Waseca Mayor Roy Srp wasn’t going to let this opportunity slip by.
Srp, who snagged the featured speaker tag at Wednesday’s “prelease” of the Region Nine Development Commission’s “MedTech Connect” report, trumpeted the city’s strengths and hopes of landing a proposed manufacturing resource center.
“We’ve had a proud heritage of manufacturing in Waseca,” Srp told the crowd of regional commissioners, representatives and civic leaders Oct. 10 at Chankaska Creek Ranch and Winery in Kasota.
Srp didn’t shy away from boasting about Waseca’s people and its plans to secure a manufacturing research center that was pitched a month ago to the city’s Economic Development Authority. While the city of Waseca is on the “short list” of a potential $3 million project, it’s a decision yet to be made and other cities are certainly expected to throw in their hats.
But that didn’t stop Srp, who had been invited to speak at the event by Region 9 Executive Director Nicole Griensewic Mickelson.
While the Waseca mayor talked about some of the community pains this past year — with the closure of Quad-Graphics and loss of 400 jobs, along with Hy-Vee pulling out with its 130 employees — opportunities arise, he said.
The business closures and job loss prompted a visit from Mickelson regarding the likelihood of Waseca securing grants from the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the creation of an Opportunity Zone, which opens up additional programming and potential funding.
“There’s a silver lining with some of this,” Srp said.
Mickelson praised Srp’s positive style and said Region 9 will continue to work with Waseca on its rebuilding efforts, including the possible manufacturing research center project.
“What does it mean for the city of Waseca?” she questioned. “What is it that Waseca wants?”
Mickelson also noted that in six of the region’s nine counties, over 20 percent of manufacturing is in the medical device field, then stressed that the report “is not the end, it’s a beginning.”
Region 9 partnered with the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation to fund the research project. Tim Penny, president and CEO of SMIF, praised the work and collaborative effort.
“We’ve got an opportunity for huge growth in this sector,” Penny said. “More and more of our loans are going to these businesses.”
Sam Smith, a Region 9 planner, also addressed the Waseca EDA at its Sept. 12 meeting. On Wednesday, he highlighted the commission’s 66-page MedTech Connect analysis and research project.
In it, he and Kristian Braekkan, a senior planner at Region 9 and a Gustavus Adolphus College economics professor, helped research the nine-county region to provide a “medical device manufacturing and and supply chain analysis in south central Minnesota.”
The official document has a November 2018 release date, but Wednesday’s event was designed “to celebrate the completion of MedTech Connect” with invitations to “stakeholders in medical device manufacturing” who might “learn about recommendations to accelerate the robust medical manufacturing community” in south central Minnesota.
Boston Scientific encouraged
Brad Sorenson, a senior vice president of manufacturing and supply chain at Boston Scientific, praised the report and encouraged a collaborative effort among regional developers and manufacturers.
Sorenson grew up in Renville and graduated from Gustavus Adolphus College. He said he’s familiar with communities “where industry comes and industry goes.” But he said southern Minnesota is positioned well for increasing its manufacturing opportunities.
The Region 9 report highlighted the area’s strong manufacturing base but said the medical device field is not a well-known part of its portfolio. And because many of those manufacturers are relatively smaller companies, Sorenson said it’s critical for those in the region to partner, “almost like a cooperative,” because then “it starts to bring critical mass to the area.”
For his company, Boston Scientific, Sorenson said the medical device supply chain is “becoming a problem.”
Sorenson said communities must also look at other issues to make the region attractive to the medical device manufacturing sector, stressing the need for more housing development, more and quality child care offerings, and ongoing investments into education.
The recommendations made by the analysis and calls for future studies included:
Investments in broadband infrastructure
Investments in technical training and talent retention
Investments in workforce housing
Investments in child care opportunities
Diversify workforce/opportunities for “newcomers”