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Economic developments top 2012

December 31, 2012
By Kevin Sweeney - Journal Editor , The Journal

NEW ULM - Local economic developments dominated the voting in The Journal's 2012 Top Ten Stories survey.

The announcement by Kraft Food Groups that it was restructuring its cheese manufacturing, and its impact on New Ulm, was rated the top story in a survey of Journal employees for 2012. (All departments of The Journal are included in the voting, not just the news department, to provide a broader cross section point of view.)

The closing of the Kmart store in New Ulm was voted the second top story of the year, followed in order by District 88's successful tax levy referendum; the construction of a new Menard's in New Ulm; the city's 150th anniversary commemoration of the US-Dakota War; Ali Bernard's trip to the London Olympics; concerns over the Highway 14 expansion project; the New Ulm City Council's action over Chammy the horse, which tied with the announcement that Harold Remme was retiring as the District 88 superintendent at the end of the school year, and finally, the continuing conflicts between the owners of the Marktplatz Mall.

Article Photos

Marge Hames protested the closing of the New Ulm Kmart from March 23, 2012 until the store’s last day on June 1, 2012. File photo by Josh Moniz

1. Kraft Restructuring

On Oct. 24, Kraft Food Groups, Inc., announced a restructuring of its operations, to be carried out in 2013. The restructuring involved the consolidation of production of several cheese lines, and affected the New Ulm Kraft Plant significantly. Kraft announced production of Velveeta in New Ulm would be moved to its Champaign, Ill., plant, while New Ulm picked up bulk food service production from a plant in Springfield, Mo. New Ulm also lost the bar production line that made Kraft MilkBite Bars.

The move means New Ulm will be losing some 80 production jobs and 10 salaried positions, but Kraft also said it is investing $25 million in new packaging equipment and related infrastructure for the New Ulm plant, indicating its commitment to New Ulm in the future.

Fact Box

1. Kraft Restructuring

2. Kmart Closing

3. District 88 Tax Levy

4. Menards breaks ground

5. U.S.-Dakota War Commemoration

6. Ali Bernard at London Olympics

7. Highway 14 Concerns

8 (tie). Chammy stays home

8. (tie) Remme to retire

10. Marktplatz Mall issues

2. Kmart Closing

In February, Sears Holding, Inc., owners of Sears and Kmart retail stores, announced plans to close 15 stores in the country, including the Kmart store in New Ulm. New Ulm and Monticello were the only two Minnesota Kmart stores included in the announcement.

The announcement drew the protest of one loyal New Ulm customer, Marge Hames, who mounted a one-woman picketing protest, standing near the store each day from March 23 until its closing on June 1. Hames held a sign calling for keeping the store open. Hames said her protest was to show solidarity with the Kmart staff she has come to know and appreciate during her 34 years in New Ulm.

3. District 88 Tax Levy

Following the failure of a District 88 tax levy referendum in 2011, the district faced another round of drastic budget cuts. For the 2012-2013 school budget, the school board slashed another $1.1 million from the budget. Forecasts indicated another million-dollar or more cut was coming in 2013-14, so the school board called for another tax levy referendum in November 2012.

Buoyed by the support of an active and supportive community/business citizens committee, the district asked for $575 per pupil for 10 years, a figure that would provide $1.3 million in revenue for the district in the first year.

The levy passed with a 56 percent majority in the district, giving the district relief from making more cuts that would increase class sizes and limit the district's program offerings.

4. Menards breaks ground

After several years of rumors and speculation, Menards Inc. finally broke ground on its new store in New Ulm last spring. Construction is continuing on the store in the Airport Industrial Park, which is slated to open this spring.

The project has also brought New Ulm another development its first traffic roundabout on Highway 14 at the entrance to the Menard's store.

5. U.S.-Dakota War Commemoration

Years of planning, scholarly research and writing, and coordination resulted in a week-long observance of the 150th anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War in New Ulm in August. Lectures and discussions on the causes of the war, the people involved, and the tragedy and heroism it brought, tours of the battle scenes, monuments and dedications were all part of the program, which drew great interest in visitors from around the country. The commemoration was notable for its dedication to reconcilation, raising awareness of the many complexities involved in the history of the war, and recognition of the impact it has had and still has today.

6. Ali Bernard at London Olympics

Loyal fans of Ali Bernard, the New Ulm wrestler, who competed in the 2008 Beijing Olympics for the USA women's wrestling team, had high hopes for her return to the London Olympics. In April, however, Bernard was defeated in the US Olympic qualifying tournament, losing to Stephany Lee in the 72 kg finals.

In June, however, Lee was removed from the team after testing positive for marijuana use, and Bernard was back on the Olympic team.

Bernard traveled to London with the US Olympic team, but her hopes to improve on her 5th place finish in Beijing fell when she lost in the first round to Sweden's Jenny Fransson, Fransson was defeated in her next match, eliminating Bernard's chances.

Bernard was welcomed home to New Ulm in August by a community that couldn't be prouder of her accomplishments.

7. Highway 14 Concerns

The status of the Highway 14 expansion project became an issue of concern for local proponents of a four-lane highway between Mankato and New Ulm.

In an April 18 meeting, the Minnesota Department of Transportation unveiled its Highway 14 Safety Audit report, indicating the road was even more dangerous than previously reported. But MnDOT officials made it clear that the agency was focusing on maximizing the number of projects it could do on a limited budget, and Highway 14 didn't meet those requirements. MnDOT would instead be pushing for a new highway corridor investment strategy program, where it would compete with other similar projects for funding.

The proposal drew quick condemnation from local government officials, the Highway 14 Partnership and area legislators, who are intent on having MnDOT include the project in its 20-year capital improvements plan, which will be drawn up later this year.

8 (tie). Chammy stays home

The case of Chammy the horse, a long-time resident at the home of Dr. Charles and Roberta Hintz, drew headlines around the state. Chammy, who was one of a line of horses in residence at the Hintzes home on South Payne Street, was ordered to be removed by city staff after a neighbor complained about manure storage. Keeping a horse and other farm animals in the city limits is not allowed by ordinance. Hintz appealed to the City Council, which agreed to stay Chammy's eviction. The horse had widespread popular support by people who liked the idea and who had often visited the elderly equine. In August the council revised city ordinances to allow Chammy to stay. After his death, however, keeping livestock will not be allowed in the city.

8. (tie) Remme to retire

At the end of the District 88 school board's final meeting in December, Superintendent Harold Remme announced he would be retiring from the position effective July 1, 2013. Remme, 69, has been the district's superintendent since 1997, and has seen the district through several years of budget cuts.

"I have been with the district since 1960," said former teacher and outgoing school board member Carol Ackerson, right after Remme's announcement. "I have probably seen more superintendents than anyone else in this room, and this one is absolutely the best!"

The district will begin the search for his replacement this month.

10. Marktplatz Mall issues

The ownership of the Marktplatz Mall has been divided for several years, with a California outfit called New Ulm Retail Development owning two-thirds of the mall, and local developer Randy Danielson the other third. Disagreements and contention between the owners became public this year when New Ulm Public Utilities threatened to turn off the power to the mall unless overdue utility bills were paid. New Ulm Retail Development has charged Danielson, who owns their mortgage on the mall, has been collecting the rents and has not been meeting his responsibilities. Utility payments have been kept up since, but the continuing dispute led one tenant, Archery Trade Association, to leave the mall for offices elsewhere. The legal wrangling between the two owners continues.

 
 

 

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