Grant helps Truman, MN welcome Dollar General

Project marks first Heartland economic development grant for city

Residents in Truman, Minnesota have a new place to shop now that Dollar General has opened its doors.

The business is a welcome sight for community leaders who worked for months behind the scenes to bring it to town. City Administrator Bethanie Ekstrom and the council worked with the landowner and project managers to find and prepare a development site.

Their work paid off as the new store serves as a welcomed asset to the city, providing food, health and beauty aids, cleaning supplies, basic apparel, housewares and seasonal items.

Heartland Consumers Power District, the city’s wholesale power provider, recently presented the city with an economic development grant to help with costs related to the store’s construction.

The new Dollar General under construction in Truman, MN in late October of 2019.

Filling a void

News of the Truman store broke in May of 2019. It was met with anticipation and excitement that only grew until the store opened a few short months later.

“It’s going to fill a huge void for Truman,” Mayor Lynn Brownlee told the Fairmont Sentinel in September of 2019. “They’ll have…many things that we won’t have to go out of town for, which is good for everyone.”

Dollar General strives to provide value and convenience as well as create positive a economic impact for each community in which its located.

Beyond the benefits of simply having a place in town to shop, Dollar General creates local jobs, increases the city’s tax base and draws people to the community.

Heartland grant aids with infrastructure costs

The Dollar General store was built on an empty lot situated along MN Highway 15, a main thoroughfare through the community. A developer purchased the land and constructed the facility and now rents it to Dollar General.

Ekstrom and the city were involved in the project from its early stages, facilitating communication between parties and assisting with permitting.

The city also had to install new electrical infrastructure to accommodate the new building, including a new transformer, meter and more.

A $5,000 economic development grant from Heartland will help offset the city’s costs.

Heartland provides economic development grants to customer communities to help fund projects that spark growth and development, including new business opportunities.

“A new retail establishment is an exciting benefit to any rural community,” said Heartland Director of Economic Development and Governmental Affairs Casey Crabtree. “Heartland was happy to help with this project and looks forward to partnering with Truman on more opportunities in the future.”

Heartland has been supplying reliable, public power to the city of Truman since 2006. This project marks the first time the city has applied for and received a Heartland economic development grant. The city has previously utilized Heartland’s energy efficiency grants to help purchase more efficient street lighting and lighting at city hall.

Dollar General celebrated its 16,000th store grand opening in late September of 2019. It operates stores in 44 states with plans to expand to 46 states in 2020.

Featured image: Heartland Customer Relations Manager Kelly Dybdahl, far right, presented an economic development grant to Truman city officials in late 2019. Pictured from Truman, from left to right, are Councilman Brian Nickerson, Councilman Jake Ebert and Utilities Op Foreman Taylor Varpness in the back row, and City Administrator Bethanie Ekstrom, Mayor Lynn Brownlee and Councilwoman Kathy Hendricksen.

A new model for economic development

Agencies come together to offer creative opportunities to small towns and entrepreneurs

By Bryan Stading, Regional Center for Entrepreneurial Facilitation; Originally appeared in the 6-13-18 issue of the Truman Tribune; reprinted with permission

 

The local cafe has been a staple of the small town landscape as far back as anyone can remember. But with all of the challenges facing small town rural America, keeping these institutions operating or finding people willing and able to invest in these businesses is becoming more and more difficult.

Recently, a group of economic development agencies worked together to keep one such business alive in Truman, Minnesota. Truman was facing the closing of its local cafe and would soon be faced with an empty building and no one to take it over.

New owners of the China House Cafe, Jialing and Johnny Vuong, right, with Bryan Stading of RCEF.

In a creative and cooperative effort, the Regional Center for Entrepreneurial Facilitation (RCEF), Mankato; Martin County Economic Development Authority (MCEDA) IGNITE, Fairmont; Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF), Owatonna; Truman Development Corporation, Truman; and other organizations facilitated the sale of the cafe to Johnny Vuong and his wife Jialing, a Chinese immigrant family, for just $1.00.

Johnny Vuong came to the United States in the 1980s and settled in the Los Angeles area. He and his wife relocated to Minnesota in 2000. With over 25 years of restaurant and management experience, Vuong was looking for an opportunity to open his own restaurant.

