Welcome to the electronic version of the Chronicle newsletter with news and information of interest to the business community.
St. Croix EDC Chronicle

1st Quarter 2017   |   Inside this issue:

2016 Business of the Year winners (left to right) EDC President Agnes Ring, Todd Loehr of Wisconsin Lighting (Small Business), Matt Wallace and Trevor Wirtanen of Oliphant Brewing (Emerging Business), Matt Johnston and Ruthie Johnston of Croix Gear and Machining (Business of the Year), and 2016 Directors award winner Trudy Popenhagen.

On February 16th, St. Croix EDC honored its 2016 business of the year winners at R&D Banquet Hall in New Richmond, Wisconsin. The 2016 winners are Oliphant Brewing (Village of Somerset) as Emerging Business of the Year; Wisconsin Lighting (City of New Richmond) as Small Business of the Year; and Croix Gear & Machining (City of Hudson) as Business of the Year. Trudy Popenhagen, a retired community service manager with Xcel Energy, received the 2016 EDC Director Award.

About the 2016 Winners
Oliphant Brewing is the 2016 Emerging Business of the Year (based in St. Croix County and in business for five or fewer years). The business was launched in 2012 by co-founders Trevor Wirtanen and Matthew Wallace. Oliphant is located in leased space at Main and Depot Streets in Somerset. The space includes the brewing operation, taproom, storage and warehouse, and cold room for the dozen or so alternating beers for the taproom patrons. The exterior of the brewery features two murals there were created by local artists. A chalkboard sign in the taproom describing the beer selections is also a work of art. Wirtanen and Wallace self-distribute their products to other parts of Wisconsin, and in late 2016, they gained regulatory approval to self-distribute into Minnesota. Oliphant’s 32-ounce cans, called crowlers, set their products apart from other breweries. Learn more at

Wisconsin Lighting is the 2016 Small Business of the Year (29 or fewer employees). Wisconsin Lighting is a national manufacturer of lamps, lampshades, note cards, gift bags, candles, craft products, and decorative accessories, all from New Richmond, Wisconsin. The company specializes in supplying new, distinctive, and innovative products for department stores, the hospitality industry, craft retailers, lighting showrooms, furniture and accessory retailers, and catalog merchandisers. Wisconsin Lighting manufactures under several brands including Fenchel Lamp Shades, Nature’s Garden, and Hollywood Lights. New Richmond High School graduate Todd Loeher acquired Wisconsin Lighting when it was located in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. In 2010, he relocated the business to New Richmond and operated it in leased space designated as a business incubator in the city’s downtown district. Having outgrown its space, Loehr then purchased the entire incubator building and successfully completed a major renovation of the exterior and interior. Energy efficient LED lighting systems help the company gain new markets and customers. Learn more at
Croix Gear and Machining is the 2016 Business of the Year (30 or more employees). Croix Gear operates as a division of Marine Associates to better reflect the design and manufacture of gears for numerous business sectors across the U.S. In 2016, the owners celebrated their 50th year in Hudson, and in August, the company marked this special anniversary with a groundbreaking on a 23,000 square foot addition, bringing the total facility space to around 60,000 square feet. Since inception, the Johnston family has been involved in the ownership, starting with the late James T. Johnston who founded Marine Associates. Son Mark succeeded his father James, and when Mark died in 2010, his wife Ruthie was thrust into the role of company owner. Her son Matt is the current facility manager. Learn more at
Trudy Popenhagen retired in 2015 from a long career at Xcel Energy where she served as a community service manager in the greater St. Croix Valley and western Wisconsin. While at Xcel Energy, she was active in numerous economic development organizations, including St. Croix EDC, Polk County EDC, Pierce County EDC and the Greater St. Croix Valley EDC Collaborative. Those roles included leading the boards as president and serving in other officer roles, on executive committees and various other committees within the organizations. She also took an active role with area chambers of commerce and tourism organizations and led the early years of the region’s Legislative Day events in Madison on behalf of the St. Croix Valley. In addition to her leadership in economic development, Trudy was long-time advocate and volunteer for numerous community and non-profit organizations that help support improving the quality of life in the St. Croix Valley. In retirement, she enjoys travelling with her husband Lloyd and spending time with her children and grandchildren. She is the first female recipient of the St. Croix EDC Directors Award.
Each of the honorees received a plaque from the EDC as well as a legislative citation from the Wisconsin Senate and Assembly, and congratulatory letters from Governor Scott Walker, U.S. Representative Sean Duffy, U.S. Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin, Somerset Village Board, New Richmond City Council, and Hudson City Council.
Past business of the year winners and recipients of the Directors Award were introduced during the program.
EDC president Agnes Ring served as the evening’s emcee.

