US (MN): Greenhouse industry contributes to Owatonna development boom

On Nov. 5, the voters of Owatonna approved a $104 million bond issue to construct a new high school. For this southern Minnesota city, the vote signifies something more than an up-to-date school building. It also represents a major investment in their community’s economic future.

Bushel Boy Farms, whose headquarters is in Owatonna, is constructing a 175,000-square-foot research and development facility. Revol Greens, located a few miles north in Medford, is quadrupling the size of its climate-controlled greenhouse, where it grows salad greens for a variety of markets.

These projects are notable for several reasons, the greatest of which may be the variety of industries involved. For a city its size, Owatonna’s economic base is remarkably diverse and includes both homegrown companies and ones based elsewhere.

“We have so many different kinds of businesses that we tend to weather recessions better than a lot of communities,” says Keith Raney, vice chair of the Owatonna City Council and chair of the city’s Economic Development Authority. In many respects, the new high school will provide a significant strengthening of that foundation.

While the city’s manufacturers might get most of the attention, it’s worth noting that agriculture remains one of the area’s major industries. In addition to the region’s farmers, there is Bushel Boy Farms, founded in 1990 and now expanding its hydroponic tomato-growing operation. A newer entrant in the area’s agribusiness sector is Revol Greens, which began marketing its greenhouse-grown lettuces in February 2018. It began with a 2.5-acre facility, but with contamination recalls linked to lettuce grown outdoors in California and Arizona, the company is experiencing “strong demand from the marketplace in all aspects—retail, food service, restaurants, hospitals,” says partner and sales manager Brendon Krieg. This spring, Revol Greens is beginning an expansion program that, in time, will increase the size of its growing area to 10 acres.

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