The story of St. Cloud Opportunities, like that of any organization, is a story of individuals who made a difference. St. Cloud Opportunities has depended on the energy and creativity of many civic leaders, serving without pay and often without much public recognition.
One of those leaders was Glenn Carlson, long-time President of the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce, and long the Executive Director of St. Cloud Opportunities also. Glenn’s role is commemorated in one of the streets in the St. Cloud I-94 Business Park. In 1996 Glenn wrote a retrospective of the early days of St. Cloud Opportunities:
“INDUSTRIAL DEVELOPMENT – IT DIDN’T COME EASY”
GLENN CARLSON, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR – ST. CLOUD OPPORTUNITIES,
When I arrived on the scene to be the Chamber of Commerce Manager and CEO in 1953, I found that St. Cloud was no different then most rural communities in our State. Retail was the major business employer. Sure we had several outstanding manufacturing plants. But little or no effort was made to expand the employment based of manufacturing. In fact, I believe I was hired because in my I interview I stated, “What St. Cloud needs is more well planned retail promotion and a better program for farm to market roads.” The Board of Directors at the time was mostly retailers.
At that time, in St. Cloud, there was a small, for profit Industrial Development Organization whose membership was made up of retailers and a former Mayor. They owned a small parcel of land in southwestern St. Cloud. This land is now occupied by McDowall Company and a bowling alley. During my first year on the job, I never witnessed any effort to promote industrial development and prospects were very few.
In 1954, L.K. McLeland (Mac), Division Manager for Northern State Power Company and President of the Chamber of Commerce told us about a new industrial development program with federal government financial support. The Manager of the electric power company in the Albert Lea Area was President of the new Non-Profit Organization of the community and was a person friend of McLeland’s. Mac arranged for a small group from our Chamber to make a visit to Albert Lea.
We were very impressed with the Albert Lea Story. With the end of World War II, out federal government was concerned about the large number of veterans returning from the service without jobs waiting for them. Congress passed legislation in which they called for the forming of the Economic Development Administration. The first plan called for the selection of pilot programs in each State. Albert Lea was selected from Minnesota. They received a large federal grant which was used to form the Non-Profit organization and develop their first industrial park. When we visited Albert Lea, they were already very successful.
When returning to St. Cloud, Mac suggested the Chamber form a Non-Profit industrial development organization. Being new in my position, I was concerned about the possibility of strong opposition from the group which owned the for profit organization. They were a big part of the community power structure.
Mac convinced us to from our own power group and we started a new, Non-Profit organization now know as St. Cloud Opportunities, Inc.
We incorporated in 1955 with Mac being our first President. Our first membership fee was $10.00 per year and today, forty-on years later the dues are still the same.
In 1957, the U.S. Veterans Administration declared 182 acres of their property, south across 8th Street North as surplus land. After several attempt to negotiate the purchase of the property from the General Services Administration, which governs the sale of government surplus properties, we convinced them to sell the property during a public auction.
What caused the delay in the purchase of the property? Several local area citizens were also interested in the purchase of this property for residential development. Every time we offered a purchase price, theses citizen would increase their offer. GSA finally agreed to the plan of a public auction which would be held on the land site. This land was located in St. Cloud Township and being government owned, they did not pay real estate taxes. Beside that, the VA had their own fire department, security, water and waste water treatment system and did not depend upon the City of St. Cloud for these services.
We suggested that the VA request annexation to St. Cloud. They still wouldn’t pay real estate taxes and they would receive all the public utility services they need. They agreed and went ahead with the request for annexation. The township officials were very cooperative. After all, they didn’t collect real estate taxes, so they had nothing to lose and they were in favor of our plans for industrial development.
Working with our City Administration, City Council, Planning Commission and the Engineering Department, we had the property zoned industrial.
The public auction was held on August 27, 1959 and our organization purchased the land for $36,462. The property was paid for by the earlier sale of $50,000 in St. Cloud Opportunity Revenue Bonds paying 6% interest. Business, professional, individuals and organizations purchased these bonds. Also in 1959 an agreement was made with the City for public improvements such as water, sewer, and street construction for a total cost of $75,941 which the city banked, payable as we sold sites. We paid the final payment of principle and interest in 1974.
Our first prospect was the Fingerhut Manufacturing Company. They were forced out of their plant in Princeton, MN by a fire which destroyed their plant. Several of us visited their site when many of the hot coals were still smoldering.
We invited the company to build their new plant in our park. After negotiations, we built the first building in the park for Fingerhut. This was a cement block building of 18,000 sq. ft. The construction cost was also paid for by the sale of revenue bonds with many of the same individuals and groups buying these bonds.
There was some criticism by local citizens, because all we had with Fingerhut was a six months lease. The building would house a large number of sewing machines that made plastic automobile seat covers. Older citizens will remember these covers. They were cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Some persons said that with only a six month lease, the company, after six months, could load up their sewing machines in trucks and move their operations. That was true, but this was our first prospect, so we went ahead with the lease and construction.
The sale of the land in St. Cloud Industrial Park and St. Cloud Industrial Center – West is another story, but we did all this with the cooperation of many, our members, officials of the City, St. Cloud Township, other government bodies and those who purchased our revenue bonds.
It is always dangerous to name people who were most active in an organization, because you always leave out some who also deserve credit, but I want to name a few who in my opinion were most involved in the development of the two parks. Our Presidents who served many years in tan outstanding leadership role. L. K. McLeland, Lew Crain, George McDowall, Robert Reinholz, Donald Volkmuth, Jack Happe and now Bill Conlon. I must also give credit to our old friend Carlton Eckberg, Paul Hoffman and special credit to Jerry Kigin who has been our Treasurer for nearly 40 years. Of course credit is also due to all others who served as officers and Board of Directors since 1954.
I am very proud to have been a member of that group for these years.
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St. Cloud Opportunities | 320.656.3838 | E-mail | P.O. Box 7716 St. Cloud, MN 56301