The 23rd annual awards banquet was sponsored by Associated Bank, Bakke Norman Law Offices, Baldwin LightStream, Bremer Bank, Citizens State Bank, Derrick Building Solutions, Eckberg Lammers Law Firm, First American Bank, First Bank of Baldwin, First National Bank of River Falls, First National Community Bank, First State Bank and Trust, Hiawatha National Bank, JA Counter, Market & Johnson, Phillips-Medisize, St. Croix Electric Cooperative, Security Financial Bank, WESTconsin Credit Union, Wipfli CPAs and Consultants, Wisconsin Business Development, and Xcel Energy.

Newsletter Sponsor - Thank you for your support

What Was Your First Job?

President's Column

We all enter the workforce at some point,whether it’s a part-time job or after graduation from a secondary or post-secondary school. These jobs can influence career paths, and touch us in many ways, the least of which may end up as teachable moments in the real world. I thought it would be fun to have the EDC board and staff share their stories of the first jobs.
When I read recently that the 1879 Hammond Hotel building is being demolished, it brought on a bout of nostalgia—for my first job there, and for the supper club glory days I associate with it. I started working at the Hammond Hotel in the 1970s as a sophomore in high school. The Hammond Hotel had a good run. I wish the owner Andrew Schmitz great success with the new establishment he has planned for the site. I understand he is incorporating some historic features of the hotel building— including the classic wooden bar.
The Hotel was a traditional Wisconsin Supper Club, complete with a Friday Night Fish Fry (only $3.25); Brandy Old Fashioneds to start; relish trays served with salad; and steaks delivered on sizzling platters. The hash browns didn’t come out of a freezer bag in those days. Brandy Alexanders and Grasshoppers were served for dessert.
The Hotel was closed on Mondays. That was the day the proprietors, Jim & Alice, drove into the “cities” for supplies and enjoyed their night out. Every day was a work day for them. I learned about the vagaries of the market - - the slow February nights, when the proprietor would try to make sense of it, “Where is everybody, Ag? They must have spent all their money on Christmas.”
The window seat at the end of the bar was the first to be claimed. Snowy nights were especially pretty from that window. The room was dim. The outside blinking sign and street lamp provided backlighting for the booth. It was a window on the world—or Highway 12, at least. The jukebox played. There was a TV in the bar. I worked the night President Nixon resigned.
So how was your first job? Mine was fun. It was social. It was demanding. It was rewarding especially on those nights I left with my apron pockets weighed down with change. It’s hard to believe that at $1.25 per hour plus tips I was able to save enough for tuition and a meal plan to start my college career early at UW-Madison. I enjoyed the collegiality that came from the multi-generational workforce –the cooks, bartenders, dishwashers, and waitresses to keep the food flowing. I still make my tartar sauce the Hotel way. And I still bash the ice berg lettuce on the counter once to remove the core. I also tip well.
First Jobs
Steven Peterson: My “first job” was daily milking of the cows, driving tractors and combines, and anything else that can be performed by a teen-age boy. My first “real” job off the farm was with 3M. I was hired as an “Ag” researcher …. 3M was experimenting with encapsulating “time released” seeds and fertilizers. I enjoyed my days at 3M but became tired of the drive and left there to become a loan officer at Baldwin First National Bank. That’s another story!

Mark Mitchell: Aside from de-tasseling corn, rogueing beans, and doing odd jobs for the school district, my first real job was as a carry-out boy and shelf stocker, making me in charge of ordering Shasta pop. This was at the Hy-Vee grocery store in Humboldt, Iowa in1970 and I made $1.80 per hour. I learned that it’s good to have your own money and that work can be fun.

Scott Jones: In 1999 I was a cook at Bo’s ‘N Mine in River Falls. I learned that the smell of grease and fried onions isn’t appealing to college girls...I needed a new job.

