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GALLERY: Jennie-O bags Chamber's Business of the Year award

Area businesses and organizations had plenty to celebrate at the Faribault Area’s Chamber of Commerce’s Business Awards Luncheon Thursday.

During the buffet lunch, Chamber President and CEO Nort Johnson not only commended guests for their business achievements, but on their resiliency and strength in enduring circumstances surrounding the pandemic.

Unique to previous luncheons, attendees received temperature checks at the door before joining the crowd of guests. The Faribault Chamber Board put together a video to thank the business community for making the best of a bad situation. But like “normal” Business Luncheons, the Chamber presented awards to businesses, volunteers and individuals that stood out in the past year.

Faribault Chamber Business Awards Luncheon guests grabbed water bottles instead of passing around water pitchers at their tables. Attendees gathered at the Faribault American Legion Thursday. (Suzanne Rook/southernminn.com)

At the Faribault Chamber Business Awards Luncheon, guests lined up to receive their plates of chicken, salads, rolls and cookies. (Suzanne Rook/southernminn.com)

The Chamber recognized Jennie-O Turkey Store as the 2020 Faribault Business of the Year. Jennie-O was nominated for the award along with Lighthouse Strategic Solutions and Daikin Applied. In 2000, Jennie-O Turkey received the award for the first time as the Turkey Store Company.

Nominations the Chamber Committee judges stay on file for three years, and no Chamber staff members are involved in the awards selection process except the Volunteer of the Year Award.

Jody Long, Jennie-O plant manager, accepted the award at the luncheon. He credited his four managers for being instrumental in navigating the plant through a difficult year. For the sake of protecting workers against the coronavirus, the managers needed to reconfigure the plant with barriers between employees.

Although he worried Jennie-O Turkey might lose its familial atmosphere with the new health protocols in place, Long said, “I think the managers have done a tremendous job to keep it all together.”

In accepting the award, Long also mentioned that Jennie-O established two years of free college at South Central College for the children of its employees.

“I tell everyone that’s the proudest thing I’ve ever been a part of,” Long said.

The Chamber also recognized both the Faribault Woolen Mill and the late Tom McDonough of Met-Con Cos. with the Legacy Award.

Tom McDonough’s son Randy McDonough and Met-Con CFO Troy Zabinski accepted the award. Randy explained that his dad started his company with 12 employees, some who have retired, and that new employees have stepped up every time they’re asked. Quoting his dad, Randy said, “I can have all the equipment in the world, but if I don’t have the employees to run the company, I have nothing.”

Although their mom, Sandra, was unable to attend the luncheon, Randy said, “We would like to accept this award for Dad, but we’re going to give it to Mom.”

Paul Mooty, who reopened the Faribault Woolen Mill in 2011 with his cousin Chuck Mooty, and CircleRock’s founder and CEO Paul Grangaard, who merged his company with the Woolen Mill last year, accepted the Legacy Award.

CircleRock’s founder and CEO Paul Grangaard, right, who merged his company with the Woolen Mill last year, accepted the Legacy Award along with his partner in business Paul Mooty, who reopened the Woolen Mill in 2011. Chamber President and CEO Nort Johnson presented the award at the Business Awards Luncheon. (Suzanne Rook/southernminn.com)

In accepting the award, Mooty highlighted his employees. Grangaard in turn said, “The Woolen Mill would be an empty building without equipment without [Mooty].”

More honorees

For the first time, and what the Chamber hopes to be the only time, a COVID Response and Community Resilience Award honored organizations that stepped up to the plate amid the pandemic. The Chamber recognized 10,000 Drops, Cable Connection & Supply, Allina Health, Faribault Ace Hardware and Met-Con Cos. for their combined efforts to make hand sanitizer available to 35 facilities in 10 days.

Customer service award-winners were Tammy Meyer of Mayo Clinic Health System, Camille McCarthy of Finally a Gift Store, Elizabeth Prange of South Central College and Bonnie Cervenka of State Bank of Faribault.

Jerry Groskreutz and Brent Fuchs received the Excellence in Education Award for their efforts in promoting agriculture education in the classroom and through live farm tours.

Faribault Chamber Marketing Manager Kelly Nygaard, right, presented the Chamber Volunteer of the Year Award to Jake, left, and Chuck Budde of Faribault Rent N Save. (Suzanne Rook/southernminn.com)

The Budde family of Faribault Rent N Save took home the Chamber Volunteer of the Year Award. Chuck and Jake Budde accepted the award on behalf of their family.

Data shows 2019 statewide increase in crime, but not locally

A new report from the Minnesota Department of Public Safety shows a clear increase in crime across the board, bucking a more hopeful trend seen over the last several decades. But locally the numbers are far better.

