NEW ULM - Upper Midwest Management, Inc., was saluted as the New Ulm Industry/Business of the Year Thursday.
Jim Thomas, founder and president of Upper Midwest Management, praised his staff, crediting them for the company's growth over the past 38 years.
"If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have the freedom to do what I do," Thomas said.
Staff photo by Kevin Sweeney
Jim Thomas (right), president of Upper Midwest Management, poses with New Ulm Chamber President Audra Shaneman and New Ulm Mayor Robert Beussman, who proclaimed Thursday Upper Midwest Management Day in New Ulm at the New Ulm Industry Appreciation Banquet at the New Ulm Country Club.
Upper Midwest Management started in 1974. Thomas said the company was founded by four partners. "We all put in $5,000," he said. "Our revenue the first year was $30,000, and that had to cover auto expense, office rent, expenses, and paying one and a half salaries. It was not a real flush beginning."
Today Upper Midwest manages some 70,000 acres of farmland, along with 750,000 square feet of commercial space.
Thomas was praised and lightly roasted by some of his long-time friends and business acquaintances in New Ulm.
Bill Koeckeritz, who has been in the real estate business for nearly as long as Thomas was in town, had his real estate office in Upper Midwest's South Broadway location.
"I was so smart about real estate - I rented from him for 27 years," Koeckeritz said. "But I did convince him to keep the rent low enough that it didn't make sense to buy."
Koeckeritz spoke about the years of Canadian fishing trips and a special trip to Australia he shared with Thomas. For 20 years he has helped Thomas and his Community Friends organization put on community Thanksgiving dinners in New Ulm.
"And next Tuesday we are leaving for Tanzania, for our fourth mission trip for the school we support there," said Koeckeritz.
Tom Wilson, senior active partner at the law firm of Gislason & Hunter, said he met Thomas when he moved to town 33 years ago.
"I was the sixth lawyer in the firm then, and now we're around 45, all because of Jim and his talent for creating legal business," said Wilson.
Wilson said he has always been impressed by Thomas's ability to attract and keep good people in his business. He said Thomas has also been willing to take chances.
"The first thing that struck me was that he left a good paying job (with Production Credit Association) to take a flyer on a management company. It took a lot of courage."
Wilson spoke of Thomas's early partner, Gunther Haupt, a West German consultant with clients who had money to invest. "It was a tribute to Jim that Gunther trusted him to represent his clients and their money in the United States."
Wilson lauded the professionalism, the skill and expertise, the passion and the compassion of Thomas's staff. "They all have those attributes. If they don't, they don't work there."
Retired ag instructor Frank Stuckey cited Thomas' unflagging and generous support for the New Ulm High School Ag Department and FFA. He said he was one of the three founders of the New Ulm Farm-City Hub Club, and the only member to serve as president twice.
Stuckey remembered the tornado of 1998, which scoured a long line across the area from Jeffers to Comfrey and St. Peter.
"I stayed up afterward, listing things I thought would be needed to help people. The next morning Bill Koeckeritz called and asked 'Frank, what do we need to do?'"
They met at Upper Midwest Management with Thomas, who set them up with office and storage space, some phone lines and secretarial help as they set about coordinating volunteers to help clean up battered farms and debris-strewn fields.
Thomas said he was amazed looking back over 38 years. "I've been lucky, and I've been blessed. I've been specially blessed by my staff, who make it possible for me to be as active as I have been."
Thomas said the complexity of agriculture requires continuing education in farming processes, something his company strongly believes in.
He said he sees great prospects for growth in the future, "which will give us more opportunity to contribute back to our community, New Ulm. Even though we don't get most of our revenue from New Ulm, this is our community, this is what we have to support."