Local businesses and officials view Greater Mankato Growth’s marketing initiative GreenSeam as a chance to grow local connections and national and international business interest in the region.

GreenSeam, unveiled June 20, identifies 28 counties in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa as a central place for agricultural production. Backers want the region to be known as the “Silicon Valley of agriculture.”

“I think it’s important for the mainstream of society, more in the city areas, to understand the impact and advantage of having all the ag industry here,” said Mitch Davis, general manager of Davis Family Dairies, based in Nicollet County. “I don’t think people are aware of all the businesses, services, ancillary services that are here because of agriculture.”

Identifying agriculture as the key industry and raising its visibility could attract more businesses to the region and draw young people to agricultural careers, regardless of educational background.

“Success tends to breed success,” Davis said. “If people see this region as an area that is business-friendly and ag-friendly, they are more likely to come here.”

What GreenSeam will do

Sam Ziegler, director of GreenSeam and a GMG employee, has said that the effort will focus on connecting businesses with ties to agriculture or who support those that do. Then, the initiative will work to spread the word nationally and internationally about the region, using ties and contacts from local businesses. The GreenSeam connections will also assist with business development for established businesses and work on education and talent fulfillment. All the while, business and local leaders can use “GreenSeam” to identify the region.

“It’s a pooling of resources,” said Courtney Hennis, communications director for Crystal Valley Cooperative. Crystal Valley is based in Lake Crystal but has locations in 10 communities, including Janesville and Nicollet. “We would use it to help with workforce and to see trends in the industry.”

For example, Crystal Valley needs temporary drivers in the fall and looks for businesses who use temporary employees at other times of the year for help finding dependable drivers.

Hennis called the region’s natural resources a “silent treasure.” Excellent soil, plentiful water and transportation infrastructure -- rail and road -- are big assets for a wide array of industries and manufacturing. “It isn’t just agriculture,” she said.

The region has more than 800 ag-related businesses, GreenSeam says, but sponsors of the effort include banks, engineering firms, real estate companies and technology developers.

“The biggest thing is that all these companies are coming together,” Hennis said.

What locals hope for from GreenSeam

Local officials say the effort plays to the region’s strengths.

“We do have a lot of assets related to agriculture and there’s a potential to brand us as a region of national significance,” said Ryan Krosch, Nicollet County administrator.

He compared it to Rochester’s Destination Medical Center effort, which is marketing Rochester as a premiere location for medical care and research. Like agriculture here, that’s something Rochester was already recognized for.

“If there’s any success with it, it will trickle down to everyone involved,” Krosch said.

In Waseca, Economic Development Coordinator Gary Sandholm said the city is well-positioned to thrive under the initiative. Between the farms, food processing and agricultural businesses, Waseca has the University of Minnesota Southern Research and Outreach Center and an outpost of the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute.

“With these resources in Waseca, it helps enhance Waseca’s position within this regional effort,” he said. “We have some interesting components that other communities in the region don’t have and other regions don’t have.”

The success of the effort will “depend on the imagination of people who live here and who come from other places,” Sandholm said. “There are a lot of smart people in the country and the world who are continually finding new ways to use what had previously been discarded.”

New value-added uses could be found for crop residue or the waste after processing.

Waseca County Administrator Curt Kephart agreed on the need for value-added research.

“We should expand on every opportunity like this to beat the drum for value-added research and products,” he said. “The real economic engine becomes when we take raw product and build value into the raw product.”

And, he said, “Waseca County is in the middle of everywhere,” with easy transportation links to serve as an advantage.

He praised the GreenSeam effort for raising agriculture’s profile and reaching beyond municipal and state lines.

“The most significant piece is trying to melt some of those artificial boundaries and work collaboratively,” he said.

Gustavus Adolphus College Provost Mark Braun said GreenSeam emphasizes the “relationship between the land and the people,” a relationship that Gustavus has focused on through Nobel Conference topics and the Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation.

While few students head for production agriculture, Braun said many end up in fields that tie into or relate to agriculture. It may be in fields of sales, finance, communications, accounting, engineering, soil science, natural resources, chemistry or biology.

“Biology is one of our top three majors,” Braun said. “A lot of students are learning about plant biology and animal biology, as well.”

Throughout the region, he said he hopes it will grow enthusiasm and interest in agriculture as few have the opportunity to do hands-on field or farm work growing up now. Agriculture, he said, is the region’s backbone.

“When ag does well, the rest of local industry does well,” Braun said. “It’s good for all of us when the ag money is flowing.”

Reach Associate Editor Nancy Madsen at 507-931-8568 or follow her on Twitter.com @SPHnancy.​​

Nancy Madsen has written for newspapers in Watertown, N.Y., and Mankato, as well as for PolitiFact Virginia at the Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Va. Nancy is a graduate of Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., and Syracuse University in Syracuse, N.Y.

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