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Kittson County canola plant: 'What a success this is'

Dayton, Franken, other Minnesota leaders at groundbreaking of Kittson County $168 million canola plant It was six years in the making and two years later than expected, but Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony for a $168 million canola plant marked a "fantastic day" for the County, former state Rep. Dave Olin said.

HALLOCK, Minn. -- It was six years in the making and two years later than expected, but Tuesday's groundbreaking ceremony for a $168 million canola plant marked a "fantastic day" for Kittson County, former state Rep. Dave Olin said.

Several local and state leaders spoke to a standing room only crowd at the Hallock City Hall on Tuesday, heralding the start of construction for Northstar Agri Industries' new canola seed crushing and processing facility located between Hallock and Kennedy, Minn., on U.S. Highway 75.

Joe Bouvette, chairman of the Kittson County Commission, said the economic boost is "wonderful" news for northwestern Minnesota.

The project will create 200 to 250 part-time construction jobs for the next 18 months. Once construction is finished in the second quarter of 2012, about 50 permanent plant operations jobs will be created with an estimated payroll of $3.5 million.

"I've been in politics since 1969 and we've always talked about economic development in the area," Bouvette said. "And we've had a few successes and we've had a few failures, but what a success this is today."

Todd Truedson told the crowd that he couldn't take credit for this success -- he had only been serving as the mayor of Kennedy since 7 p.m. the night before, when he was sworn into office.

But he couldn't fight back tears while discussing just how important it will be for his town of less than 200 people.

"I have a small family in this area," he said. "I've seen it dying for years and years, and to see the hard work that everybody's put into this and the impact that it will have on our entire county, state, everything, I'm just ever so proud."

'Hopefully we're ready'

Neil Juhnke, president of Northstar Agri Industries, said the work to make this canola plant into a reality began in the summer of 2004 with six initial investors. They raised $1.2 million by 2006 to fund a feasibility study and preliminary engineering, and 105 investors from the region are now involved.

But it's been a "difficult process" to make it to this point, he said.

"We actually were very close to this same occasion in 2008," he said. "Our loan was scheduled to be approved on Sept. 14, 2008, and on Sept. 11, AIG and Lehman Brothers failed and threw it all under the bus."

The investors had to "regroup and hang on," Juhnke said, but their dedication has finally paid off.

Sen. Al Franken congratulated the business leaders and community members for their hard work to make the project a success. He said the state needs to work to spur more investment in value-added agricultural facilities like this because agriculture is the "backbone" of Minnesota's economy.

"This plant is just great news for the economic development in Hallock and the region," he said.

Gov. Mark Dayton thanked the Northstar leaders for building the plant in Minnesota because he said he knows it could have just as easily ended up in North Dakota.

"It's just hugely, hugely important to this state and to this region and to Kittson County and to Hallock," he said.

Juhnke said the location of the facility is pretty much perfect -- both because of the ease of working with local government officials and the fact that farmers in northeastern North Dakota and northwestern Minnesota have exported between 250,000 and 350,000 tons of canola each year for the past few years to be processed in Canada.

"We hope to keep that canola on this side of the border," he said. "We're going to process it in our plant."

State Sen. LeRoy Stumpf said he's been involved with the canola industry for years, an association that started when the state funded a research plot near Roseau, Minn. He said at that time, it wasn't economical for companies that made chemicals for canola to get approval in both the U.S. and Canada because there were many more acres on the Canadian side.

But the new processing facility could change that imbalance, he said.

"Not only will you have a crushing plant and a facility that a large area of the region will look to, but hopefully you'll have a lot of new growers and a new crop that will continue to grow and become very important in northwestern Minnesota and North Dakota," he said.

Paul Clay, mayor of Hallock, said it's important for local and state leaders to support the project and "be there in whatever we can" to help make it a success.

"There are just a lot of great things that could come from this," he said.

Bouvette echoed that statement, and said everyone in Kittson County needs to prepare for an economic boom from the plant.

"We're going to see growth that we've never seen before, and hopefully we're ready for it," he said. "We talk about housing, we talk about other issues that are going to come because of this, but our school is going to flourish again, we're going to have more people. The whole area has got to get behind this."