Collaborations Key To Helping Our Business Communities

In this issue, I would like to highlight a trio of collaborations from throughout our region. These three stories highlight the importance of different groups coming together to solve a common problem and along the way enriching our communities.

Schools and Business Community Collaborate in Fairmont

For the last few years, fewer than a dozen high school seniors from Martin County applied to receive two $4,200 scholarships for agriculture-related degrees. Businesses who sponsor the program that is facilitated by the Agri-business Committee of Fairmont Area Chamber were frustrated by such little response. Spreading the word by contacting administrators, counselors and teachers year after year brought little response.

The beginnings of a publication to be inserted into school event programs started shaping up last spring. “Joe Brown, Superintendent of Fairmont Schools and I committed to work together to create an easy-to-read insert with messages directed to parents for this school year”, said Fairmont Chamber President Margaret Dillard. “More conversation led to an idea that we weren’t reaching the right people. It is parents who are challenged by the increasing financial demands of secondary education for their children. Parents may not attend another demand on their time, so the idea of meetings was discarded, but they readily turn out to watch school events.”

So a publication encouraging youth to consider local careers and educational options was founded. The inaugural edition was circulated at football, soccer and volleyball games beginning in September. Information about the Martin County Internship Program, scholarships, job openings, college tuition rates and more were featured. “The chief concern of local businesses is a lack of qualified workforce so they enthusiastically support this effort,” said Dillard. “It’s a work in progress that will be steered by feedback from parents and business people.”

It’s not the first time the school and the business community have collaborated. Recently, the school board moved to expand the technology wing that spawned a 17-week Saturday welding course open to students at no charge and available to anyone else for only $250. Zierke Built Manufacturing, that recently moved to Fairmont from Winnebago, reached out to the school for welders and was able to employ a half-dozen former students.

This effort is possible as part of the Fairmont Area Life (Brain Gain) project funded by Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and the City of Fairmont in collaboration with Fairmont Chamber.

Two Institutions of Higher Education Come Together to Forge New Path for Students

This fall South Central College (SCC) and Minnesota State University, Mankato will begin offering a Business Transfer Pathway between the two schools. The new option gives students the opportunity to earn their two-year Associate of Science degree from SCC and then seamlessly transfer their credits toward their four-year Bachelor of Science degree in business at Minnesota State Mankato. Students transferring with the Business Transfer Pathway AS degree from SCC may choose to pursue a degree in Finance, International Business, Management or Marketing at Minnesota State Mankato. Complete information on the transfer pathway is available at

“This Business Transfer Pathway enables those students who may be more comfortable in a community college setting to take the first two years of their Bachelor of Science in business here at SCC and then transfer as a junior into Minnesota State Mankato to complete the last two years,” said Barb Embacher, SCC dean of Workforce Education and Training. “An added benefit is that they will also earn their Associate of Science degree from SCC before transferring to Minnesota State Mankato.”    

“This partnership with South Central College, our close and valued academic neighbor, is extremely exciting as it expands our options to better serve learners interested in business bachelors programs and therefore our regional and business partners too” said Brenda Flannery, dean of the College of Business at Minnesota State Mankato.

This and other transfer agreements between SCC and Minnesota State Mankato complement the Future Maverick Program, which was established in 2015 to provide a smooth transition for all students wishing to continue their studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato after graduating from South Central College. SCC students participating in the Future Maverick program meet with a transfer liaison from Minnesota State Mankato on South Central College’s campuses.

Both Minnesota State University, Mankato and South Central College are part of the Minnesota system, which comprises seven universities and 30 community and technical colleges.

Two Area Business Leaders Combine Talents in Commercial Condo Venture

Dan Hawkes, an agent for Connect Real Estate on South Victory Drive in Mankato, would pull into his office each morning and see the large, vacant building standing tall on the lot next to his building.

“Originally that one building was for sale for $470,000 and I thought, ‘that’s a big pile of money for one investor’ then I got to thinking, what if I divided it up into bite size chunks. Those might be easier to sell,” says Hawkes.

He thought he might be on to something, so he stopped in to see his friend of more than 30 years…Bill Frietag of Wilcon Construction. He immediately said, “Let’s go for it!” And a collaboration of two friends and local professionals started to build. The duo formed Commercial Condos LLC.

“It’s not a new concept by any means, you’ll find this type of thing in the cities and Sioux Falls,” says Frietag. “But it is new in this area and our goal is to make it affordable for start-up businesses. We really need an incubator space that’s more than just office space. This region needs a place where people can get out of their homes and garages and get into their own space.”

So, they divided the building into smaller “commercial condos.” Spaces that offer a white steel roof, tall walls, a big overhead door and a walk-through door. It serves as sort of an incubator/maker space.

“These will be ideal for contractors, cleaning companies, electricians, plumbers, any home based business that does assembly, even hobbyists like stained glass artists or car restorers can find this space desirable,” notes Frietag.

By dividing the larger building up into ten units, it makes it more affordable at an asking price of $82,500.

“If you want 5,000sf or more in Mankato, there’s a selection, but if you want anything less than that you are out of luck,” says Hawkes.

Frietag adds, “You can’t buy the land to put a building on for what we are charging for that space. It just gives smaller businesses a good starting point and they can grow from there.”

The two are so optimistic, they bought the land next to it and will start building another similar building with commercial condos in late October. In the end, there will be 14 units in all.

“For some type of businesses, trying to work out of the home is a mess. It’s a mess for home life with stuff all over and stacked…and a mess professionally because you don’t have your own space,” says Hawkes. “That makes for personal chaos and business chaos.”

The units can be combined and every unit has a gas meter, sewer, water, electrical, data, cable TV and Internet.

Lisa Cownie

Lisa Cownie

Editor of Connect Business Magazine

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