Waseca making progress year after Quad plant closing

Published 9:42 pm Monday, January 6, 2020

WASECA — When Quad Graphics, formerly Brown Printing, closed at the end of 2017, it left about 400 employees out of work and dealt a blow to the city of 9,000, which counted the printing company as its largest employer.

But what could have been a dire blow to the community today appears more hopeful as other manufacturers are starting to repopulate that massive facility and as the city has secured a large federal economic grant to help spur business growth.

“It’s definitely an exciting time with the things happening at Quad and elsewhere in Waseca,” sad Gary Sandholm, the city’s economic development coordinator. “We’re guardedly optimistic about things. I think 2020 should be an interesting and fun year.”

The city was recently awarded nearly $600,000 from the U.S. Economic Development Administration. Nearly $400,000 of that is to hire a coordinator for three years who would work exclusively on recruiting companies to move to or expand in Waseca, the Mankato Free Press reported.

“We’re looking for someone who has connections with people who are fairly high up in various companies or industries. Someone who has relationships with the decision makers,” Sandholm said.

“It’s a unique position — it’s not everyone who’s going to be qualified to handle it. It could be a great capstone for someone’s career. It’s probably not for someone just coming out of school.”

He said the person, who they hope to have on board by late winter or early spring, would seek companies from out of state to come to Waseca or businesses in Minnesota that are looking to expand to another location. Sandholm said they would not seek companies already in the state to relocate to Waseca.

The rest of the grant will go toward a study to determine the viability of a new Waseca area manufacturing resource center.

Sandholm said that project will be done by the Region Nine Development Commission, which a couple of years ago began looking at regional centers to assist either specific industries or all manufacturers in the nine-county area.

He said such a center could help manufacturers succeed and grow in a variety of ways, from helping find employees in a tight labor market to keeping up with new technologies. Or, Sandholm said, a resource center could bring together people from several area companies that are all facing a similar challenge and give them all training and assistance at once.

If it comes about, Sandholm said the intent would be to have the regional center located in Waseca. “We have the University of Minnesota ag research station here and AURI here. And being close to MSU and others, there are a lot of resources in the area that would be a good fit.”

The grants, announced by U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, are intended to create 248 new jobs and save 600 existing jobs.

 

New life at Quad

When Quad Graphics closed, there was uncertainty over how long it would take to sell the massive facility, but relatively soon an investor group, led by Mankato businessmen Mike Drummer and Jeremy Brown, purchased the building. Their idea was to divide the manufacturing and warehouse areas into spaces where companies could get started and expand.

So far the idea has been working. Midwest Hemp Farms opened a hemp processing facility in the building when hemp production was legalized and the CBD oil market took off.

Rhino Markers, which makes heavy duty plastic marking signs and posts that warn of underground pipelines or electric lines, recently moved to the building. They were already in Waseca but were looking for a larger space as they expanded.

And Green Forest Recycling, based in Brainerd, opened in the building, where they are recycling paper, cardboard and sheet plastic. Jeff Grunenwald, owner of Green Forest Recycling, said moving into the former Quad building was smooth.

“The ownership of that building has been awesome to work with and very accommodating. They went out of their way to make it work. It’s a pretty exciting thing they’re doing with that building.”

He said the company now processes about 80% of its recycling at the Waseca plant. They will keep the Brainerd plant open to handle their northern clients.

Grunenwald said Waseca and the building were a perfect fit. “The freight lanes are so much more favorable. It’s closer to a lot of our accounts from Minneapolis, South Dakota and Wisconsin. The space worked good. It made a lot of sense for us.”

He said they will have about a dozen employees in Waseca by early 2020 as they ramp up to full production. The company does recycling of business paper, cardboard, sheet film and similar items but not residential recycling.

Sanderholm said there are a couple of other businesses making final decisions about moving to the former Quad building. He estimated about 25-30% of the building is now being used and if the other two come in, “they could take up a substantial part of the remainder.”

He said having local investors buy the building was a big bonus. “They came in with some resources behind them and they have an interest in southern Minnesota.”

While there is activity in the old printing plant, it’s a long way from providing the 400 fairly high-paying jobs that Quad offered.

Sandholm said that while Waseca County’s unemployment rate remains very low and while most or all of the former Quad workers who wanted a different job found one, many or most of them are no longer working in Waseca. “They’re driving to Mankato or Owatonna or Faribault now, where before we had a net inflow of workers.”