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Johnson says U of M is increasing its link to Kandiyohi County

Dean Johnson, University of Minnesota regent. Tribune photo

WILLMAR -- The University of Minnesota is continuing to expand its reach into Kandiyohi County, which benefits residents and businesses here, said Dean Johnson, of Willmar, who serves on the University's Board of Regents.

During a presentation Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Johnson said the Mid-Central Research and Outreach Center that is being developed on the MinnWest Technology Campus in Willmar is a "new model of University outreach" that involves local government and business partners. The facility, which is scheduled to open late this fall, will "enhance the development of bioscience companies and workers" by providing businesses and students a state-of-the-art classroom and laboratory space.

The USDA poultry diagnostic testing lab located in Willmar is also part of the University's veterinary diagnostic laboratory, said Johnson, adding that the University is researching options to develop a "long-term strategy for turkey research" in Minnesota, which would have a direct impact on the poultry industry here.

The University is also working with local partners to equip a laboratory for biosciences and bioengineering research that the University would manage, but would be leased by corporate clients in the Willmar area that can't afford to equip their own labs.

Johnson said he's also working on a proposal to move the turkey research facility currently located at the University's UMore Park to Willmar, where the turkey industry is located.

He said current University President Robert Bruininks supports that proposal and the new, incoming president, Eric Kaler, will be updated shortly.

Board Chairman Dean Shuck said the commissioners appreciated Johnson's efforts to improve the county by increasing the University's presence here.

"We sure thank you for all you do for us," said Shuck.

"Thanks for being at the board meeting today and for being a regent," said Commissioner Dennis Peterson. "We really appreciate what you're doing."

Johnson said the University's reach even includes football. From noon to 1:30 p.m. on Thursday Gophers football coach Jerry Kill will speak at a luncheon at the Willmar American Legion.

Meanwhile, Johnson said the University is preparing for additional budget cuts proposed by the Legislature.

In the past it was common for Minnesota to provide 33 percent of the University's funding. It's currently at 21 percent. If proposed budget cuts are approved, the level would sink to about 15 percent.

Increased tuition, reduction of nearly 1,200 University staff and reductions in programs would have to be implemented to make up for the decreased state funding, said Johnson.

He said research funding is crucial for the University's continued health -- academically and financially.

Carolyn Lange

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

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