A chance remark to his realtor, Elise Nielsen of Homestead Realty, started a process that eventually allowed him to bring that dream closer to coming true.

Assistance with the sale of the building in Truman and the development of the China House Cafe came from the collaborating organizations in various forms. The Truman Development Corporation, a non-profit organization, had been running the old cafe for the better part of 13 years, leasing it from the owner.

However, the individuals involved were no longer able to continue the arrangement, leaving the cafe’s future in question. After the Truman Development Corporation was deeded the property from the original owner a plan to sell the cafe and ensure its future began to take shape.

Truman Development Corporation Secretary Treasurer Monte Rohman said, “Everything came together at once. The volunteer running the cafe was no longer able to continue. Then the owners decided to deed the property to the development corporation. And finally, Johnny came along around that same time, expressing interest in the cafe. So from a timing perspective, it couldn’t have worked better. Now we had to create the plan to sell the cafe in a way that the new owner was not overwhelmed with debt on the facility and had a good chance to succeed. We also contributed funds to replace the building’s roof.”

The RCEF then stepped in to help coordinate the sale of the cafe. Bryan Stading, RCEF’s Executive Director and Business Facilitator, served a key role in the effort.

He said, “We came to the conclusion that RCEF would draw up an agreement that would give Johnny and his wife the cafe for a dollar, but if they closed for any reason within the first ten years, they would sell it right back to the city for a buck.”

Both the sale of the cafe for one dollar and the 10-year condition made the deal a win-win for all parties. The Vuongs got the chance to establish a business and the Truman Development Corporation had the reassurance and protection it desired.

The MCEDA IGNITE program assisted the project by providing connections to business consulting services as well as providing funding for the Cafe’s marketing efforts. According to Brent Schultze, MCEDA Chairman, other economic development organizations and cities can learn from this project and possibly replicate this model.

He said, “You certainly have to be willing and a little bit creative when you have opportunities in front of you, but you don’t have to do it all. There are other entities out there with which you can put your heads together to help businesses open in the first place, stay open, grow or whatever the situation may be.”

Another key source of funding for the China House Cafe came with the help of SMIF. Funds to purchase key equipment and inventory were obtained through the Minnesota Emerging Entrepreneurial Loan Program from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). In order to receive such a loan, a qualifying agency like SMIF must administer it.

According to Marcia Haley, SBA Lending Director with SMIF, this project was unique and in line with the organization’s goals.

She said, “SMIF wants to assist towns in starting or keeping businesses that are important to their area. This can be challenging, especially for smaller towns. We had looked at two programs for this project, one through the Small Business Administration and one through DEED. The DEED loan program was really geared toward this type of project so we pursued that. The joining of five funding partners plus RCEF all collaborating on how to keep an important business in the small town of Truman was distinctive.”

Other contributing organizations included Profinium Bank, Truman, MN, and the city of Truman Economic Development Authority.

With the collaborative effort ultimately successful, the China House Cafe opened on May 19th and serves both Chinese and American cuisine. Vuong is very eager to build his business and looks forward to being an active member of the Truman community.

LED projects receive funding assistance

Grant recipients will see significant annual savings after upgrades

Four Heartland customers will have more efficient lighting in 2018 with help from Heartland’s Power Forward program. The cities of Madison, Arlington, and Aurora, SD as well as Truman Public Utilities in Minnesota recently received energy efficiency grants to assist with street and public facility lighting upgrades.

Heartland offers grants to customer utilities to perform energy efficiency improvements at city facilities. Eligible projects include those that optimize electric energy use, such as installing energy efficient lighting.

“Upgrading to more efficient lighting can provide significant savings to a municipality,” said Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland. “The more efficient use of electricity frees up funds for other important city projects.”

Heartland awards a limited number of grants to customer utilities each year with funding distributed on a first come, first served basis.

“Heartland is happy to help our customers with these important projects,” said Hyland. “Our requirements are pretty simple – the city or utility must provide a cost share and we must be able to verify the project will provide savings. We do have limited funds available for grants so we suggest customers thinking about implementing energy efficiency improvements this year apply sooner rather than later.”

Madison, SD

The city of Madison earned a $2,500 energy efficiency grant to switch incandescent lights to LEDs in concession stands and bathrooms at area parks. The city is also installing motion sensors to ensure lights are not left on when the buildings are not in use. The upgrade will save the city approximately $770 or 6,115 kilowatt hours annually.