Unlike 2018’s report, which showed a clear decrease in crime statewide, the 2019 Uniform Crime Report showed crime increasing across a number of categories. Overall a 4.7% increase in “Part 1” crimes, which include murder, robbery and aggravated assault, was reported. Property crimes, including burglary, larceny and theft, also increased. Compared to 2018, an increase of more than 5,000 property crimes was reported, with motor vehicle theft jumping by a particularly significant amount of 13%.

Bias incidents have also been on the rise, according to the state’s numbers. Nearly 150 incidents were reported in 2019, an increase of 19 from the previous year. 49 were directed against black or African-American Minnesotans, far more than any other group.

Rice County Sheriff Troy Dunn, who serves as president of the Minnesota Sheriffs’ Association, expressed disappointment over the across the board increase after years of decline. He noted that traffic crashes have also increased after years of decline. Dunn said that he hopes at least part of the increase is due not so much to increased crime, but to vigorous and proactive police work done by task forces across the state like the Cannon River Drug and Violent Offender Task Force.

Interestingly, local numbers suggested that while crime may have increased statewide, it’s decreased in Rice County. A particularly steep decrease was seen in larceny, which dropped by more than a third, and motor vehicle theft which was more than halved.

Rice County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Jesse Thomas wasn’t exactly sure what caused the local numbers to diverge from statewide trends. However, he noted that the amount of crime locally has fluctuated significantly from year to year.

Similar fluctuations can be seen in the state’s numbers as well. The increase in property crimes was driven mostly by an increase in larceny, which returned to more normal levels after an abnormally light 2018.

Figures show that in Rice County, 160 Part I crimes were committed and 340 property crimes were committed. That puts the county’s crime rate at 2,833 per 100,000 people, compared to an overall non-metro crime rate of 5,311 per 100,000 people.

In the Part I section, larceny was by far the most common crime locally, followed by burglary. Seven cases of rape or attempted rape were reported, unchanged from the previous year. No cases of murder or manslaughter were reported.

In the Part II section, the number of DUIs increased sharply from 67 to 92, surpassing drug abuse as the top Part II crime locally. However, other crimes decreased substantially, including drug abuse, vandalism and fraud.

Faribault Police Capt. Neal Pederson noted that the pandemic has had a significant effect on local crime, increasing the incidence of certain types of crime while deterring others. On the whole, he said that the PD saw fewer calls during its height.

Locally, preliminary figures suggest that the crime rate in Rice County could fall even further in 2020. As of June 30, Thomas said that 68 Part 1 crimes had been reported and 160 Part 2 crimes had been reported.

The downward trend of crime certainly hasn’t been seen in all areas, with the HOPE Center and other organizations reporting a dramatic increase in domestic abuse calls. Still, Dunn said he wouldn’t be surprised to come to year’s end with lower overall crime rates than normal.

“I think it’s definitely a possibility,” he said.

The MSHSL voted on and approved a winter sports calendar Thursday at a Board of Directors meeting. Start dates for all winter sports were pushed back to accommodate for the delayed football and volleyball seasons, with most starting in late November and early December. (File Photo/southernminn.com)

Council candidates share perspectives on housing, internet access, environment

Four of the six candidates for Faribault City Council participated in an online forum on Thursday night, highlighting different life experiences, but significant areas of consensus.

Organized by the Faribault Chapter of the American Association of University Women, the forum was the third of four highlighting local candidates. Traditionally, the organization’s forums are held in the City Council chambers. Given the persistence of the COVID pandemic, the AAUW opted to eschew any sort of live audience.

With early voting already underway, time is running out for the candidates to make their case. With six candidates in the race, voters will have a full ballot, and as Councilor Elizabeth Cap isn’t seeking re-election, at least one new voice will be elected to the council.

Among the topics discussed were potential goals for the city’s new Environmental Commission, the shortage of affordable housing, and how to expand internet access to residents who need it most. More broadly, candidates also discussed their leadership skills and experiences.

Two council incumbents, Royal Ross and Jonathan Wood, are seeking re-election. Wood was appointed to the council after Steve Underdahl assumed a seat on the county Board of Commissioners, while Ross is seeking his second term on the board after first winning in 2016.

They’re facing four challengers, but two were unable to attend the forum. That included a familiar face at City Hall, former Councilor John Rowan. The owner of Geek Central and Deputy Emergency Manager in the Rice County Sheriff’s Office, Rowan served on the council for six years.

Also not in attendance was Adam Gibbons. A theater manager at Northwoods 10 in Owatonna, Gibbons has sought a seat on the council twice before and also ran for School Board, but failed to be elected each time.

Introducing themselves

Challengers Faysel Ali and Sara Caron were quick to emphasize that they would bring a new perspective. Both Ali and Caron have said they are concerned that the voices of many aren’t heard at City Hall.

