob. Read all about him in Genesis Chapters 37-50. He wasn’t Christ, but he was a good example with so many attributes that I admire and wish to emulate.
Preston and Todd. Without doubt, two of the best men I have ever been privileged to know. They are smart, they are caring, they are givers, and they are humble. Both of them strive to be righteous and lead their families in that pathway. It truly has been my highest honor to call each of them “son”.
Please describe yourself in ten words or less…
A man of faith, husband, dad, son, brother, friend, servant.