Not all Minnesotans can share in this, but for most of us the greatest cause for celebration this Thanksgiving is having a job.
That is the dark cloud hanging over this Thanksgiving week as we prepare to gather on Thursday for our annual celebration to give thanks. It is a dark cloud hanging over Friday as well, the day after Thanksgiving when the annual holiday gift-buying season usually has its unofficial start.
Want to buy Minnesotan? Start with MN 2020’s Made in Minnesota Gift Guide
Projections for retail sales are gloomy as household budgets shrink and families approach spending with caution. Daily news stories this November tell of one or more local companies planning layoffs by year’s end. This comes while the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development announced that Minnesota lost 7,500 more jobs in October, bringing the state total of job losses since January to 26,000.
Just holding steady in this economic environment is cause to rejoice this Thanksgiving. Or, as Julie Rath, economic development specialist with the Redwood Area Development Corp., puts it: “We think we’re doing pretty good. We’re flat-lining.”
She could think of no recent job losses in the Redwood Falls area. One major employer laid foundation footings for an expansion that it expects to construct in the spring. And the nearby Lower Sioux Agency recently expanded its Jackpot Junction casino and convention center complex.
The absence of negative news is good news.
That approach gives even more reasons for Minnesotans to rejoice this holiday season, says Jim Waggoner, owner and general manager of the Ziebart St. Cloud franchise.
“A lot of local entrepreneur companies, local service providers and independent retailers are hanging on, surviving the national recession better than a lot of national chains and multinational companies,” he said.
The Ziebart franchise locations in Minnesota are locally owned and offer a large number of made in Minnesota products for what is called the automobile “after market.” A large number of auto parts and equipment, such as mud flaps and automatic door opening devices, are made in Minnesota or use parts made in Minnesota, he said. What’s more, such products and services for autos can make great gifts for car enthusiasts.
Waggoner contacted Minnesota 2020 after seeing the updated 2008 edition of the Made in Minnesota Gift Guide. The argument that Minnesotans can help stimulate the local economy by buying locally made products, preferably sold by local merchants, made sense to Waggoner because he knows the supply chain for products in his business sector.
For starters, he said, the Ziebart franchise owners in the Twin Cities, St. Cloud and Hibbing pay living wages. They have about 100 products that are made by employees or by Minnesota suppliers, he said, and about 300 total products that have Minnesota employment and manufacturing connections.
For instance, a Moorhead manufacturer makes an integrated part needed in electronic car door openers, he said. And a Paynesville company makes hundreds of flaps, grills and vent products for cars that are installed by Ziebart employees.
Depending on the product, only from 5 percent to 8 percent of the retail price leaves the state, he added. Oh, and these Minnesota manufacturing entrepreneurs “pay living wages, and benefits, to our neighbors who buy homes and send their kids to college.”
Ziebart stores near you can be located on the www.Ziebart.com website. That still won’t tell you all the Minnesotans and their companies that make parts and products.
But Waggoner, a promoter of the Minnesota Made Gift Guide, helps select the products because “they are quality, and they aren’t being made in a sweat shop by slave labor somewhere else in the world.”
There is another fun example of what is right about local entrepreneurs making local products, and it’s a 125-year-old manufacturing success story in Bloomington. It’s Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing Corp.
Its primary reason for its existence is the namesake laundry ‘bluing’ product that whitens whites and brightens colors without using harsh chemicals. This prolongs the life of fabrics and is environmentally friendly and biodegradable.
The company history is Minnesota manufacturing history as well. It got its start in Minneapolis when one of the founders thought a “safer” occupation had merits when his Five and Ten Cent store – the first west of Pittsburgh – blew up in a fireworks explosion.
The history and the products can be found at www.mrsstewart.com, including one product that has definite holiday gift potential. It is the Salt Crystal Garden Kit, a fun science project to do either at home or school, that turns basic table salt into beautiful crystalline flowers.
Mrs. Stewart’s Ron Dubis said this ‘grandmother’ of Minnesota entrepreneurs has eight employees and is now into its third group of local owners. By being locally owned, it hasn’t had the pressure to keep expanding like most large companies just to keep shareholders happy. Instead, he said, it has been a good, solid business that serves “generations” of customers and provides stable jobs.
That isn’t everyone’s definition of a business model. Never mind. It serves Minnesota real well over time and in the current economic environment. And it does have a business expansion success that also ties nicely with Minnesota.
About 20 years ago, a San Diego doctor discovered that Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing particles were useful, and nontoxic, when used as a tracer in solutions in laboratory experiments. A subsidiary, Bradley Products, now makes bluing particles for scientists. That is no small thing in Minnesota, home of the Medical Alley medical products industry.
With Minnesota farmers leading the nation in producing 49 million turkeys to adorn our feast tables, buying local obviously makes sense. But as the good folks at Ziebart and Mrs. Stewart’s Bluing point out, it also means jobs that support our communities and state economy. That really is a cause to celebrate. Keep that in mind this weekend.