“I feel like I can be a voice for the people of Faribault,” said Caron. “(Business owners) are also important to Faribault, I understand that, but I feel like there’s people that aren’t being heard.”

A production manager at the Paradise Center for the Arts, Caron is a first time candidate, but one with deep roots in the community. Caron said she learned how to solve problems and lead from her parents, longtime Faribault residents. As a bartender, Caron said she’s done a lot of listening and has gotten a clear sense of some of the problems faced by everyday Faribault residents. She said that while smart policy and thoughtful planning can boost the city, a crucial piece is missing.

“We need more community involvement,” she said. “We talk about small-town pride, big-city opportunities, but when I talk to people there’s not a lot of pride in Faribault.” If we got people more involved that would be nice.”

Like Caron, Faysel Ali is a first time candidate, but one with deep involvement in the community.

“As a first-generation American, I don’t take anything for granted,” said Ali, who fled Somalia with his family before finding his way to Faribault.. “Faribault is the only place I’ve really felt at home.”

Ali has served on numerous nonprofit boards, including as co-president of the Faribault Diversity Coalition for a brief period. He’s a current member of the city’s Planning Commission as well as the Faribault Community TV board.

This election, Ali said, is an opportunity to embrace diversity and bring the community together. He promised to focus on representing all Faribaultians with a particular emphasis on boosting Faribault youth, who are disproportionately from marginalized communities.

“They’re our biggest asset,” he said. “ If we don’t invest in them early on, we’re going to lose the future leaders of our community.”

Incumbent Councilors Ross and Wood touted their experience, record of working on thorny issues and helping Faribault to grow in recent years, even as the city continues to struggle with the intertwined challenges of housing and workforce development.

While Ross and Wood bring significantly different perspectives to the council, they share an understanding of the crucial issue of housing. Wood is a builder who owns his own construction company, while Ross is a realtor with G&H Property Management.

While not a Faribault native, Ross has been in the Faribault area for some three decades. He’s gone out of his way to get involved in the community, joining the boards of more than a dozen local nonprofits before winning election.

Ross said that listening closely and considering all sides of an issue has always been his approach. When he first joined council, he said that he did a lot of listening and paid particularly close attention to the example set by longtime Council member Kay Duchene.

“I learned so much by observing her, how she prepared for the meetings and how she broke the issues down,” he said. “She was really a role model.”

While he’s become more assertive on council over his tenure, Ross said he’s still focused on listening closely and considering all sides of an issue. Often times, he said that when a challenge is analyzed closely, a solution can be found that benefits all parties.

“Sometimes there’s two sides, sometimes there’s four sides, and sometimes it’s a pair of dice with six sides each, twelve different sides,” he said. “But the biggest question I always try to ask is, ‘how can we make this happen, and how can it be fair and equitable to everyone involved.’”

Ross said a particular passion of his is reducing overreaching government regulation. If re-elected, he promised to work on a revamping of the city’s Unified Development Ordinance with the goal of limiting regulation on residents and businesses alike.

For his part, Wood said that he’s particularly well-suited to serve on council due to his leadership skills as well as experiences. He touted his involvement with the Faribault Masons, at First English Lutheran Church and on numerous boards and commissions.

“Sitting on different boards, I learn and bring knowledge back to the council,” he said.

In addition to his background as a builder, Wood makes him particularly well suited for the job. While he ultimately decided to go into construction instead, the analytical skills he learned have continued to serve him well on council.

Saving the planet

The candidates were first asked about the direction of the city’s newly created Environmental Commission. Created after a petition of more than 70 residents called for it, the commission acts in an advisory role to the council.

Even before the commission was created, the city took significant steps to promote environmental sustainability, working closely with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as well as Xcel Energy.

Under the Partners in Energy Program, Xcel’s staff has partnered closely with the city of Faribault to promote energy efficiency strategies for residential and commercial customers. Since the program started in 2017, the number of city residents involved in energy efficiency programs has doubled and energy usage has declined by 1%, saving customers more than $500,000. The city has seen no direct costs as a part of the program.

Faribault was also chosen by the MPCA to put together a Climate Adaptation Plan to help the city weather extreme weather events and patterns that are expected to occur more frequently as a result of climate change.

Still, council candidates had plenty of ideas for what the commission could do. Citing a Daily News article, Caron said she’d like to see the city put much more investment into the GreenStep cities program, which it joined in 2016 but has only put limited effort into.

Ross was excited about the potential for the commission to work reducing stormwater runoff. Broadly speaking, having a group of highly knowledgeable and committed residents to work on projects and advise the council could be a great boost to the city, he said.

