New director, new brand, new development plan | News, Sports, Jobs

NEW ULM – Local economic development is seeing new growth from the private sector under the leadership of New Ulm Business Resource and Innovation Center Director Paul Wessel.

NUBRIC is the new name for an old idea. Wessel is the new director of the New Ulm Economic Development Center. He took over the job this year. The group had been without a director since 2018. In the years that followed, New Ulm saw little economic development from the private sector. Wessel hopes to change this fundamentally.

“I think we got a bit lost” said Wessel. “The first thing for me was to look at the history of what is today NUBRIC.”

One of his first actions was to rename the decades-old organization. This is the second time that the private economic development group has changed its name. It was originally called New Ulm Industry and was established in the 1950s after the Eagle Roller Mill, the city’s largest employer, closed.

Wessel said that in response to this loss, 39 businessmen and women invested $100,000 of their own money to create a private economic development organization. Through these efforts, New Ulm eventually attracted companies like Kraft, 3M, and Windings to the city. Wessel hopes to find this same spirit.

“New Ulm has done something amazing in the industry,” he said. As an example, he highlighted the city’s history with motor windings. He described New Ulm as an incubator for this type of work with several companies working on motor windings, servos and stators.

The region is also rich in other types of industries. He said within an 80-mile radius of New Ulm, about 90% of the cement trucks in the United States are built, many of which are made in New Ulm. Wessel hopes the city can continue to attract and grow the industry again.

Over the next few years, NUBRIC is working on four initiatives to help build, grow and sustain New Ulm’s economy.

The first initiative is called “The project is leading the way.”

Wessel explained that there was a labor shortage in New Ulm. He estimated that between the four main manufacturers in New Ulm there were 140 vacancies.

“If you can’t put workers to work, these organizations will consider higher levels of automation,” he said.

This means teaching the next generation of workers about robotics, the programmable logic controller and the higher levels of the machine tool. To achieve this, all schools in New Ulm would adopt a K-12 STEM program called Project Lead the Way.

“Our ultimate goal is to make New Ulm a Project Lead the Way community”, said Wessel.

The idea is that companies looking to grow will choose New Ulm if they see that all students, regardless of school, know about this STEM program. Even Martin Luther College is interested in this program.

MLC is a college of education. Wessel said schools that receive MLC teachers are seeing a demand for STEM education. The MLC will need to invest in STEM education.

Wessel confirmed that NUBRIC is working with PLTW and Region 9 for an EDA grant to set up a state-of-the-art robotics facility on the MLC campus. They hope this will create a higher level of mentorship between college and high schools.

In June, NUBRIC will organize a kick-off meeting to promote the Lead the Way project. The meeting will be divided into breakout sessions for primary schools, secondary schools and industry.

NUBRIC’s second initiative is called “Spark Bus”, a commuter service to take workers to and from Mankato to fill factories in New Ulm. NUBRIC is also considering a second spur to the west to connect small rural towns.

Wessel estimated that 385 people leave New Ulm to go to Mankato and 333 people leave Mankato to come to New Ulm. With higher gasoline prices, there is a demand for worker transportation.

The challenge is to determine how often the bus travels between communities and where it stops. Wessel said NUBRIC will need to coordinate with the city of New Ulm to get workers to the final location.

New Ulm is currently working on a fixed bus line for the city. In theory, the Spark Bus could drop off Mankato workers at one location in New Ulm and the fixed bus line could pick them up and take them to the various businesses in New Ulm.

“That’s where I see the power of partnership,” he said.

The third initiative is called the “Spark Initiative” an incubator for start-ups. NUBRIC will provide a shared space for these businesses to grow. The business would be surrounded by low-cost support services to frame the business and help it succeed. Support services could help organize a board of directors and connect them to digital marketing and other necessary resources.

NUBRIC already has a build space to operate the Spark initiative, but has not made the location public at this time.

The fourth initiative is called “New Ulm Regional Angel Investment Network.”

It is an investment fund made up of high net worth individuals with an interest in New Ulm. These people could provide additional funding and expertise in growing a business.

Wessel said New Ulm has generated many successful businessmen who have since moved away from the community but still have ties to the city. NURAIN would help leverage these connections to help redevelop New Ulm. Wessel estimated that there was a network of former New Ulm residents who had a combined net worth of over $1 billion. NURAIN would give these people a reason to invest in New Ulm. Wessel was convinced that former residents were interested in seeing their home community improve.

Wessel said there was no reason these initiatives could not be carried out. He acknowledged there were challenges, but said the original New Ulm industry faced challenges in the 1950s and succeeded.

It will take work and a new commitment, but Wessel said New Ulm had much to be proud of and saw a bright future based on what was already there.

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