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January 06, 2016

Alliance@IBM dissolves after 17 years

After almost 17 years, a group attempting to organize a union at IBM is closing up shop.

Lee Conrad announced the dissolution of Alliance@IBM on Tuesday. The Endicott, N.Y.-based organization was affiliated with Communications Workers of America. It has been an outspoken critic of IBM and its treatment of its employees since it formed in 1999.

Allianceibm-220x64"Years of job cuts and membership losses have taken their toll. IBM executive management steamrolled over employees and their families," wrote Conrad, Alliance@IBM's national coordinator. "We tried to push back when we could, but we didn't have enough people power to change the working conditions or stop the massive job cuts or offshoring at IBM."

He estimated the membership of the Alliance@IBM never topped 400 at any point. That number has been shrinking in recent years to below 200 members at the start of 2016.

"Most are now ex-IBMers. The constant job cuts, the fear inside the workplace and offshoring have had a devastating impact on organizing," he wrote in an email. "We felt we have done all we could."

The Alliance@IBM grew from the IBM Employee Benefits Action Coalition, which had its roots in Rochester. That group formed in protest of IBM reducing employee benefits.

Former Rochester IBM employee Janet Krueger was the national spokeswoman for the coalition. It filed lawsuits, lobbied politicians in response to the pension changes and hired planes to fly protest banners during the Olmsted County Fair.

In 1999, Alliance@IBM was given the Disgruntled Employees of the Year award by Disgruntled magazine.

In recent years, Alliance@IBM has been best known for informally tallying IBM job cuts and commenting on layoffs. IBM stopped discussing layoffs and employee numbers at each campus, such as Rochester, in 2008. 

The Armonk, N.Y.,-based computer giant opened in Rochester in 1956 and soon became the top employer for much of the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 1966, Mayo Clinic tied it, when each employed 3,600 workers. Mayo pulled ahead in 1967 with 3,850 employees compared to IBM's 3,800.

IBM's presence in Rochester, which topped out at more than 8,000 employees in the 1990s, has since been whittled down by layoffs and attrition to an estimated less than 3,000 today.

Insiders estimate that IBM has now slipped to the third spot on the list of top Rochester employers behind the Rochester Public Schools.

 

January 05, 2016

Credit union buys land for new branch

A Wisconsin credit union with plans to build a second Rochester branch recently bought a parcel of land for $1.25 million.

Altra Federal Credit Union bought land on Dec. 14 in the Chateau Circle commercial development at 55th Street Northwest and Chateau Road. That means the new branch will be located near the Walgreens drug store planned for that area.

O"We've been looking for a new spot to build a new full-service branch for quite a while," said Cheryl Dutton, vice president of marketing of the La Crosse, Wis.-based credit union. "The Rochester market is a very important market to us."

While the land is acquired, Dutton said the project still is in the initial stages, so there's no timeline yet.

Altra opened its first Rochester branch in 2012 at 123 16th Ave. SW in the Shoppes on Second development. It now has five on staff.

"The growth has been exceptional. However, it's a very small office in a very busy strip mall. To service our members better, we'd like to build a larger branch, usually 4,000 to 5,000 square feet," she said.

The credit union is aware residents in the Chateau Circle area have voiced some concerns about the commercial development in their neighborhood.

"We plan to be very good neighbors," said Dutton. "We think it's going to be a great area for us."

Altra began in 1931 as the Trane Employees Credit Union with a history similar to that of the IBM Mid-America Credit Union, which became Think Federal Credit Union. It has Minnesota branches in La Crescent and Winona. Overall, it has 17 locations in eight states.

January 04, 2016

Last minute 2015 deals hot on South Broadway

On the heels of selling a Rochester office building, a local developer has purchased an auto parts store building for $1.07 million.

DefaultStoreImageRochester developer John Klopp's High Springs Inc. closed on an investment deal to buy the 10-year-old Advance Auto building at 1764 South Broadway on Dec. 31. High Springs purchased it from Calli R LLC, led by Ron Schultz, and Steve Wernimont's Wernimont Properties.

