Who’s got a ticket to ride on private Zip Rail?


While a private entity calling itself the North American High Speed Rail Group LLC has declared itself the private organization that’s going to raise capital and build the Zip Rail, a nonstop high speed rail line between the Twin Cities and Rochester, the group has been reluctant to share much about its corporate structure or backers.

In an email exchange with Bluestem Prairie, the group’s Chief Strategy Officer Wendy Meadley declined to share information via email about the group’s corporate structure, the CEO’s bio, and the group’s plan to elevate the Zip Rail tracks to accommodate agriculture.  “At this time we are not publicly displaying the type of information you are requesting, but we are happy to respond,” Meadley wrote.

We’ve done a bit of research, hoping to learn more. This is what we’ve come across so far.

CEO: Joe Sperber

The Rochester Post Bulletin’s Heather Carlson reported in Long road ahead for private rail developer:

During an interview after the meeting, North American’s CEO and president, Joe Sperber, said the company believes it can do something that has never been done in the United States before —privately build and operate a high-speed rail system. The key to making the plan a success is that it would not rely simply on the rail. Instead, Sperber said the project would including economic development tied into the project.

Who is Joe Sperber?  He appears to be a resident of Stillwater who was CEO of HexFuel.  Finance and Commerce reported in HexFuel gets state grant for Hastings facility:

Maplewood-based startup HexFuel is getting a $740,000 grant from the Minnesota Job Creation Fund to help with a new manufacturing facility in Hastings that is expected to employ 150 people within three years, according to a Department of Employment and Economic Development news release.

HexFuel makes a device that can be installed on diesel engines to make them more efficient. The BoostBox H2 breaks down water into hydrogen and oxygen and uses the gases to improve combustion, which increases fuel efficiency, reduces emissions and enhances performance.

The company is investing $10 million to open a plant for manufacturing the devices. The company will buy and remodel a 35,000-square-foot building at 1101 Spiral Blvd. in Hastings Business Park, just east of the Minnesota 316 and U.S. 61 intersection. The 6.75-acre property is a former UBC ProBuild Lumber site that has been vacant for two to three years, said John Hinzman, Hastings’ community development director.

HexFuel, whose leadership is in Minnesota, now has 12 full-time employees and 10 contractors at a Utah manufacturing facility that it will retain. Company President Joseph Sperber said Minnesota was selected for the manufacturing facility because it’s centrally located and has a healthy ecological technology industry for the Midwest. Sperber lives in Stillwater and CEO David E. Ault lives in Arden Hills.

The company aims for the plant to produce 3,000 to 5,000 units in its initial year and 50,000 to 60,000 units within five years, Sperber said. UPS is already testing the devices, and FedEx has inquired. “We’re looking forward to great things, and it’s exciting to work close to home,” he said. . . . .

Unfortunately, the company was not able to secure the Hastings property. In November 2014, the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal reported in State cancels HexFuel job subsidy over delay; company eyes Minneapolis instead of Hastings:

A company that promised 150 to 300 jobs for the city of Hastings has scrubbed its plans for that city and lost a $740,000 grant announced in April from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

Hexfuel, described “as a Maplewood startup” in the April press release from Gov. Mark Dayton’s office, didn’t break ground on the $10 million factory it planned in Hastings within the required six month period, so the state rescinded its Minnesota Job Creation Fund award, according to a DEED memo obtained by the Business Journal. . . .

Hexfuel is in the middle of a two-state legal battle with a group of three senior company officers. There’s a lawsuit in Colorado against Hexfuel by three men who were former officers. Hexfuel filed its own suit against the men and some related entities this spring, alleging that the men left Hexfuel and started a company in Denver that’s in direct competition. The Ramsey County suit seeks unspecified damages. The hexfuel.com website is also involved in the dispute and for now, is not operational.

The Ramsey County case is still active, according to court records.

The Mysterious Shrinking Advisory Board

Via the streets.mn Forum and the Internet Wayback Machine, it’s possible to see an advisory board that was posted at the NAHSR webpage on February 17, 2015.

Of the names listed in February, only those of Board Chair Bill Goins and Social Strategy Director Wendy Meadley remain, but the others–who may or may not remain on the advisory board–are fairly high profile figures in Minnesota’s transportation and project development spheres. Who was on the deleted list? Let’s review.