Eric Biltonen: I delivered newspapers for The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Virginia around 1979. Part of my route included the University of Virginia’s historic campus designed by Thomas Jefferson. It was quite a treat to have that campus to myself during early morning deliveries and soak in the architectural grandeur of his creation.

Brian Elwood: Vending, usher, ticket sales at Market Square Budget Cinema, Madison, Wisconsin (1988). Working in a movie theatre you quickly learn the importance of strong customer service, working quickly to resolve an issue and being able to communicate effectively with many different people in a fast-paced environment.
Dan Hansen: My first job was washing dishes in my family’s restaurant. It was called the Finch Bldg. Coffee Shop in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota and I started working over the lunch rush in 1975. Eventually the business morphed into a contract foodservice company. I stayed with it until 1989 when we sold to a larger competitor. My parents instilled a work ethic and family values and we had fun too.

Amanda Prutzman: I was a hostess at a Cracker Barrel in Janesville, Wisconsin in 1996. Getting up for the 6:00 am breakfast shift was rough, but totally worth it for the free grits!

Chuck Jerrick: While in high school, I was a teller at the Polk County Bank in Balsam Lake (1986). I made $5.00 per hour in an air conditioned building during the summer while my buddies sweated outside making $3.50 per hour. I really learned the core values of customer interaction and social skills doing this job and it has helped me with every job since then. I also learned that I truly love numbers and banking.

David Tyvoll: My first job was stocking shelves and assisting in the produce department at Nilssen’s IGA in Clear Lake, Wisconsin back in 1994. I learned that when you work with great people it is possible to work hard and still have the time of your life. I still say that it was the best job that I have ever had. I also learned how to cut (quarter) a watermelon in a way that the seeds don’t show.

Larry Knegendorf: On January 1, 1970 I started work at West Wisconsin Telephone Co-op as an installer and repair technician. I learned to do a good job so you never had to go back. Be kind to people because they were our customers.

Brett Anderson: I worked as a cook at Old Mexico in Roseville, Minnesota and made $4.50 per hour. I never ate the guacamole because it just didn’t look right….now I can’t get enough of it.

Rob O’Keefe: In 1987 I was 15 and worked as a dishwasher and bussed tables at the newly-opened Copper Kettle in Hammond. After a frustrating night with a co-worker who didn’t contribute, my Dad gave me some great advice. “Rob,” he said, “The boss always knows. Just keep working hard and don’t worry about it.” Within a month,that person had been let go and I had been promoted. Since then I’ve worked all kinds of jobs and moved into management myself. And the wisdom of my Dad’s advice has never ceased to be true... the boss always knows.

Bill Rubin: At age 16 I got a job as a dishwasher at Nickerson Farms in southern Minnesota. Nickerson’s had a chain of gas-gift shops-restaurants across the Midwest, primarily along interstates. I made $1.60 per hour and soon moved up to bussing tables and prep cook. Wage increases did not seem to follow. Reflecting back, I learned important work skills, including customer service and teamwork.

Newsletter Insert- Thank you for your support

St. Croix Insider: Oliphant Brewing:
A Creative, Rotating Taproom List Keeps Customers Coming Back

