They were on a three-day tour of northwest Minnesota hearing about bonding requests.
The Minnesota Senate Capital Investment Committee visited Crookston Wednesday during their three-day tour of the northwest to hear more about the bonding requests they’ve received that total more than $5.3 billion for the state. Their stop included presentations from the City of Crookston, who are requesting infrastructure improvements for the proposed soybean crush plant and biodiesel facility Epitome Energy; the University of Minnesota Crookston, and AURI (Agricultural Utilization Research Institute.)
Former Senator LeRoy Stumpf, U.S. Representative Collin Peterson and representatives from U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar’s office were also present Wednesday.
Senator Mark Johnson hosted the event and told the Times it was good to bring the committee to Crookston to hear about the “exciting” things happening in the community. The committee was also given a short tour of Crookston, led by Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority Executive Director Craig Hoiseth, that included a look at the Epitome Energy site on the Colborn property near Titan Machinery, prior to hearing from Epitome partners and stakeholders like American Crystal Sugar Company, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, UMN Crookston, AURI, City of Crookston and CHEDA in Bede Ballroom.
Before letting representatives from the City of Crookston speak on their infrastructure improvement request for Epitome Energy, Senator Johnson told the committee that Polk County is the number one producing county for soybeans in the state and later added that Hoiseth and the city have been working “really hard” on the Epitome project over the last couple of years.
The City of Crookston is seeking $7 million in bonding for infrastructure for the development of the Epitome Energy site, which is about half of the site’s roads and utilities needs. The estimated total amount for the development of the site is $14,216,626. Representing the city in front of the Senate committee were interim Mayor Dale Stainbrook, Hoiseth, and City Administrator Shannon Stassen. Stainbrook touched on the impact Epitome would have on Crookston plus highlighted some of the city’s other accomplishments and attributes before Stassen spoke on the city’s industrial zoning and infrastructure needs.
Hoiseth told the committee the Epitome site is ready, thanks to the Crookston City Council, and they’ve completed the feasibility study, business plan, and feel “very confident” about what they’ve been able to do thus far in regards to the proposed soybean crush plant and biodiesel facility.
According to the city’s powerpoint, there were 1,813,000 acres of soybeans produced in northwestern Minnesota in 2017 and, Hoiseth mentioned, there is “a lot of money” leaving Minnesota with soybeans being shipped out for production.
“We want to capture that value and bring economic vitality into Minnesota,” he explained while also talking about Crookston’s close proximity to the interstate (I-29), Highway 75 and U.S. Highway 2 that travel through Crookston, and the rail system.
Hoiseth says construction for Epitome will take approximately two years and bring in 800 jobs. Once it’s up and running, there will be around 300 new jobs and it will generate $322.8 million in new economic activity with information coming from the impact study done by University of Minnesota Extension.
“On top of the new jobs and economic development, the tax base will go up just shy of $1 million,” he added also showing the committee letters of support for Epitome Energy from the Crookston School District, City of Crookston and Polk County.
When asked about the permitting process for Epitome, Hoiseth said it will take approximately 9-12 months before they can “put shovels in the ground” after MPCA (Minnesota Pollution Control Agency) says it’s “good to go.” He added that he hopes there’s an “acceleration” of the permitting process, but they’re “not counting on it” and can live with it and make the project work.
The Senate committee also wondered about additional matches or other investments for Epitome and Hoiseth explained they’ve been talking with a company in Chicago for participatory funds, but there is no commitment on federal dollars “yet.”
The city also plans to discuss a TIF (tax increment financing) district of around $7 million over nine years for the Epitome project.
AURI Microbiologist Dr. Jimmy Gosse talked about the research institute and how, after 30 years, they’ve moved from “NO” to “KNOW” with their food labs and coproducts.
“We’ve moved and changed that paradigm for our partners,” Gosse explained. “We’ve helped people with motivation, capital and passion to make a difference every day.”
AURI helps develop new uses for agricultural products through science and technology, partnering with businesses and entrepreneurs to bring ideas to reality. They have four focus areas: biobased products, renewable energy, coproducts and food. AURI provides hands-on scientific technical assistance and a targeted network of resources to develop value-added uses for crops and coproducts. They provide applied research services and product development assistance to create new ag-based products, process refinements and to help move them to market, says their website.
Gosse gave the audience examples of the new varieties of high oleic soybean oil and protein highway initiative new blend products with proteins like peas and chickpeas. He added that he can “already see” the proposed soy innovation campus having a statewide impact. Gosse also spoke on AURI’s co-products like fiber, glycerol and starch, plus soybean processing and alternative feedstocks like pea starch applicants as well as bio-based products with industry processing technologies for new uses in soy oil in asphalt preservation and green materials like starch-based products.
“We do hold the value of the future right here in Polk County and statewide,” stated Gosse. “An innovation campus and partnership with AURI would like to grow that beyond soybeans.”