However, readers should use caution in citing this group of individuals as proof of motive and chicanery. The content was removed.

Bill Goins | Federal Express-  NAHSRG LLC Board Chair

According to his profile on the U of M’s Transportation Policy and Economic Competitiveness Advisory Board’s page:

Bill has served as Worldwide Account Manager for FedEx Services for the past 15+ years, providing strategic planning, account management and supply chain leadership to several major corporations that are headquartered in the State of Minnesota.  His most recent focus, for the past 10+ years, has been in the Healthcare Industry working with their transportation and supply chain requirements.  Bill and his family were located at the FedEx Headquarters in Memphis, TN, for 4 years where he was engaged in strategic logistics marketing, sales training in total logistics cost management and the creation of a Business Development program to support Supply Chain requirements globally between FedEx and major customers.  

His transportation and logistics experience includes 20+ years of active duty and reserve assignments in the US Navy Supply Corp where he has retired as a Navy Commander. Bill has also been an adjunct professor at the Carlson School of Management, (CSOM), at the University of Minnesota;  a 10+ year member and currently acting Chairman of the Minnesota Freight Advisory Committee, (MFAC);   on the Supply Chain Advisory Board at CSOM and on the Board of  Advisors for the Center for Transportation Studies at the U of M. Bill holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from the University of Minnesota, plus an MBA degree in Transportation and Logistics from Golden Gate University in San Francisco.

Chris Terry | Knutson Mortgage

According to the Rochester Post Bulletin:

Chris Terry was promoted to vice president of business development [for Knutson Construction]. Terry will be responsible for leading business development for all offices. Previously serving as director of business development for Knutson’s locations in Wisconsin and Rochester, Terry will continue to live in Rochester and build upon the company’s growth by working closely with Leimer and the Rochester team. He has worked at Knutson for three years.

According to his Linked in profile, Terry worked in the banking sector for many years.

Knutson Construction Services employs 500 people, with offices in Minneapolis, Iowa City, Rochester, Cedar Rapids, and Altoona.

Dale Wahlstrom | Act 3

Wahlstrom is the former president and CEO of St. Louis Park-based LifeScience Alley and its subsidiary, the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota; he retired in 2014.

According to the program for a conference in Worthington where he’ll be presenting next month, Walstrom is now:

President and CEO of Act 3, LLC, a consulting, engineering, and investment firm that focuses on helping companies to expand their global markets, assisting start up companies, and providing unique program management services in the development of capabilities that extend across public private sectors

David Williams  | University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

According to Williams’ Linked in profile,he serves as Chief Innovation Officer & VP of Strategic Alliances for the Carlson School’s executive education program.  Describing his position, he writes:

I focus on business trends/challenges and the impact/opportunity globally. I partner with leaders in corporations, start-ups, government, and research. I’m a part of a fantastic team of experts built to engage directly with business to help them innovate and compete in today’s ever changing landscape. My role is to define, design, and develop products and services. Through collaboration with multi-discipline faculty and practitioners, we are able identify best practices to improve organizations and business models. My long term mission is to help cultivate global communities of practice and help engage the world in life long learning. This takes many forms including global summits, programs for networking peers and mentors, and driving the social conversation.

Lynnette Crandall | Dorsey & Partners

According to her page on the Dorsey & Whitney website:

Lynnette Slater Crandall, a leading expert on economic development tools and public-private development projects, is a partner at Dorsey & Whitney LLP, Chair of the Firm’s Public-Private Project Development practice group, member of the Public Finance and Legislative practice groups, and Chair of the Political Law subgroup. . . .

Lynnette’s Public-Private Project Development practice includes some of the most innovative public-private development projects in the region and the country. . . .

Representative Engagements

  • Counsel to the Minnesota Sports Facility Authority, the public entity that will own and operate the $1 billion plus People’s Stadium, which will serve as the future home of the Minnesota Vikings.
  • Counsel to Mayo Clinic in the passage of the Destination Medical Center (DMC) legislation signed into law in May 2013 as part of the omnibus tax bill. DMC will help fund the public infrastructure required to keep pace with an estimated $5 billion in private investment by Mayo Clinic and other private entities over the next 20 years, all aimed at securing Rochester’s and Minnesota’s position as a global medical destination.
  • Bond counsel to Hennepin County, issuer of over $350 million tax-exempt bonds to finance Target Field, the major league baseball stadium of the Minnesota Twins. Bonds were issued under a Master Indenture in several tranches and both fixed and variable rate series.
  • Counsel to County, Regional Rail Authority and Housing and Redevelopment Authority for Target Field Station, a private development-oriented, multi-modal transit hub.
  • Counsel to joint venture Transit Improvement Board, which funds urban transit infrastructure improvements, including light rail and commuter rail, on a multi-jurisdictional basis. . . .