By Brenda Bredahl 

Oliphant Brewing, the newest western Wisconsin brewery located in Somerset, has been gathering accolades since it opened in August 2014.  It was named the 2015 Best New Brewery in the Twin Cities by MSP magazine and won the Judge’s Choice Award in a craft brewing competition at the 2015 Pepper Festival.
Oliphant owners Matt Wallace and Trevor Wirtanen are pleased to be named the 2016 Emerging Business of the Year by the St. Croix Economic Development Corp.
“This was all new to us,” says Wallace, who worked another job while starting up the brewery. “Now we are just happy to have time to sleep.”
Wirtanen, who worked two jobs during start-up, adds: “There is so much we didn’t know about starting a business but we’ve learned, like the administrative functions and the legal requirements. Now that we’re profitable we’re looking at ways to expand.”
Oliphant Brewing is tucked behind the Liquor Depot store in downtown Somerset. The building is a former 7-Up bottling facility and a warehouse once owned by Wallace’s grandfather and now owned by his aunt and mother Mary Wallace, who runs the liquor store.
A creative space with an inventive tap list
The exterior has bright murals on the south and east sides of the building, and the taproom offerings reflect a creative imagination as well. Both 2006 Stillwater Area High School graduates, Wallace and Wirtanen played saxophone side by side in jazz and band ensembles, where improvisation and creativity are a must.
Creativity is reflected in the packaging, marketing and product names such as Perpetual Cabaret, Citizen Kang and Toraifosu or Ant Ray Cow Pants, SemiGorgon and The Lizards McGuire.
Rotating monthly taps are represented by fantastical illustrations on a chalkboard menu drawn by SAHS classmate Jeremy Hughes, Oliphant’s taproom manager and resident artist. Hughes collaborated on the brewery’s exterior mural on east side of the building near the entrance with local artist and Oliphant employee Taylor Berman, who created the street-side mural on the south end of the building. Their art and other local artists’ works are displayed throughout the taproom.
“We have more than 100 different recipes,” said Wirtanen. “At any given time, there is about a dozen on the board. Our business model is to keep rotating a wide variety in the taproom.” Exotic flavors not normally associated with beer mash up with the beverage’s essential ingredients. For example, notes of cacao, pineapple or molasses might pair with Mandarina, Mosaic or Warrior hops as well as specialty malts.
“Some breweries focus on their flagship beers and taproom specialties, but more are shifting to a rotating model,” Wirtanen says. “It gives customers a reason to keep coming back to see what is new.”
Irish inspiration
After high school, Wallace and Wirtanen went off to college. Wallace studied English and anthropology at Hamline University, and Wirtanen studied music at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. In 2010, Wirtanen went to Ireland to obtain a master’s in music composition from the National University of Ireland. While in Dublin, he found part-time employment at a home brewing store.
In 2012 Wirtanen returned to the United States and interned at Dave’s BrewFarm in Wilson, Wis., and worked briefly at Lift Bridge Brewery in Stillwater, Minn. He and Wallace talked about starting their own brewery, as both had experience in home brewing and working at local breweries. 
“While at the BrewFarm I learned from Dave Anderson about the St. Croix Economic Development Corporation and how it helps start-up businesses,” said Wirtanen. “Dave encouraged me to contact the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls too.”
Wallace approached his mother and his aunt about leasing the empty storage facility behind their liquor store. “It’s an ideal spot because it’s in Wisconsin but close to the Twin Cities,” he said.
The pair worked with Steve DeWald of the SBDC to develop a business plan and financial projection. Then they applied for a St. Croix Economic Development Corporation small business loan of $25,000, which they received. “The challenge was doing this on a shoe-string budget and with mostly sweat equity,” Wirtanen said.
Much of Oliphant’s equipment has been custom-made by Wirtanen and Wallace. “We did quite a bit of re-engineering,” Wirtanen said. “Our mash tun was custom made for us by a bee-keeping company.”
Oliphant’s off-sale packaging is called a crowler, a unique 32 oz. can available at liquor stores in Minnesota and Wisconsin. It was developed by Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado, and Oliphant was one of the first in Wisconsin with the distinctive can.
Small business challenge and successe
As with many artisan businesses, word-of-mouth, events and social media are the lifeblood of their marketing plan. Oliphant’s website includes a blog describing each beer with imaginative, whimsical descriptions of product inspiration and ingredients. 
Oliphant employs seven people in its taproom and production warehouse. The Twin Cities-based Trivia Mafia is a popular Thursday evening event, and there is a large gaming room for their customers. Packaged snacks from nearby Bass Lake Cheese Factory are available at the taproom.
“People want something that is not mass produced,” said Wirtanen. “We’ve been lucky to be embraced by locals and people from the Twin Cities. We also see a lot of traffic during the tourism season.”
Many customers discover the brewery when they visit the liquor store. Some local establishments where the beer is available on tap include the Nova restaurant and Barkers Bar and Grill in Hudson, and off-sale at liquor stores in Hudson, New Richmond and Stillwater. Oliphant also is on tap at LOLO in Stillwater and will also be on tap at the new LOLO in Hudson when it opens. Liquor stores and taverns in the Twin Cities, Eau Claire, La Crosse, Madison and Milwaukee also carry Oliphant on tap on-site or off-sale in crowlers as well. 
The time it takes to turn a profit can make or break a start-up, and Wallace and Wirtanen have been able to quit other jobs to focus full time on the brewery. Licensing fees can be critical to a small start-up as well, say the pair. For example, Wisconsin is an advantage because a brewing license for Oliphant’s capacity in Minnesota is $1,000 a year whereas Wisconsin requires a $25 business permit that is paid once every two years.
When wanting to distribute product in their hometowns of Stillwater and Woodbury, they faced a legal question. With an attorney, they challenged the interpretation of Minnesota law that prohibited self-distribution by an out-of-state brewery in Minnesota, and the interpretation of said law was found to be unconstitutional. Now an out-of-state brewery making up to 20,000 barrels a year can act as its own distributor in Minnesota because of Oliphant’s commitment to expand their product in the region.
Currently Oliphant is developing a new line of four-pack 16 oz. cans. Wallace says: “After that launches and gets going, we will gauge the need for new equipment.”