 

Arlington, SD

Arlington is continuing to upgrade street lights throughout the city. In 2018, the city will replace 22 high pressure sodium street lights with 63-watt LED lights. With an average annual energy savings of over 24,000 kWh and annual dollar savings of over $2,400, the new lighting will pay for itself in savings in just over four years.

 

Truman, MN

Truman Public Utilities is also moving forward with another phase of street lighting upgrades. The city is replacing 65 street lights in 2018, switching from 250 and 150 watt HPS bulbs to 74 and 138 watt LEDs. The city will see an average annual energy savings of over 34,000 kWh, or $3,400 annually.

 

Aurora, SD

The upgrade of eight Main Street lights is the final phase of a project in Aurora, making all the street lights in town LED. The city is replacing 250 watt HPS lights with 135 watt LED, resulting in savings of approximately 7,637 kWH and $760 annually.

Mutual aid agreement fulfills plant maintenance needs for three Minnesota utilities

Jim Maras likens  generating plant maintenance to car maintenance–if it isn’t done regularly, things are more likely to go wrong. According to Maras, general manager of Madelia Municipal Light and Power (MMLP), the five generators that make up their power plant require regular testing, collecting of oil samples, replacement of fuel filters and more to ensure reliable operation. Unfortunately, routine maintenance doesn’t necessitate hiring a full-time employee for the position, and small utilities such as MMLP have struggled in the past to find the time and staff to perform such duties.

“Preventative maintenance is crucial but since we didn’t have anyone dedicated to the job, it was getting neglected, and we were starting to have problems,” Maras said.

Darren Gifferson will serve as plant general maintenance foreman for Madelia Municipal Light & Power, Truman Public Utilities and Lake Crystal Municipal Utilities in Minnesota under a new independent contractor agreement.
Darren Gifferson, pictured in the MMLP power plant, will serve as plant general maintenance foreman for MMLP, Truman Public Utilities and Lake Crystal Municipal Utilities under a new independent contractor agreement.

MMLP turned to some of their neighboring utilities and found a solution. They developed an independent contractor agreement with Truman Public Utilities and Lake Crystal Municipal Utilities, which also operate generators in their respective communities. The utilities have helped each other in the past as needed, but the new agreement provides a formal arrangement.

As part of the agreement, former MMLP journeyman lineman Darren Gifferson will serve as plant general maintenance foreman for the three utilities. He will continue to be employed by MMLP but will provide contract labor to Truman and Lake Crystal. His schedule will be flexible, splitting his time between the three utilities depending on what needs to be done.

“It’s nice to be working together,” said Maras. “Small municipals like ours don’t have extra money for more staff, so this allows us to not only take proper care of our plant, but provides access to help when we are short-handed.”

In addition to shared labor, the arrangement also facilitates training opportunities.

“Power plant operators are very hard to come by anymore because of generational turnover,” said Lake Crystal Line Superintendent Mathias Phelps. “Presently, our utility doesn’t have anyone on staff who knows how to repair or perform maintenance on our generators. We’re fortunate for this agreement and the opportunity to learn from Darren.”

In August, Gifferson performed mandatory URGE testing at each of the generating plants and employees from each utility were on hand to observe and learn.

URGE testing is an annual procedure that consists of running a generator for one hour at maximum capacity. During the test, operators monitor and record the temperatures of the cylinders, jacket water and lube oil as well the kilowatts being produced by the generator. They also check for oil or water leaks or other possible malfunctions.

“An URGE test indicates whether or not a generator is capable of producing its maximum capacity,” said Heartland Customer Relations Manager Steve Moses, who was on hand to assist with the testing. “Heartland purchases a set amount of capacity from the three utilities, so we want to be sure the generators are able to produce at their stated capacity should we need it.”

The contract between Madelia and Truman has already begun with Gifferson providing services to both utilities. He will begin to serve Lake Crystal under the agreement after the first of the year.