Just a day before, High Springs closed on a sale of the former Re/Max Results headquarters at 4600 18th Avenue N.W. to the non-profit Family Service Rochester for $1.3 million.

Advance Auto Parts opened for business in the 7,000-square-foot building on South Broadway in the spring of 2006.

• ANOTHER BROADWAY BUY: High Springs wasn't the only Rochester firm wrapping up 2015 with a real estate purchase.

12072015lostcajunRochester-based Team LK Inc. bought the former Lost Cajun restaurant building at 2025 South Broadway for $850,000 from Pep Enterprises on Dec. 23.

Joe and Theresa Peplinski's Lost Cajun restaurant closed abruptly in early December. The buzz is that another eatery is lining up plans to move into the spot.

The Peplinskis purchased the 19-year-old former convenience in February 2014 from Kwik Trip, Inc. for $450,000. Kwik Trip, in turn, had purchased it fromHoliday Stationstores for $675,000 in June 2013. 

Of course, Speedway Super America started the whole cycle, when it sold its six Rochester stations to rival Holiday.

December 30, 2015

Squeezed #rochmn nonprofit to buy bigger building for $1.3 million

A popular Rochester nonprofit with space issues is closing on the purchase of a $1.3 million office building this week.

Family Service Rochester is buying the former Re/Max Results headquarters at 4600 18th Avenue N.W. The Eden Prairie, Minn.-based Re/Max Results moved out the 24-year-old building last summer, when its new complex at 4123 26th St. N.W. was completed.
FireShot Capture - 1120 Civic Center Dr NW - Google Maps_ - https___www.google.com_maps_@44.0281

The nonprofit provides services such as child welfare, family stability, mental health and individual and couples counseling as well as managing the local Meals on Wheels program.


"We've been out of space and exploring options for the last few years," said FSR Executive Director Scott Maloney. "It will double our square footage and give us conference room space that we don't currently have."

Remax exteriorFamily Service Rochester has been based in the former Home Federal Savings Bank building at 1110 Sixth St. NW on Civic Center Drive by Barlow Plaza for 13 years.

Maloney estimated his 28 office team members could move to the new location by early June, if the renovation goes as planned this spring. Family Service Rochester has 85 employees overall.

"We like the neighborhood and the location," he added. "That location also accommodates our parking needs, which has been stretched for years."

Braasch Commercial Real Estate is handling the deal. FSR is buying the complex from Rochester developer John Klopp's High Springs Inc. Klopp's firm bought the 24-year-old building in November for $1.1 million.

While Family Service Rochester works on its plan for the move, the next step is sell its current location. Maloney says an offer is pending for the former bank building. It is listed for $1.3 million.

December 29, 2015

Rochester 'Smashburger' fans will stay hungry in 2016

A national gourmet burger chain has taken Rochester off the menu for a while.

Smashburger, a trendy burger juggernaut, confirmed earlier this year it was planning to open a shop here by late March.

"We do have a site picked out, according to our real estate sheet, and it's going to be a corporate restaurant, not Smashburger_herofranchise," said Smashburger Marketing Manager Christine Ferris in July.

However, not every plan works out.

When checking with Ferris this week to see if a specific location had been locked up, she offered a less optimistic answer than before.

"Unfortunately, it looks like that site is no longer in the plans for the next several years," she wrote. "We’ll be in touch if any of this changes in the near future."

So fans shouldn't expect to bite into any Smashburgers in the Med City any time soon.

Of course, Rochester burger lovers still have hometown favorite and local beef champion Newt's as well as the tasty and fast Snappy Stop.

In 2009, Five Guys Burgers arrived and threw down the burger battle gauntlet. Newt's has kept its title as the top burger power, but plenty of skirmishes continue between Five Guys, Culvers and the usual lineup of fast-food suspects.

Readers also have been clamoring for burger specialists White Castle, Red Robin and/or Sonic Drive-in for many years.

However, none of them have ever moved up Rochester plans from their back burners.

