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Five great places to be a manufacturer in Minnesota

Members of Alexandria's new Packaging Machine Manufacturers' Consortium were pictured in an Enterprise Minnesota story listing Douglas County as one of "Five Great Places to be a Manufacturer in Minnesota." They include (clockwise, from bottom left) Jeff Bigger, Massman Automation Designs, LLC; Rick Paulsen, Douglas Machine; Jason Murray, Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission; Gary Christianson, ITW Heartland; Todd Zarbok, Alexandria Technical and Community College; Ray Frazee, Douglas Machine;...

Douglas County's reputation as a leader in the packaging manufacturing industry is shining brighter than ever.

Enterprise Minnesota magazine named the county as one of "Five Great Places to be a Manufacturer in Minnesota."

The five communities were saluted for taking extra measures to ensure the continued success of their local manufacturers, "and in turn, their schools, families and economies."

"I think it's a great honor," Jason Murray, executive director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission, told the Echo Press. "It speaks to the strength of our manufacturing base and specifically, the machine packaging sector that we have here and the jobs they create."

Murray listed three factors that have built Alexandria's manufacturing base over the years - an innovative environment, local entrepreneurs who have grown their companies and a technical college that has focused on local manufacturing and adding jobs all the way back to its roots in the early 1960s.

The story, "Alexandria: Packing Progress," was published in the January 2013 issue of Enterprise Minnesota. It notes that manufacturing makes up 16.6 percent of local employment opportunities in Douglas County.

"And with four automated packaging machinery manufacturers within Alexandria's city limits (and a few more down the road), it's no wonder that Alexandria is dubbed 'the Silicone Valley' of the packaging equipment world," noted writer Andrea Lahouze.

The story highlights the fact that the companies formed a Packaging Machine Manufacturers Consortium to pool their resources for non-competitive activities such as recruiting, hiring and retaining employees.

Consortium members include Aagard, Douglas Machine, ITW Heartland, Massman Automation Designs, and the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission.

The story notes that the companies work closely with Alexandria Technical and Community College (ATCC) and local schools to spark student interest in manufacturing careers.

When the new Alexandria Area High School opens in the fall of 2014, for example, it will include a state-of-the-art industrial center and lab in a highly visible spot in the center of the building, the story noted.

The consortium has also provided funding and support for School District 206's FIRST Robotics Team, which requires students to combine science, technology, engineering and math skills to build a robot to complete tasks in competitions, the story said.

The article lists other partnerships as well: companies offering internships and tours to students; opening their facilities for ATCC manufacturing-related courses; hosting local junior high and high school teachers for weeklong summer programs to help them understand job opportunities in the manufacturing field.

Rick Paulsen, president and COO of Douglas Machine, said those partnerships are key to helping local companies find skilled workers and for the community to thrive.

"The more we can do to communicate the job opportunities to young people, the more we'll be able to add jobs to the area, which brings families into our community, which helps the local economy and the school system," Paulsen said in the Enterprise Minnesota story. "We feel that manufacturing is a vital link to the success of any local economy."

The story said that the West Central Initiative's Workforce 2020 program has also helped the local nine-county manufacturing industry by providing "world-class" training in cutting-edge areas such as geometric dimensioning and tolerancing, and creating engineering drawings and three-dimensional, solid models for products.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
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