A $13.5 million request

Published 10:02 am Friday, December 16, 2011

Excutive Director of the Hormel Institute Dr. Zigang Dong greets Sen. David Senjem, chair of the Senate Capital Investment Committee Thursday at The Institute. The Institute is asking for $13.5 million in state bonding for a $27-million expansion. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, said he looks at state bonding funding from a different perspective than most, which could prove beneficial for The Hormel Institute’s $13.5 million request.

Jerry McCarthy of the Austin Port Authority show off an artist's rendition of the new Hormel Institute expansion during a visit by the Minnesota Senate Capital Investment Committee Thursday at the Institute.

Institute officials are ready to start digging on a $27-million expansion that would double its size and create 125 jobs, but first it needs the bonding approved. According to Senjem, there’s no question The Institute’s request ranks “really high.”

“I don’t look at the number, I look at the outcome and what it can do, and this is an absolutely outstanding project,” Senjem said. “It’s a high-value project in terms of payback.”

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City of Austin and Hormel Institute officials presented Thursday to members of the state Senate Capital Investment Committee, including Senjem, its chair, about the request, which would cover half of a proposed expansion. The rest of the funding would be through an Austin Port Authority bonding issuance, meaning the port authority would own the expansion and the Hormel Foundation would be in a contractual agreement to make bond payments.

“It was an outstanding presentation and it’s an outstanding organization,” Senjem said. “There’s power here in terms of medical research capability that’s the best on the face of the Earth.”

The Institute officially announced plans for an expansion in October, when the house capital investment committee toured the facility.

The Hormel Institute, founded in 1942, tripled its size with an expansion in 2008 and since has gone from 60 employees to 130. Now, it’s at full capacity and ready to expand again.

“I think this is a really exciting day for Austin,” Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, said Thursday during the committee’s visit. “It was about three years ago that we were here to expand the original Hormel Institute. So now, three years later, to be back here talking about expanding again, I think it would be very good not only for the Austin region but for all of southern Minnesota.”

The 125 new jobs would have an average starting pay of $40,000 to $50,000, according to Institute officials.

The expansion would take place on The Institute’s existing land, with 23 properties purchased to the east used for parking.

Jerry McCarthy, chair of the Port Authority, said 125 jobs at $40-50,000 a year in a community Austin’s size would be marvelous.

“It would be an enormous impact for a community this size,” he said.

Click picture to enlarge. This illustration shows where The Hormel Institute would expand. The white area above is the expansion, attached to the existing Institute. The dark grey area east of the addition is land purchased for parking, the blue boxes would be ponds or rain gardens, and the brown boxes are private houses. -- Photo provided by The Hormel Institute