Customers upgrade lighting, earn grants

Eight Heartland customers were recently awarded energy efficiency grants for upgrading lighting. The cities of Groton, Colman and Bryant, SD and Akron, IA earned grants for upgrading high pressure sodium street lights to LED. The cities of Langford and Arlington, SD and Truman, MN earned grants for upgrading high pressure sodium street lights as well as various indoor and outdoor metal halide and fluorescent light fixtures at city facilities and structures. The city of Miller, SD earned a grant for upgrading fluorescent and incandescent fixtures at city hall.

“Lighting upgrades offer significant advantages to older, inefficient lighting including savings in energy and maintenance, and a superior quality of light and appearance,” said Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland. “A number of municipalities within our customer base and across the region are making the switch, and we are happy to help our customers administer these projects.”

Heartland provides energy efficiency grants to customers for projects that improve energy efficiency within the city. For more information, visit hcpd.com/energy-efficiency.

LED-infographic-2016

Six customers make upgrades, receive grants

March was a busy month for energy efficiency projects in Heartland customer communities. Heartland awarded six energy efficiency grants to utilities for making street lighting upgrades and installing new meters.

Miller, SD began a street lighting project upgrading 40 lights from high pressure sodium to LED. With annual energy savings expected at 14,510 kWh and a simple payback period of less than five years, Miller was awarded a grant of $4,200.

Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland, second from left, presents an energy efficiency grant to Miller Electric Superintendent Bill Lewellen, Mayor Ron Blachford and Finance Officer Sheila Coss.
Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland, second from left, presents an energy efficiency grant to Miller Electric Superintendent Bill Lewellen, Mayor Ron Blachford and Finance Officer Sheila Coss.


Bryant, SD received a grant for $5,000 as they recently started upgrading street lights throughout the city, replacing 45 mercury vapor lights and six high pressure sodium lights with LEDs. The project is a viable one for the city with savings estimated at 29,842 kWh per year and a simple payback of three years.

Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland, center, presents an energy efficiency grant to Bryant Electric Superintendent Garry Ladwig and Mayor Albert Yalowizer.
Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland, center, presents an energy efficiency grant to Bryant Electric Superintendent Garry Ladwig and Mayor Albert Yalowizer.


Madelia, MN started the second phase of their street lighting upgrade this year, replacing 60 high pressure sodium fixtures with LEDs and receiving a grant of $5,000. Annual energy savings are expected at just over 36,000 kWh and the project is expected to pay for itself in energy savings in just over four years.

Heartland Communications Manager presents an energy efficiency grant to Madelia Municipal Light & Power General Manager Jim Maras.
Heartland Communications Manager presents an energy efficiency grant to Madelia Municipal Light & Power General Manager Jim Maras.


High pressure sodium street lights along the highway in Volga, SD are being upgraded to LED. The city was awarded a grant for $2,800 for replacing 18 fixtures for expected annual savings of 11,245 kWh and a simple payback period of just under five years.

Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland presents an energy efficiency grant to Volga City Administrator Andrew Bremseth.
Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland presents an energy efficiency grant to Volga City Administrator Andrew Bremseth.


Sixty street lights are being replaced in Sioux Falls, SD for expected savings of just over 48,000 kWh annually. High pressure sodium lights in different sections of the city will be upgraded to LED and the project will see a simple payback of less than five years. The city was awarded a grant from Heartland for $5,000.

Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland presents an energy efficiency grant to Sioux Falls Light & Power Superintendent Jerry Jongeling and Sustainability Coordinator Jessica Lantgen.
Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland presents an energy efficiency grant to Sioux Falls Light & Power Superintendent Jerry Jongeling and Sustainability Coordinator Jessica Lantgen.


Truman, MN was awarded an energy efficiency grant of $5,000 for two separate projects. The city is upgrading 30 high pressure sodium street lights with LEDs for expected annual savings of 22,000 kWh and the project will pay for itself in savings in less than two and a half years. Truman is also upgrading a portion of the city’s electric meters with an AMR system.

Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland, second from left, presents an energy efficiency grant to Truman Commission Chair Brad Nickerson, Public Utilities Foreman Justin Anderson and Public Utilities Office Manager Judi Davis.
Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland, second from left, presents an energy efficiency grant to Truman Commission Chair Brad Nickerson, Public Utilities Foreman Justin Anderson and Public Utilities Office Manager Judi Davis.


Heartland awards energy efficiency grants to customers for projects that improve efficiencies within the city. For more information contact Heartland Communications Manager Ann Hyland at ahyland@hcpd.com.