Scientific breakthroughs - Franken 'jazzed' by Douglas Machine's high-tech advances
For the second time in a week, a U.S. senator visited Alexandria to glean information about creating jobs and technological opportunities.
On Wednesday, Al Franken toured one of the area's largest employers, Douglas Machine and its new bioscience division, Douglas Scientific.
"This has been an inspiring morning for me," Franken told reporters after his tour. "I'm jazzed."
The senator's trip followed on the heels of a January 12 visit by Senator Amy Klobuchar, who learned about high-tech job training at Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC).
Franken said he was impressed with Douglas Machine's ability to make machines that can package products at a faster and more cost-effective rate.
He was also dazzled by Douglas Scientific's breakthrough advances in creating an "array tape" and other technologies that are helping research in the ag biotech field, animal and human genetics, disease testing, bio-hazard detection and other markets.
The division has 40 employees and is growing rapidly.
Although it's been in operation for less than a year, Douglas Scientific is transforming laboratory science by reducing the cost and time it takes to test DNA samples.
Just one example of Douglas Scientific's global impact: Scientists are using its technology to study the DNA of corn seeds to develop a more drought-tolerant, faster-growing variety that will help fight world hunger.
Franken noted that he was just a young boy when the Russians launched Sputnik, the first satellite in space, which triggered the United States to develop technologies that took astronauts to the moon. He said that same kind of urgency is needed now to create more high-tech jobs.
He said Douglas Machine and Douglas Scientific are at the cutting edge of that effort.
"This company is doing amazingly well," he said. "It was growing during the worst part of the recession and still has job openings for high-tech positions."
In order to create the innovative kind of opportunities that Douglas Machine is developing, Franken said the country must invest in education, research and development, and infrastructure.
Franken added he was also impressed with the fact that 125 employees at Douglas Machine are graduates of the ATCC, which he said is a good example of how local communities can form partnerships to help each other grow.
Franken also learned about the benefits of having Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs). Douglas Machine has been employee-owned since 2000 and that's one of the factors that has made it so successful, Franken said.
After visiting Douglas Machine, Franken met with leaders of the PrimeWest Health System to discuss how they provide care for low-income individuals, seniors, and those younger than 65 with disabilities in rural areas.
The senator wrapped up his visit with a stop at Douglas County Hospital where he toured the hospital's new expansion and talked with hospital leaders.