Guest Column: Help share the truth with your neighbors

Published 10:16 pm Monday, July 17, 2017

Guest Column, By Noelle Hagen

In recent letters to the editor, there have been some statements made regarding economic development in our community that are untrue. While we appreciate and applaud the community’s passion and interest in voicing their opinions, we believe it is important that people are circulating facts and not misinformation.

Noelle Hagen

Recently a local blogger, Robin Russell of Russell’s, met with us to discuss some rumors she had heard in the community. Robin met with us and asked questions that led to the truth and a series of blog posts she shared with the community explaining what she had found. Robin helped us realize that we have not been doing enough to address the misinformation and share what we are doing to promote economic development success in Albert Lea and in Freeborn County.

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The first myth I’d like to address is that city leaders turned away IBM and Cabela’s. The truth is that neither of these companies had planned to locate in Albert Lea. Cabela’s located in Owatonna through connections with the Cabela’s CEO and the Cabela family.

An article in the Star Tribune references this connection:

“Dateline western Nebraska: Kaplan, Grant and I are hunting turkeys with Dick and Jim Cabela and Dennis Highby, Minnesota native and longtime Cabela’s CEO. But there’s an ulterior motive: Kaplan wants to plant the seed with the Cabela brothers and with Highby that Cabela’s should initiate a retail expansion by building a showcase store along Interstate 35, on the edge of Owatonna. Kaplan owned a couple of miles of land there, and with Grant’s help he broached the subject at night around a campfire. Ultimately, the Cabela brothers bought in, and began their now-nationwide retail initiative in Owatonna.”

IBM located in Rochester through personal connections as well. When the decision came down to Madison, Wisconsin, and Rochester, Rochester was chosen due to a personal relationship the IBM CEO had with a former Rochester resident. A story in Rochester’s newspaper, The Post-Bulletin, from 2011 tells the tale of two war buddies.

“The story starts during World War II when Air Force Maj. Leland Fiegel, 28, of Rochester was chosen in 1942 by Gen. Omar Bradley to be the pilot on a secret mission to Moscow for discussions with Soviet authorities about war ally collaboration. On this highly sensitive mission, Fiegel’s co-pilot was Tom Watson Jr., the son of the founder of IBM. The two pilots struck up a friendship on the mission and during several weeks in Moscow. Later, Fiegel was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for this important mission. On the return flight, Fiegel flew the plane, stopping in Rochester, where the Lester Fiegel family hosted the entire crew for dinner at the Kahler Hotel.

When the war ended, Watson returned to IBM and Fiegel stayed in the Air Force, becoming chief of staff of the 20th Combat Bomber wing. By 1948, then-Col. Fiegel had become assistant director of Air Force training in the Pentagon. En route to Washington after a meeting in New York with his friend Tom Watson, his plane lost an engine, burst apart and crashed. Fiegel was killed and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

About eight years later IBM hired a consultant to search for a new plant site in the Upper Midwest. Tom Watson Jr. had succeeded his father as CEO and board chairman, and the consultant presented two choices for final selection — Madison, Wisconsin, and Rochester. Watson was told that Madison was the state capital, larger and had the state university. Rochester had only about 30,000 residents, but it had a large supply of hard-working people in the area. The only industry was Mayo Clinic, and community leaders had started a search for more.

Watson asked the consultant if the two choices were relatively equal. When the answer was yes, he said, “Well then, we’ll go to Rochester, Minnesota.” He telephoned Leland Fiegel’s father, Lester J. Fiegel Sr., in Rochester to tell him the choice made in honor of his son and Watson’s close friend. This news was kept private by the Fiegels until IBM was ready to publicize it. This was done when Watson came to Rochester to make the announcement himself. He also visited the Fiegel family, including Lester J. Fiegel Jr. Watson later disclosed the Fiegel connection when he returned to Rochester to address the Mayo Medical School graduation.”

Another myth we’d like to address is the idea that Albert Lea leaders would purposefully turn away these successful companies. Many companies approach ALEDA when considering Albert Lea, and we are often their first point of contact. It is our job is to encourage them to locate here, assist them in finding land or buildings and to work with them and local stakeholders such as the city, county and school district to offer tax incentives or other programming to assist them in the relocation process. We repeatedly do all that we can to encourage and assist these companies.

At ALEDA, we will continue to follow our mission, “To provide and promote services and resources to retain, expand, create and attract businesses, increase tax base and quality employment opportunities in Freeborn County.” We encourage the community to ask us questions and voice their concerns to us in the future, and to help share the truth with your neighbors.

Until next time, remember we are all in this together.

Noelle Hagen is the small business and marketing manager at Albert Lea Economic Development Agency.