A look at how manufacturing took off in Douglas County

Editor’s note: Because of COVID-19, the annual Business and Industrial Appreciation Day in Alexandria won’t be held this year and the spotlight will not shine on one particular business. Instead, throughout the month of October, newspaper articles, advertisements and social media posts will spotlight the importance of all business and industry to the local community.

By Nicole Fernholz, director of Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission

What does it take to earn a reputation as one of the most successful rural regional center communities in the upper Midwest? While there is no simple and easy answer and there is no “easy button” to push, we can go back to December 14, 1953, the date of incorporation for an organization called “The Alexandria Developers.”

This group was formed with the purpose of stimulating the location and development of industry in the Alexandria area, basically diversifying the economy from the then current agriculture and tourist base to a more industrial economy.

That early venture recognized the importance of investment, risk-taking, vision, and community-wide involvement – a community where all the players are at the table. That original organization – led by individuals such as Herman Felt, Ray Tapper, and Julian Newhouse – launched a purposeful and extensive industrial development initiative for Alexandria and Douglas County.


To raise funds, shares in the original Developers Common Stock were purchased at $1.00 a share with the following disclaimer: “I am making this purchase knowing that the purpose of the corporation is to promote and encourage industries and commercial enterprises and to aid existing businesses in the city of Alexandria, Minnesota, and surrounding area. My contribution to the capital of the corporation is primarily to aid in the civic betterment program, and not with the expectation of receiving substantial return upon my investment.”

The developers then acquired land and buildings that would eventually be available for industrial purposes. They started out with approximately 10 acres of land suitable for location of new industry and four buildings available for industry or expansion with total floor space in these four buildings of 41,800 square feet.

With those assets, the Developers played a leading role in the location and/or development of the following industries – many in manufacturing:

  • 3M (Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing)

  • Alexandria Industries

  • ITW Heartland

  • Bellanca Aircraft

  • American Spirit Mailing (Fingerhut)

  • Donnelly Custom Manufacturing Company (Donnelly Plastics)

  • Rural Cellular Corporation

Those early visionaries knew that our area would not be able to grow and thrive on agriculture and tourism alone. They recognized the impact of manufacturing and the importance it would have and continue to have on our economy today. The manufacturing industry is a dynamic segment of Minnesota’s economy, and we depend on a strong and competitive manufacturing industry to ensure economic competitiveness. Statewide, manufacturing is the engine that powers our economy, and locally, manufacturing impacts our economy:

  • Manufacturing has the largest total payroll among business sectors in Douglas County, providing $210 million in wages. This equates to $64,000 as the average salary to a person employed in manufacturing.

  • Manufacturing is the highest job creator in the region – creating 20% of the jobs. The industry provides over 3,500 highly skilled, high paying jobs, which significantly contribute to our area’s high standard of living and economic vitality.

  • Manufacturing jobs that will see significant growth in the next 10 years include CNC programmers, welding, machinists and first line supervisors of mechanics, installers and repairers.

3M was the very first recipient of the BIAD recognition in 1984 because of its investment in our community and the impact it had on our economy. After 36 years of annually recognizing one organization that has played a significant role in the economic health of this community, we take a slightly different approach this year. Although we can’t meet in person to honor a BIAD company, we can look around our community and remind ourselves of why that early vision by The Douglas County Developers – launched to ensure an economically healthy community in 1953 – works even to this day.

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