And the winner is … Hormel

Published 11:20 am Friday, March 1, 2013

Chamber names the meatpacker Business of the Year

Auctioneer Dave Thompson wanted to know who won Business of the Year bad enough he wrote a song about it. Well, sort of.

Thompson, a guest at the Austin Area Chamber of Commerce annual awards banquet, wrote lyrics asking Chamber Executive Director Sandy Forstner about which of the 15 nominees would win, to the tune of “Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident)” by John Michael Montgomery.

“Hey there Sandy won’t you give me a sign, I’ll do anything to know this time,” Thompson belted out as the music blared.

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Thompson, and the several hundred Chamber members packed into the Holiday Inn Convention Center Thursday night, soon found out top honors went to Hormel Foods Corp. Mayo Clinic Health System — Albert Lea and Austin won Project of the Year for its $28-million expansion, and the Yoga Studio of Austin took home honors for New Business of the Year.

Growth for Hormel

To Julie Craven, Hormel’s 2012 corporate expansion symbolizes the company’s growth.

“And it’s really shown off the last year,” said Craven, Hormel’s vice president of corporate communications. “From a range from the acquisition of Skippy to a just a lot of other great sales, both in United States and around the world.”

Hormel — by far Austin’s largest employer, with 2,689 jobs between its Austin plant and corporate offices — added 135 jobs in Austin last year alone, and now has about 19,800 total jobs throughout its corporation, a huge jump from the roughly 12,000 in 2000, according to CEO Jeff Ettinger. And they’ve already added 100 more jobs in Austin in 2013, as they’ve rolled out their Rev Wraps product.

“It’s a $6 million investment in the Austin plant,” said plant manager Tim Fritz. “We just started this week and we’re off to a great start and it’s looking very promising.”

Arlen Schamber, an engineer at Hormel, said the company’s glad to be a part of the Austin community.

“To be a good neighbor and to be recognized by the Chamber of Commerce like this is a great thing,” he said.

A payoff after 5 years

The Austin hospital opened a $28-million, 85,600-square-foot expansion last month, and was rewarded as the Chamber’s Project of the Year.

“The award certainly recognizes the community’s involvement,” said Rod Nordeng, vice president of operations at Mayo Clinic Health System — Albert Lea and Austin. “It was a five-year long project, and we appreciate the support we received from local businesses.”

Nordeng told the audience the Austin hospital’s expansion was the largest one approved in the Mayo Clinic Health System that year, and said that shows the company’s commitment to Austin.

Nordeng said the expansion will serve two purposes: to change the way they deliver health care and helping the become more efficient, and to attract and recruit physicians to Austin. The medical center is still hiring physicians and support staff for the expansion.

Hospital officials aren’t done with the project. The second and last phase started in January, as workers renovate more than 34,000-square feet of the hospital. That phase should last about six to 12 months and will deal with mostly clinic-related space and some administrative areas.

Yoga for all

Lindsey Kepper, owner of the Yoga Studio of Austin, said she was completely surprised when her business received New Business of the Year honors.

“We were up against the gamut of really great businesses in our county, so I just came into the night with no expectations,” she said. “I didn’t expect to win.”

Kepper started the studio, at 401 N. Main St., Suite 202, in June, and was busy immediately. By October, she had to open a second studio to accommodate the need.

“Ever since we opened our doors, people have flooded from I don’t know where,” she said. “It’s absolutely amazing. It’s like field of dreams: If you build it they will come.”

Kepper credits her staff for the business’s success, and says they will continue to adapt to Austin’s needs.

“It makes me so proud,” she said of the community’s support. “Some people are like, ‘Oh, it’s just a small town.’ But, it’s not just a small town. It’s full of opportunities. And full of amazing people who want excitement, art and amazing things.”

Other awards

The Chamber also recognized the following:

—Jeanine Nelson, of U.S. Bank in Austin, as Volunteer of the Year for her work with Fishing for a Cure and other projects.

—Barry Irish, of Sterling State Bank, as past president of the Chamber Board, and Gail Dennison, as the 2013 Board president.

—IBI Data as Mower Refreshed Business of the Year for its effort at low-cost ways to promote a healthy work environment.

—Justin Bickler, Simplified Technology Solutions, as the Chamber Ambassador of the Year for his nearly perfect ribbon cutting attendance.