just the facts:
Oliphant Brewing
350 Main Street, Ste 2
Somerset, WI 54025
Established 2014
7 employees

Taproom hours:
Wednesday, 4 – 9 p.m.
Thursday, 4 – 9 p.m.
Friday, 2 – 11 p.m.
Saturday, Noon – 11 p.m.
Sunday, Noon – 7 p.m.

Brenda Bredahl is a writer, editor and content specialist who lives in Hudson.
She can be reached at 715-821-8000 or
Newsletter Sponsor - Thank you for your support

Volunteers Rally in Madison

Thirty-two citizen lobbyists from the 4-county region participated in the Greater St. Croix Valley Legislative Day in Madison on February 8.
The volunteers worked in teams of four and spent the afternoon in appointments with state legislators or in larger meetings with Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch, Department of Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen, Workforce Deputy Secretary Georgia Maxwell, Tricia Braun, COO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), and Jack Jablonski, Governor Walker’s deputy chief of staff for communications.
St. Croix EDC helped launch a legislative day event several years ago to raise the awareness of the St. Croix Valley in Madison. The time at the capitol is considered one-part awareness-building and one-part lobbying on issues of importance in the areas of economic development, tourism-recreation, workforce, and education.
Other regions of the state have similar advocacy days at the capitol including the Chippewa Valley (Valley Rally), the La Crosse area (Octoberfest at the Capitol), and the Superior area (Superior Days). Representatives from business, industry, civic, and education work together to ensure their needs are heard in Madison.

Newsletter Sponsor - Thank you for your support

River Crossing Approaches August Opening

After decades of fits and starts, federal approval of a new bridge over the St. Croix River between St. Croix County, Wisconsin and Washington County, Minnesota occurred in early 2012. It required action by the U.S. House and Senate, followed by then-President Barack Obama’s signature on a bill that exempted the project from the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
Construction began in the spring of 2013 and will finish this August, weather permitting. Throughout the winter, concrete pours have closed the small gaps in the bridge segments between the piers. The sixth and final closure pour was completed on February 9, resulting in a complete bridge deck structure from the Minnesota abutment to the Wisconsin abutment.
Below the driving surface crews are installing an exterior catwalk and a drainage pipe system that runs the length of the bridge. Electrical wiring throughout the hollow portions of the bridge segments allows for lighting and controls.
The $600+ million project is a major infrastructure investment for the eastern Twin Cities and west central Wisconsin. It replaces the 1930s-era Stillwater Lift Bridge with a modern, four-lane bridge that connects expressways on both sides of the river. The Lift Bridge will close to vehicular traffic and transition to a recreational amenity for bicyclists and pedestrians. A multi-use trail in Wisconsin and Minnesota connects the new crossing to the Lift Bridge. A 12-foot wide pedestrian and cycling lane and scenic overlooks are additional amenities for area residents and travelers to enjoy.

Installation of the drainage pipe continues. Photo taken on Feb. 2 from the catwalk located underneath the bridge deck segments. The catwalk is a permanent structure that will be used during routine bridge maintenance.

Bird’s eye view of the new St. Croix Crossing. Photo credit: Mike Demulling, New Richmond Airport.

Copyright © 2017 St. Croix Economic Development Corporation, All rights reserved.
Email Marketing Powered by Mailchimp