Below-average rainfall from August through December last year, and not much snow so far this year, has some farmers and gardeners worried about drought. Don’t worry, says Thomas Hoverstad, a scientist with the University of Minnesota’s Southern Research and Outreach Center in Waseca. Hoverstad spoke with Edie Schmierbach of the Mankato Free Press and said that the lack of moisture and snow cover means farmers won’t have to wait as long to get into their fields to plant this spring. “This situation is not bad news,” he said. Minnesota is usually wet in the spring, Hoverstad said, with fall rains used to recharge the soil’s moisture level. “We didn’t get that last fall, but hopefully in March and April we can replace that,” he said. Roger Engelson of Green Thumb Garden Center in Mankato said warm temperatures caused lilacs to bud early and then freeze. If you avoid pruning them, they may come back for 2013, he said. Flower beds will have spotty shows of crocuses and daffodils, but they should come back next year as well, he said.
To avoid inevitable legislative budget cuts, the Sleepy Eye school board approved a plan for a four-day school week and will send the plan to the state Department of Education for approval, writes Fritz Busch of the New Ulm Journal. The schedule will begin next school year. Board member Ron Geiger said the four-day week transition avoids making further cuts. A committee found adopting a four-day week would save the district more than $80,000 a year, It will add 2,748 instructional minutes and 370 staff working minutes a year by adding an hour and 20 minutes to each school day and closing buildings on Mondays. Eight-period school days next fall would begin at 7:55 a.m. and end at 4 p.m. This year, school days start at 8:15 a.m. and end at 3:01 p.m.
Hospitality Minnesota President Dan McElroy told the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce last week that state hospitality and tourism is still struggling to regain its pre-Great Recession levels, writes John Moniz of the New Ulm Journal. McElroy said 2012 was the first year many of the subtypes in the industries returned to normal levels. He said the rest will also return in the next couple of years if the economic recovery continues. He offered some stats: The tourism and hospitality industries employed an average of 235,000 people in 2010; almost all revenues are spent locally or subject to local sale tax; tourism is the second biggest private employer after manufacturing and, in 2010, accounted for $11.3 billion in total sales, or 5 percent of the gross state product, along with $4 billion in wages and $732 million in sales tax revenues, or 17 percent of the total state sale tax; there are almost 10,000 restaurants, 870 hotels, 850 resorts and nearly 500 campgrounds. McElroy attributed to the large number of hospitality and tourism businesses to the sheer size of Minnesota and the wide diversity in both its outdoor terrain and city attractions, like the Mall of America in Bloomington and the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. He also said the newest tourism draws have been outdoor activities, including bird watching, bicycling and cross-country skiing.
Speaking of tourism, Peter Passi of the Duluth News Tribune writes that Duluth’s hospitality industry thrived in 2011. Last year, the city received nearly $8.2 million in local tourism taxes collected by hotels, motels, restaurants and bars. Tourism tax revenue rose more than $400,000 from 2010, climbing 5.3 percent. “I think it really points to some of the economic recovery we’re seeing that’s better and faster than we anticipated,” said Dave Montgomery, chief administrative officer for the city of Duluth. “Duluth is attracting people, and they’re feeling more comfortable about staying in hotels and going out to restaurants.” The city has $748,800 more than what it had forecast for tax collections in 2011. Some will go to pay off more than $129,000 in overdue utility bills at the Great Lakes Aquarium, but most will go into a reserve fund to use for capital improvements to local tourist attractions, to cover unanticipated costs and possibly to pay for new projects.
Sajid and Amanda Ghauri of Moorhead have spent their 20 years of marriage reveling in their multicultural life together, writes Roxane B. Salonen of the Fargo Forum. Sajid was from Pakistan, a student at Minnesota State University Moorhead. Amanda Wray was a local girl. He first saw her in the library and “it was love at first sight,” he said. She later fell for him during the Heritage Dancers campus folk-dancing group he joined to be near her. During their courtship, some questioned Sajid’s intentions, concerned he might be after a green card. But “every time I came back and was face to face with Sajid, we just connected on so many levels; on a human level but also on a spiritual level. And when you feel something is right, you have that strength to follow through,” Amanda said.
They celebrated a two-culture wedding where the bridesmaids wore saris while the bride wore a traditional Western gown. Now they have four children, ages 15 to 2. Asked what makes for a successful marriage, Sajid concluded: “You have to ignore each other’s weaknesses, talk to each other and help each other out. … And if you can, go out of your way and help somebody out. And don’t expect anything back.”
The old creamery building in Hendricks, vacant for 30 years, is due for a facelift. Jason Markkula, who renovated the Hendricks bank building and turned it into a hunting lodge, plans to rehabilitate the decayed but solid structure and put a microbrewery in it, writes Steve Browne of the Marshall Independent. Markkula said he and his friend started Bank Brewing Company to give back to the community: Part of the profits from two of the company's brands, Walleye Chop and Rooster Lager, go to Pheasants Forever to buy land for wildlife areas. Bank Brewing brands are currently brewed in Cold Spring and Lucan. Now Markkula wants the company to have its own brewery. “We've always talked about how the creamery building would be a great place to have a brewery. It's such a visible landmark in Hendricks and it deserves to be restored,” Markkula said.
Vince Robinson, enterprise facilitator of the Lincoln County Enterprise Development Corporation, said there are currently two grant applications to rehabilitate the structure. One is a redevelopment grant from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for $57,000. The second is from the federal Small Cities Development Program to be used for projects around Hendricks, of which $40,000 would be used to update doors, windows and insulation in the creamery. Hendricks City Administrator David Blees said the brewery should generate three to five new jobs right away and possibly more after the first year it’s operational. “Hopefully we'll be brewing in the creamery in 2014,” Markkula said.
The Moorhead City Council rejected a petition to repeal a paraphernalia ban, writes Wendy Reuer of the Fargo Forum. City Clerk Jill Wenger said 1,797 of the 2,915 submitted signatures were found invalid when names were not legible, the person was not a Moorhead resident or not registered to vote. Discontent owner Tom Tepley, who helped organize the petition with other smoke shop owners and employees, said “we registered over 1,100 people. There was no doubt in my mind it was going to get thrown out. It didn’t surprise me.” The petition seeks to repeal the paraphernalia ban passed in November which makes selling or possessing any item law enforcement deems drug paraphernalia a misdemeanor. The ordinance is stricter than state law, under which an item must be proved to have been used for drug use. The petition review process took six days for Wenger, five city staff members and eight Moorhead police volunteers.
City Manager Michael Redlinger said volunteers were necessary because the cost of using staff time for certification would have been “astronomical.” Tepley said using police department volunteers tainted the process. The petition needs at least 1,847 signatures to move forward. Tepley closed his Moorhead shop Jan. 11 after the ordinance took effect. He said he may open again and circulate the petition in his stores.