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Minnesota Moves Forward With Pioneering Biotech Advances, Alternative Energy

Jun/Jul 08
"Despite a challenging national economy, Minnesota continues to be active in growth and innovation," says Kirsten Morell, communications director for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development She credits the medical devices, mining, and renewable energy sectors for helping to build Minnesota's economic growth.

"Medical devices can be traced back to Earl Bakken's invention of the first wearable cardiac pacemaker in 1957 which evolved into Medtronic, still based in Minneapolis," says Morell, adding that from 1996 to 2006, medical device industries increased 35.7 percent, and between 2000 and 2006, the medical device sector added 5,400 workers, more than any other state. An emerging industry niche, "convergence," deals with the manufacture of medication-emitting mechanical medical devices. More than 400 medical device companies operate in Minnesota, including St. Jude Medical and 3M, both in St. Paul, as well as smaller firms, such as CVRx (resistant hypertension treatment technology), Harland Medical (medical device coatings), and Transoma Medical (implantable, wireless diagnostic systems). The Mayo Clinic and the University of Minnesota operate notable medical and scientific R&D facilities.

Mining accounts for about "$5 billion of the economic development projects underway," says Morell. In the northeastern part of the state, the Mesabi Iron Range, a 110-mile corridor stretching from Cohasset to Babbitt, hosts mining-related projects that employ 7,000 construction workers and promise 2,500 permanent jobs. Some projects are wholly owned or partially owned by foreign-based companies from countries such as Japan, China, India, and Canada that export the iron ore, base, and precious metals. India-based Essar Steel Holdings Ltd. is building an iron-ore pellet, direct-reduced iron, and steel slab manufacturing facility near Nashuwauk that will employ 700 workers by 2011. U.S. Steel is planning an iron-ore pellet expansion at its plant in Keewatin that is the largest iron-ore pellet expansion on the Iron Range since the late 1970s.

Alternative energy focuses on wind, ethanol, and biomass. As of January 2008, 67 wind projects were underway, ranking the state third nationally in existing capacity and second in the portion of electric generated from wind power. Currently, 10 wind turbines are being erected by Minnesota Power at U.S. Steel's Minntac Mine at Iron Mountain. The state's established supply chain for wind energy companies, says Morell, includes Anderson Trucking Services, a St. Cloud-based wind-energy transportation firm; Minneapolis-based Mortenson, which has constructed 34 percent of the wind energy capacity in the U.S. to date; and construction firm D.H. Blattner and Sons in Avon. The Port of Duluth ranks as second-largest port for wind turbine imports. Besides wind, Minnesota touts the fourth-highest ethanol production capacity, with 17 ethanol plants currently operating, and 30 biomass plants underway or planned.

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