Mark Loftus | Dakota Electric

According to Dakota Electric Association’s webpage for Loftus:

Mark Lofthus has been the economic development director at Dakota Electric Association since November 2012. Before that, he was employed for 24 years at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, in business and community development program management. Preceding his time with the state, he worked for six years in Marshall, Minnesota for a community development group.

Mark has a B.A. in economics from the University of Minnesota, and an M.A. in public administration from Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Mark is on the board of the Dakota-Scott Workforce Investment Board, and the board of Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce. Since 2011, he has been a board member for “Think Small,” a statewide nonprofit organization devoted to enhancing early childhood education, and also serves on the board of the Minnesota Economic Development Foundation.

The Dakota Electric Association is the second largest electric cooperative in Minnesota, according to the member co-op’s About Us page.

Mark Phillips | Kraus Anderson

Phillips is no longer director of business development Kraus-Anderson Construction Company, having been appointed commissioner of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) by Governor Mark Dayton in January 2015.

According to the IRRRB website:

He previously had served as the agency’s director of economic development from 1983 to 1988. Phillips has more than 25 years of leadership in development and finance, including launching new and creative programs for community and economic development, real estate development and business financing.

He most recently served as director of business development at Kraus-Anderson Construction Company. Prior to that, he served as commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), as vice president of Northeast Ventures Corporation and as director of development for Minnesota Power.

Phillips is a graduate of the Minnesota Executive Program within the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota and has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Minnesota Duluth. He also is a recipient of the Economic Development Association of Minnesota’s Career Achievement Award.

It’s an impressive background, but we’re curious how much time Phillips will be able to commit to advising on any project outside of the Iron Range–if he remains on the NAHSRG LLC’s board after the appointment.

Wendy Meadley | Social Wendy Group

At Social Wendy, Meadley bills herself as as an Author and  Social Anthropologist; she earned her “Executive MBA and Project Management Certification from the University of St Thomas.”

Recently, she’s been in charge of the strategic communications, Minnesota State Fair presence and partner development for Expo 2023, Minnesota’s World Fair. A much-ballyhooed 2014 Indiegogo campaign to raise $200,000 came up short, raising only 7 percent of its goal, $13,133 before the deadline.

Who’s who in the Zip Rail’s opposition

As we’ve noted before, citizen opposition to the project has been organizing since 2013. Carlson reports in Long road ahead for private rail developer:

Several high-speed rail opponents traveled to St. Paul on Thursday in hopes of attending the legislative gathering. One of them was Nora Bryson Felton, co-founder of Citizens Concerned About Rail Line. Felton said she was very disappointed she did not get the chance to ask company leaders questions.

“I want to know that they have the wherewithal that if they start this that it’s not going to end up being half done, and we’re left to both pay for it or clean up it up or subsidize it forever,” the Cannon Falls resident said.

The PB’s Brett Boese reported in Zip Rail critics get a seat at the table:

Critics of the controversial Zip Rail project are working hard to ensure their voices get heard during a critical year of the planning process.

Goodhue County citizens Nora Bryson Felton and Heather Arndt, two of the project’s most vocal critics, were added to Zip Rail’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) in November. They’ve attended just one meeting thus far, but Felton says it’s “helped us understand the process better and report back to our group.

Citizens Concerned About the Rail Line (CCARL) will hold its next meeting on April 9 in Cannon Falls.

Bluestem reported in 2014 that Felton was a guest speaker at the SW Metro Tea Party in Chanhassen, talking about the DNR and water quality. An organizer for the SEMN Irrigators Association and a correspondent for the Cannon Falls Beacon, Felton ran unsuccessfully for Goodhue County commissioner in 2014.

Heather Arndt farms near Hader, in Goodhue County.


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