 

December 24, 2015

Downtown art gallery officially closed

Downtown Rochester lost some color today when  Southeastern Minnesota Visual Artists (SEMVA) closed up their gallery.

12242015semvaclosingsignEarlier this month, SEMVA President Andy Westreich sent messages to the cooperative's 84 artists saying that the gallery could no longer afford its high-profile spot at 16 First St. SW on Rochester's Peace Plaza.

"It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that we were unable to negotiate a reasonable lease renewal, and the board of directors has voted to close the SEMVA Gallery after 23 years in business," he wrote. "This was not an easy decision to come by, and many factors played a role in our final vote."

The letter cited a number of factors in the decision, including a 40 percent increase in rent and a decrease in traffic following the closure of popular downtown businesses like the Barnes and Noble Bookstore and Michaels restaurant. SEMVA sales are down 13 percent compared to 2014.

Beyond the rent increase, SEMVA leaders also mentioned that almost five months of negotiations with landlord George Psomas were held up by his plan to change the renewal clause in the lease from five years to one year.

Today was the gallery's last day. Artists were packing up their works.

However, the cooperative leaders are confident that they will be able to find a new home of the gallery in the near future.

 

December 16, 2015

New Stewartville firm to collaborate with Mayo Clinic

A new medical device company launched by well-known local experts is joining forces with the top health care name in the region - Mayo Clinic.

Minnesota Medical Technologies, recently started by Jim and Philip Conway, announced this week that it will collaborate with Mayo Clinic in the development of new fecal incontinence products. As part of the deal, Mayo Clinic will have some ownership of Minnesota Medical Technologies.

5627967a5e7bd.imageThe Conways have experience working with Mayo Clinic at their former company, Rochester Medical, which made catheters and urinary incontinence products.

"We are pretty expert in fabricating and designing devices, but we can't pretend to experts in the medical field. That's why working with Mayo Clinic makes sense," said Jim Conway. "It's very likely when we get our first patents, a Mayo Clinic name will also be on it."

The Conway brothers, along with partners Lonnie Boe and Sarah Grinde, are building a 6,500-square-foot pilot manufacturing facility in Stewartville's Schumann Business Park. Jim Conway says the goal is to start using the building sometime in April with early prototype production starting soon after.

"We're shooting to get FDA approval by the end of 2016," he said.

Minnesota Medical is already working on the early groundwork to develop a dual U.S.-European market for these new products. Like when they entered the catheter field in 1989, the Conways see a lot of opportunity to develop better products in area where there is a lot of need.

Fecal incontinence affects an estimated 1 percent to 2 percent of the general population and 40 percent to 50 percent people living in long term care facilities. U.S. sales of fecal incontinence products is predicted to hit $1.9 billion by 2018. Minnesota Medical is targeting 10 percent of U.S. and international sales, a goal they hit with Rochester Medical and urinary incontinence.

Rochester Medical grew into a major international manufacturer with hundreds of local employees and more than $60 million in annual sales. In 2013, the Conways sold it to rival C.R. Baird for $262 million. They signed a five-year, non-compete agreement not to make urinary incontinence products.

December 11, 2015

Thrivent Financial to move to new office

The new year is bringing a new home for Thrivent Financial Rochester Group.

8e29344138ee456cbceef32d0b07dbd4The office plans to move from the Bandel Road Business Center at 5721 Bandel Road NW, to 116 Elton Hills Lane NW in early January, according to Colin Aldis. Aldis, along with Eric Funk, serves as principal of the Thrivent Financial Rochester Group.

Thrivent will share the building with Rochester Endodontics. Mike Haley of Braasch Commercial Real Estate handled the deal.

Aldis said that while the six-person office is moving to a smaller, 2,000-square-foot space, the change could mean bigger things for the comprehensive financial planning practice.

"We will be 1.49 miles from Mayo Clinic. About 70 percent of our client base works at Mayo," he said. "This is a good fit. We're just off of Broadway and there's good parking."

Other positives about the new location will be the close proximity to the new Rochester Area Foundation office and the new home of the Rochester Senior Center.

