Gov. Tim Pawlenty giving his State of the State address last week. Photo by Tom Olmschied.
Benson was featured prominently in Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s State of the State address last Thursday.His comments thrilled local leaders who see the recognition as boosting the community’s profile around the state and opening doors for possible future business coming to the area. “In a changing world, our future success depends on our ability to innovate. That’s great news, because innovation is what Minnesota does best,” Pawlenty said during his fourth State of the State address. The annual address is the Republican governor’s chance to talk about past year’s accomplishments and layout his vision for the future. Pawlenty is seeking re-election this November.“Let me tell you about what’s happening in a really innovative town I’ve visited several times: Benson, Minnesota, population of about 3,300.
“Anytime you create something everyone needs from something nobody wants, you’re getting somewhere.
“On one side of town, they’re building an energy plant that creates electricity from turkey droppings. With over 46 million turkeys, Minnesota has a lot of droppings.
“Nearby, they make over 45 million gallons of ethanol at the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company.
“To expand their operation, they started making vodka out of wheat and rye.
“Now, in order to make their business more efficient, they’re beginning to use biomass energy – burning corn stalks and husks – to replace their use of natural gas.
“They have another company in town called Future Products, which is using corn to make everything from plastic containers to T-shirts. “Benson, Minnesota, a little town on the prairie, beat winning author Thomas Friedman to the punch. He says: ‘America can win the coming global economic battle because America is `’the world’s dream machine.’
“Let’s lift up Minnesota as America’s dream machine, the nation’s leader in innovation,” Pawlenty, who was in Benson last summer for Fibrominn’s groundbreaking, said.
Most in the community did not know that the governor was going to highlight Benson in his address. The few who did know didn’t find out until Thursday morning. But all were ecstatic about the comments.
“I just can’t imagine that it is going to be anything but good for the community,” Sue Pirsig, Swift County Rural Development Authority executive director said. It puts Benson on the radar screens of others who would not otherwise know where Benson was or what it was doing.
“We will be noticed more than we currently are and we are already noticed quite a bit because of Fibrominn and CVEC” Pirsig said. Future Products is already getting calls from people interested in what they are producing, she said.
In April, Pirsig is headed to the BIO 2006 Annual International Convention in Chicago. The convention highlights the future of agricultural biotechnology. It is an opportunity to promote what the community has accomplished and attract some perspective businesses to the area. Being able to incorporate Gov. Pawlenty’s comments into the presentation she will have at the convention will give it added power.
The community’s success, Pirsig said, is a testament to people working together. “It is fun to work in Benson because…no one bothers to take credit for what happens, they just keep moving forward. It is the same with this (Pawlenty’s recognition). No one is jumping around taking credit for it. They are going, ‘Good! It happened. What’s next? Let’s get going!”
Fibrominn, CVEC, and Future Products were all used as examples of Benson’s innovative spirit and the commitment of local leaders to back investment in projects that are outside mainstream acceptability.
“It reaffirms some of the efforts that we have been making,” Benson City Manager Rob Wolfington said of Pawlenty’s speech. Furthermore, through these recent projects, he said, the Benson area has been diversifying its industrial base.
Pirsig agreed. Local leaders have been willing to take chances and proceed despite some people questioning the wisdom of pursing the projects. When CVEC was built, ethanol production was still considered a questionable investment. But area farmers, businesses, the city and Swift County still moved forward, Pirsig said.
“When CVEC was built ethanol companies were seen as basically snake oil,” she said. “But the group that came forward was willing to do the research and take the chance. It wasn’t risk free, but they tried to make sure it was as little as possible.”
To capitalize on businesses that have already been added to the community or are under construction, Swift County is moving forward with establishing a Blue Ribbon Committee for economic development.
Fibrominn, East Dublin Dairy and other area businesses all provide opportunities for new agricultural value-added business development, Pirsig said recently to the Benson Economic Development Authority. Pirsig is seeking $10,000 in funding for the Blue Ribbon Committee. Benson’s EDA agreed to contribute up to $3,333 to the committee.
CVEC, which produces 46 million gallons of ethanol annually, has ventured into a variety of other products through the years. Most well known of its ventures is Shakers Vodka through its partnership in Glacial Grain Spirits. It also produces industrial grade alcohol for use in cosmetics and other products. And it produces kosher industrial grade alcohol. A by-product of CVEC’s ethanol production is distillers dried grains, which are used as a farm animal feed.
Earlier this year, CVEC announced that it was entering into a research and development agreement with Frontline BioEnergy, LLC, a new Iowa company that specializes in biomass gasification technologies. Through the partnership, CVEC hopes to replace its $20 million annual natural gas bill with gas produced on site.
Fibrominn, currently under construction a mile west of Benson, will burn nearly 700,000 tons of turkey litter to produce 50 megawatts of electricity. The ash from the process will be used as a fertilizer.
East Dublin Dairy, a partnership representing nearly 20 families, plans to build a 6,600-head dairy operation in the center of Section 25 at the east edge of Dublin Township. When completed, it will milk 5,280 cows twice a day. There will also be 820 dry cows and 500 heifers at the facility, for a total of 6,600 head or 8,890 animal units. Operating at full capacity, it is expected the dairy will ship out 36 semi-loads of milk weekly to Milbank, S.D., for processing.
Future Products, Inc., in Benson is making shirts and T-shirts with a fabric made entirely from corn.
Ingeo fiber, made by Cargill, is made into clothing under the trade name “ReNew Apparel.” It is marketed to ag organizations such as the National Corn Growers Association, the Minnesota Corn Growers, as well as many other state corn growers associations. Future Products has also talked with seed companies about its ReNew Apparel line as well as ag equipment manufacturers such as John Deere.
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