Digging Deep to Grow Regionally
They’ve spent the last year cultivating awareness and sowing the seeds for the future. In this next year, the key players in the GreenSeam hope to harvest even greater results than what’s already been accomplished.
“We’ve been quietly active, diligently working, meeting with businesses and trying to find out their needs so we know best how to align GreenSeam with the needs of the region,” says Sam Ziegler, director of GreenSeam.
It was two years ago that Greater Mankato Growth hired Ziegler to lead the regional initiative; an initiative based on the fact that agriculture is the foundation of our region’s economy. Ziegler was tasked with leading the charge in developing this natural industry cluster into an agricultural epicenter.
After laying the groundwork with a steering committee, GreenSeam officially launched last June.
“We’ve spent the year since the launch really trying to help people connect the dots in the ag industry,” says Ziegler. And connect the dollar signs, as GreenSeam estimates the economic activity in our region from agriculture production has a ripple effect of $14.8 billion on other industries and all-in represents 58% of the regional economy.
Now that awareness is raised, this next year, Ziegler hopes to take GreenSeam to the next level and make it more regional. From the beginning, Greater Mankato Growth has said it would fully fund GreenSeam for three years. Now entering the third year, Ziegler will be moving the initiative to more of an investor model.
“We’ll be forming an LLC,” he explains. “We’ll restructure the current board of directors and go to a board of governors rather than a steering committee. Since we launched people have been asking how they can get involved at a bigger and a more significant level. While we were still building we didn’t want to throw new people into the mix, we wanted to lay the strong foundation and do the legwork first. But now the time is right. So we are looking to build the board with representatives from different locations, with different skills, and make sure different industries are represented. All of that is important as we launch our investor model.”
Bringing those myriad of people to the table is a priority for the GreenSeam moving forward. He wants to establish it as more than a Mankato-focused program.
“Bringing in more communities will be an action item in this next year,” Ziegler says. “Bringing insights from other organizations and economic groups. We want to be more proactive in bringing them in and giving them an opportunity to be at the table.”
To aid in moving that piece forward, GreenSeam will be coming out with its first annual stakeholders report.
“Having an annual stakeholders report will provide a comprehensive look at the previous year’s activities. In this first report, we’ll recap the last three years since Greater Mankato Growth, Inc. first launched the ag initiative initially referred to as Project ABE,” says GMG Director of Marketing and Communications Bridget Norland. “This report will shed further light on WHY GreenSeam, WHAT is GreenSeam doing and WHERE GreenSeam is going.”
Ziegler points out the groundwork laid over the past year is already paying off.
“Potential businesses are being channeled to the GreenSeam that may have located somewhere else. We provide them information to try to help them decide to locate here versus another location. Plus, media attention is growing. Really just awareness in general is growing. People across the country are now saying ‘Hey! Here is this trusted resource and they are talking about this region called the GreenSeam!’ So people are now having the conversations they weren’t having before. It’s being talked about at all levels.”
Ziegler admits, so far it’s been hard to quantify the work being done by the GreenSeam organization, but says the fruits of its labor are starting to show.
“We have lots of innovation and inventors in the region, from tech you will find AKER in Winnebago and Aglytix in Mankato continuing to grow. In the manufacturing side you may have heard about Ag Storm in St. Peter. You cannot overlook the growth of major food companies like All American Foods or Angie’s Kettle Corn,” says Ziegler. “And we can’t forget about the growth of Ridley/Alltech in research and services to the farm and human companion animal industry. There are so many wins to talk about them all, but let me end on this one. Fafinski Mark and Johnson law firm has recently opened up an office in New Ulm. When asked why, Jared Peterson commented that they wanted to expand their ag practice and GreenSeam is the destination for ag businesses.”
Ziegler says while this is all happening locally, GreenSeam is also reaching international fields.
He says, “We are having meetings discussing FDI (Foreign Direct Investments) with Australia, Brazil and Canada. These are countries that have a lot in common with us and are interested in the businesses we have here and they have businesses that are interested in being a part of the GreenSeam.”
Ziegler says it’s not only about growing, but also retaining the businesses we have here.
“I know there were businesses within the GreenSeam that were thinking of moving out of it, so retention of businesses is important to us,” he continues. “Those usually aren’t a public thing, but one in particular I am thinking about was considering moving out because they didn’t think they could fulfill the jobs. So we started looking at options and through conversations with them they decided to stay. I want to say we had a part in the decision to stay here. I can’t tell you the names, but can tell you it’s real. So it’s not just growing, it’s also not losing.”
To assist with job retention and growth the GreenSeam Talent Exchange (greenseam.org/jobs) was launched in June. The exchange strives to align talents with opportunity by utilizing questions about interests, preferences, desired workplace environment and priority needs. Job seekers and employers are then matched based on their answers, skills and resume. This process provides optimal matches, reducing time and cost.
Another initiative in the next year, a complete business listing.
“We have more than 800 ag businesses in our area so we want to have one resource, one place people can go to search and find by category. What do you want or need? Well, you can find it here. It’s not just the little niche industry. Ag drives our economy. So we have to continue to try to connect people and allow them to see how they all impact each other.”
Indeed, a lot has happened in the first three years of GreenSeam, and with excitement building, Visit Mankato plans to hold a celebration of harvest this fall dubbed “Gather in the GreenSeam.”
“Three years ago there was very little buzz about the growth and strength of the economy that was related to agribusiness. Today the buzz is about the future of agribusiness and the growth of our economy due to it.”
Partnering with Education
Ziegler says community awareness is just part of the plan for the future of GreenSeam. He knows targeting students early will be a key in helping sustain the ag epicenter.
“One win we have had is within education,” he says. “First, Distruct 77 now has ag as one of its four career pathways along with manufacturing, health and education. So they are developing a program there.
“Also, the St Peter school district is adding another ag teacher because their program is full. So that’s been a win. Did we control it? No, but it’s evidence that people are starting to catch on to what we are here.”
And Ziegler says that plays right into what is going on at the next level as well.
“We are in the middle of numerous quality institutions of higher education,” he says. “So we are continuing to strengthen our relationships with the colleges. One example, we just met with the College of Business at Minnesota State Mankato. Just talking about what can be done in their top degree programs. For instance, analysts, well there is a lot of need for analysts in ag. Another top major, computer science, perfect we need that, too! Rasmussen College has a supply chain management program and the people teaching it do talk about ag. So there will be some movement in partnerships with education systems and conversations with colleges happening in second year of initiative.
GreenSeam Stat Sheet
So what makes GreenSeam truly the “epicenter” of agriculture? Statistics gathered by the GreenSeam show the following:
- The region boasts more than 800 ag-related businesses.
- Live stock production has sales of more than $4.7 billion coming from 9,500 operations.
- Crop sales are at $7.1 billion from nearly 20,000 operations.
- In recent years GreenSeam has produced more than 4.7 million hogs, 107 million bushels of soybeans and 511 million bushels of corn.
- 8 of the top 10 soybean producing counties in Minnesota
- 7 out of the top 10 hog producing counties in Minnesota (including the top 4)
- 6 out of the top 10 corn grain producing counties in Minnesota (including the top 4)
- Minnesota ranks 4th in the U.S. in ethanol production because of the agriculture cluster in GreenSeam.