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Making the connection: Delegation impressed by Willmar

WILLMAR -- There's something about Minnesota that makes Bengt Erik Lofgren feel comfortable.

It could be because 35 percent of Minnesotans have a Swedish heritage that Lofgren senses a "feeling of friendship" and the basis for "trust" that the Swedish businessman said is necessary for an international business relationship between Sweden and the United States.

Minnesota "is more li-ke Sweden" than any other state.

Lofgren and a half-dozen business entrepreneurs from Sweden who are involved with renewable energy were in Willmar on Thursday to tour the MinnWest Technology Campus and participate in a forum on bioenergy.

The group was in Minnesota for the 2008 International Bioenergy Days.

The group also toured several facilities in the region, including the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company and FibroMinn in Benson, Econar Solar Systems in Appleton and the Glacial Ridge Winery in Spicer.

It is hoped the tours will eventually lead to an international partnership that could bring some of Sweden's bioenergy companies here, said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.

During a tour of the campus, Steve Salzer, general manager of MinnWest, showed off newly renovated buildings that were designed to fit the needs of technology-based companies located on the campus, as well as amenities including a fitness center, café and child care center that is under construction.

Lofgren and others from his group were impressed with the facilities and the possibilities of companies from Sweden locating here and branching into the American market.

"This is exactly what we're looking for," Lofgren said.

There are some challenges to overcome to make that happen, including different cultures, different legal systems, how technology can be moved between countries and the "alignment" of goals between a big market and a niche market, said Dale Wahlstrom, president of BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota in St. Louis Park.

Wahlstrom, who has established companies in other countries, said the international relationships already established on the MinnWest campus through Nova-Tech Engineering provide valuable groundwork for new international relationships.

Gerardo Ruiz, from freEner-ga Minneapolis startup company that is working with a corporation in Spain, said there needs to be "understanding" and "patience" when working with companies from different countries and different cultures -- especially if one business is small and the other is large. "There is beauty in that relationship," he said. Efforts need to be made to "find ways to benefit" both sides.

Mike Reese, from the University of Minnesota-Morris, explained that the land grant universities have resources and research that would be available for companies here. He said the "excitement" for renewable energy in Minnesota is unmatched by other states.

State Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said they would also receive the "full backing and support" from the state to develop here.

Touting its mandates for biofuels and progressive entrepreneurship, Juhnke said Minnesota is a leader in renewable energy. He welcomed the opportunity to bring European bioenergy technology here.

Lofgren said Sweden is 15 to 20 years ahead of Minnesota in energy efficiency and companies there have advanced technology that could help Minnesota meet its new standards. "You don't have to reinvent the wheel," he said.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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