Wood hopes that the commission will help to guide the city through the implementation of its Journey to 2040 plan. The updated Comprehensive Plan, approved last week, was the final piece of the three-part plan to receive council backing. A key piece of Journey to 2040 is the focus on improving city parks and increasing the amount of green space, especially downtown. The city has more green space than most cities its size, but its parks budget is smaller than average.

Wood said that he hopes the vision of a fully “integrated” downtown with green space, historic architecture and housing developments complimenting each other can be achieved. In addition, he said that the Commission could be a great resource for developers like himself. He said that while he’s learned how to build a house, his knowledge of landscaping and which trees and shrubs work well in specific areas is limited.

“If they provided information on, ‘here’s your soil type, here’s what trees would work well,’ then I wouldn’t have to wonder if the trees I’m planting will do well,” he said.

Ali said it’s important for the commission to work with Faribault’s larger businesses to reduce their energy and carbon footprint. Beyond that, he said it’s important for the commission to simply raise awareness of the importance of environmental protection.

Affordable housing

Turning their attention to affordable housing, Ali raised the concern that currently many Faribault workers have been priced out of the housing market and have been forced to look for housing elsewhere, leading to a depletion of the workforce and tax rolls.

Ali said that in addition to workforce housing, the city needs to focus on providing affordable housing for families of all shapes and sizes and needs, from large families to single people. He said that across the board, more housing stock is needed.

We need to create some type of affordable housing that meets the needs of families,” he said.

To attract developers, Ross said it’s important for the city to use all of the tools at its disposal, including the creation of Tax Increment Financing districts. He noted that the city has already made significant progress on the multi-family side of the equation due to its approach. In some ways, single-family homes are in even greater demand in Faribault than multi-family housing, but a major challenge holding the city back on development is the cost and availability of land.

Ross said that the city has more than enough single-family lots to meet its needs, but many are held by long-term investors. In order to encourage them to sell, Ross said it’s crucial that the city not act in ways that would depress property value.

Caron, who recently moved into a new place, said that much more investment in affordable housing is needed. She expressed frustration that even much of the “affordable” housing stock in Faribault is out of the price range for many families.

“A one-bedroom apartment for $900 a month is just not affordable,” she said.

In addition to increasing housing stock, Caron said it’s crucial that the council work to keep older housing stock in safe and hospitable condition. While the city has identified the issue as a concern, and mandated fire and safety inspections, she said many units remain unsafe.

“I don’t know if any of the council members have been in (some older apartments), but it’s not OK that people are living in some conditions,” she said. “No Faribault resident should have to live in substandard conditions.”

As a builder himself, Wood has significant experience in the industry and has touted several ideas to increase development, including relaxation of city fees. He said that the city needs to be careful not just to focus on one part of the market, but to expand housing wherever it can.

Attracting national builders to Faribault is a challenge because building costs are similar in Faribault as compared to the Twin Cities, but property values tend to be lower, leaving builder with lower profits. To bring in developers for single-family homes, Wood said that the city needs to think outside of the box.

Over the last decade, Wood said he’s focused on building higher-end houses for older Americans who are at or near retirement and looking to downsize. By increasing supply, he said a “trickle-down” effect is created where more affordable housing becomes available as well.

Getting connected

Lastly, the candidates addressed the issue of internet access. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the issue, with many students struggling to complete coursework from home without reliable access. While the candidates were hesitant to embrace a solution that could see the government compete with private business, all said that boosting access is a priority and to varying degrees expressed openness to a “public-private partnership.”

Ross said that he has a hard time envisioning a citywide Wi-Fi network, and it would have to have minimal cost to the city. He suggested that a practical, if somewhat undesirable part of the solution could be for the internet to come with “annoying ads.”

Like Ross, Wood expressed a strong hesitance to back any proposal that could interfere with the free market. Still, he didn’t totally discount the idea of a citywide network if a sensible agreement could be reached.

Instead, Wood suggested that a model focused on creating “hubs” could prove more workable. He called for supporting existing hubs, like Buckham Memorial Library, and creating new ones that could perhaps even draw people from I-35 into Faribault.

Noting the importance of internet access to economic development, education and youth advancement, Caron said the city does need to do better when it comes to Wi-Fi access. Like Ross and Wood, she said it’s hard to imagine doing without a partnership.

In addition to working with an existing or new provider, Caron said that the city should search out potential grants that could expand access to Wi-Fi, and tap into any existing programs offered by companies to expand access.

Likewise, Ali suggested that the city should see what resources are available from nonprofit organizations. He cited the example of PCs for People, which has distributed more than 100,000 refurbished computers to low-income people who otherwise couldn’t afford one.

“To really help organizations like that offer services in our community is the best thing we can do,” he said.