Thrivent Financial Rochester Group had occupied 4,200-square-feet of space in the Bandel Road building since January of 2008. The center was built by Rochester developer Jeff Brown in 2007.

Vance Prigge, majority owner and president of Atlas Insurance Brokers, bought the Bandel Road Business Center in November 2014 from local architect David Kane for $1.6 million.

 

December 09, 2015

Is Medisun's interest in Rochester cooling?

Of the three most expensive real estate listings for houses for sale in Rochester, two are owned by a Hong Kong billionaire who has not ever lived in them.

Danny Wong is the CEO of Medisun International Holdings Ltd., which is collaborating with Mayo Clinic to bring more Chinese patients to Rochester. Medisun also is a major investor in Celyad, formerly Cardio3, which is leasing an empty floor of the Minnesota Biobusiness Center in downtown Rochester.

734c36a08cc30596-4066082Wong purchased large Rochester residences at 615 10th Ave. SW and 2515 Crest Lane SW in the fall of 2014. He paid $1.3 million and $1.4 million, respectively. At the start of this year, Medisun announced a deal with Mayo Clinic.

"The medical service will be provided by Mayo, and everything else will be provided by Medisun," said then-Medisun spokesman Dr. Jason Zhang in January.

While in Rochester this summer, Wong had his photo taken at Mayo Clinic with local leaders, including developer Gus Chafoulias and Mayo's Lisa Clarke, who leads the Destination Medical Center initiative.

However, Medisun's interest in Rochester seems to have cooled a bit since then.

By summer, Medisun halted construction of a $1 million office on the west corner of Titan Development's H3 Plaza. The offices were slated to span part of the second and third floors of the building at 300 Broadway.

00e2d817d5550daa56a1d0ade5d78548l-m0oMayo Clinic commented at the time that Wong planned to use one of his two Rochester estates as a guest house for the Chinese patient venture. Construction to an indoor pool at 2515 Crest Lane SW began around that time.

That guest house project seems unlikely now, because Wong has listed both of his Rochester estates for sale. The 2515 Crest Lane SW house is priced at $1.7 million, and the 615 10th Ave. SW is listed at $1.4 million. If they sell at the list price, Wong will make $400,000 on his short-term investment.

Only one Rochester property currently is listed at a higher price — $2 million — than Wong's estates, according to the MLS listings. A total of 10 residences in Rochester currently are priced at more than $1 million.

Does the sale of these estates signal any changes in Medisun's relationship with Mayo Clinic? No one from Medisun was available for comment, but Mayo Clinic said nothing has changed.

"… We continue to work with the MediSun on specific engagements," stated Mayo Clinic spokeswoman Duska Anastasijevic by email Tuesday.

While those "engagements" continue to develop, there are two nice Rochester estates available for local home buyers.

December 08, 2015

Change is on the menu for Lost Cajun

Looks like change is on the menu at Rochester's only Cajun eatery.

Joe and Theresa Peplinski's Lost Cajun restaurant at 2025 S Broadway didn't open its doors Monday. Signs out front and posted on the windows said the restaurant said, "Sorry. We're closed for remodeling. Stay Tuned..."

12072015lostcajunHowever, employees said they were notified by email Sunday night that the restaurant is closed for good. The Rochester restaurant is no longer listed as a location on the national Lost Cajun website. The Peplinkis also canceled advertisements by email, saying that the restaurant had "closed its doors."

The owners were not available for comment on Monday.

If the Lost Cajun is done, it's possible that another restaurant concept under new owners is in the works. That could explain the "remodeling" signs. At this point, it seems Rochester diners will need to do as the sign says and "stay tuned."

In the early summer of 2014, the Rochester couple was very optimistic when they opened The Lost Cajun. The southern flavored restaurant is a franchise based on the original Lost Cajun in Colorado.

They transformed a 19-year-old former SuperAmerica convenience store into a 1,900-square-foot  restaurant with a bayou decor.

The Lost Cajun is known for serving up gumbo, beignets, chicory coffee, po' boy sandwiches and other authentic Louisiana dishes.