SOY INNOVATION CAMPUS
Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council CEO Tom Slunecka started his speech saying they all know who AURI is, now they all know who Epitome is, and asked if they knew what the innovation campus could entail.
“The crush facility could be good and add more income for the farmers; what if we go just a little further and build a facility that has a small crush facility and do research,” Slunecka introduced. “In July you guys (the state) granted us $5 million to build this (soy) innovation campus and there’s a whole lot of technology that AURI will bring in.”
“We invest millions every year for new innovations, some are sitting, some are successful at the University, and, until those products make it to the consumer shelves they haven’t made it anywhere,” he continued. “We will process products and further add value, then give other opportunities for other businesses to add, other places for other companies to get built, prove that it works then, when it works, then get other businesses right next to the crush facility or biodiesel plant.”
“Your investment will build roads and infrastructures for this plant, and add other businesses as well,” Slunecka added.
Senator Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood) asked Slunecka who will manage the soy innovation campus and was told there will be a new board of directors and the campus will operate like a non profit.
“As it makes money then we’ll give to small companies to do research,” Slunecka added. “We hope AURI is a renter for a small space there.”
The proposed Soy Innovation Campus received $5 million in state funding in the 2019 legislative session and Regent-level approval is still needed if the University of Minnesota will be involved. *updated information*
AMERICAN CRYSTAL SUGAR COMPANY
As a major stakeholder and would-be adjacent neighbor to Epitome Energy, American Crystal Sugar Company’s board chairman Curt Knutson, who also farms by Fisher, addressed the Senate committee voicing his excitement about Epitome although he can’t technically “endorse” the proposed facility.
“We produce about 11.2 million tons each year within our system, we have five plants in the (Red River) Valley, we have a dome facility where we market in Chicago, and we sell about $1.5 billion in sugar each year,” Knutson explained. “We are the largest seller of sugar; we just beat out Domino in the last quarter.”
“If we could find a better market for our soybeans, it would be fantastic,” he added. “Make our soybeans a little more profitable, kind of rotate with sugar beets.”
U OF M REQUEST
UMN Crookston Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause addressed the committee with information about the University of Minnesota’s request including projects on the Crookston campus for Owen Hall and an upgrade to their natural gas distribution system under the Higher Education Asset Preservation and Replacement (HEAPR) portion of the $232.3 million total 2019 capital request. The Chancellor also talked about the many opportunities for “well-educated workforce” the campus helps create that also “meets the needs of employers.”
The U of M’s request, besides $200 million for HEAPR that encompasses health, safety, and accessibility, building systems, utility infrastructure, and energy efficiency, also includes the Child Development Building replacement ($28 million) on the Twin Cities campus, and A.B Anderson Hall renovation ($4.3 million) on the Duluth campus.
Senate Capital Investment Committee chairman Senator Dave Senjem (R-Rochester) thanked all the presenters and said “Congrats” to the city for “stepping up and thinking broadly about how to make Crookston a little better and a little stronger economically.” He added that he understands the great importance of the University of Minnesota Crookston and said he’s always “sort of awed” by AURI in terms of what they do, the added benefit and thinking outside the box to further enhance agriculture in Minnesota which is “terribly important.”
“We’re halfway through our three-day bonding trip and there’s billions of dollars of requests; it’s been a pleasure to have been here today,” Senjem told Wednesday’s audience. “(Senator) Mark Johnson has been in legislature about four years and has done really well and represents the area passionately; you ought to be proud of him.”
COMMITTEE AND TOUR
There are 18 members of the Minnesota Senate Capital Investment Committee including Senator David Senjem (R-Rochester), who is also the chair of the committee, Senator Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), Senator Sandy Pappas (DFL-St. Paul), Senator Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-Minneapolis), Senator Gary Dahms (R-Redwood Falls), Senator Justin Eichorn (R-Grand Rapids), Senator Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), Senator Foung Hawj (DFL-St. Paul), Senator Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), Senator John Jasinski (R-Fairbault), Senator Carolyn Laine (DFL - Columbia Heights), Senator Jeremy Miller (R-Winona), Senator Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), Senator David Osmek (R-Mound), Senator Jerry Relph (R-St. Cloud), Senator Dan Sparks (DFL-Austin), Senator David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm), Senator Chuck Wiger (DFL-Maplewood.)
Other stops on the northwest tour included Maple Grove, St. Cloud, St. Joseph, Melrose, Alexandria, Detroit Lakes, Moorhead, East Grand Forks, Thief River Falls, Mahnomen, Park Rapids, Bemidji, Staples, Little Falls, and Annandale.
The committee visited Northeast Minnesota September 10-12, Northwest Minnesota October 1-3, and will visit Southeast Minnesota, Southwest Minnesota, and the Twin Cities with dates to be determined.