Wednesday, January 20, 2010

St. Croix EDC Names Top Businesses for 2009

Baldwin Telecom named Small Business of the Year

Key personnel at Baldwin Telecom Inc. include, seated from left, Larry Knegendorf, General Manager, and Matt Sparks, Operations Manager; and standing Ruth Brenne, Office Manager, Steve Gossel, Accounting, and Duane Russett, Plant Manager.

Patti Robertson, president of St. Croix Economic Development Corporation, announced the EDC’s selection of the following companies as recipients of the 2009 business of the year awards in St. Croix County:
NCCM Company (River Falls), 2009 Emerging Business of the Year (based in St. Croix County and in business for five or fewer years); Baldwin Telecom, Inc. (Baldwin), 2009 Small Business of the Year (29 or fewer employees); and Scientific Molding Corporation Ltd. (Somerset), 2009 Business of the Year (30 or more employees).
“The 2009 winners share many common traits,” said Patti Robertson. “They are pioneers and innovators in their respective fields. They are high-tech businesses that adapt to changing markets and conditions. They are bright stars in St. Croix County and Wisconsin.”
The companies will be honored at an awards banquet on Thursday, February 25 at the University Center, on campus at UW-River Falls (River Falls, Wisconsin).
Baldwin Telecom, Inc. (BTI) was founded in 1900 as a locally-owned and operated telephone company. It initially provided phone service to customers in the Baldwin and Woodville areas of St. Croix County. In 1982, BTI’s board of directors approved the addition of cable television services to Baldwin and Woodville. The inclusion of high speed internet and cable television extended BTI’s services to Hammond, Knapp, Roberts and the Town of Hudson. In 2002, Baldwin Telecom was recognized as the first independent telephone company in Wisconsin to deploy fiber-to-the-home technology. Today, BTI is St. Croix County’s largest local provider of phone, internet, and cable services. BTI has grown to be more than a telephone company. It is a broadband company that provides all the latest technologies to businesses and homes. Larry Knegendorf is BTI’s general manager and has led the company through its expanded service offerings. Knegendorf served multiple terms as the village president of Woodville and is active in the Wisconsin State Telecommunications Association (WSTA).

Strange glow north of Baldwin

In nature there are numerous examples of symbiotic relationships. But tilapia and lettuce are usually not considered in such an association.
But a pair of Baldwin entrepreneurs is working to change that.
Partners John Vrieze and Steve Meyer are co-owners of a new greenhouse north of Baldwin across from Baldwin Dairy on CTH E called Future Farm Food & Fuel, LLC. They plan to raise lettuce in an aquaponics system in an arrangement in which fish effluent will be used as fertilizer for the lettuce
Terms used in the operation include: aquaculture which means fish farming; hydroponics which is growing plants without soil; and combined to be aquaponics which is both.
The fish produce waste products from eating which is broken down to nitrate and used by the lettuce. The lettuce breaks down the effluent in the water and it can then be recycled back to the fish.
Eventually, it is hoped that the methane produced from manure from Baldwin Dairy, can be used as an energy source for the operation.
As you might expect, there are lots of variables in the equation, including temperature both of the air and the water. Meyer said the tilapia prefer a water temperature of about 80° while lettuce prefers 70°, and a temperature of 72° seems to be acceptable for both. Humidity and light are also controlled. Controlling the environment involves an extensive and complicated system.
The lettuce will be grown in stryofoam blocks that float in the shallow ponds of water in the greenhouses. There has been experimenting and learning during the process of setting up the system. “We found that plants will continue to grow if their roots maintain their temperature,” said Meyer. “So we can let the air temperature drop and the plants will still be okay.”
The tilipia have been shipped in at a very small size, about one-half to eight-tenths of a gram in weight and less than an inch in length. After about six months in the system they will reach a size of one to one and one-half pounds and will be harvested.
Current plans call for also growing koi, which can be sold as ornamental fish.
The best plants for aquaponics are leafy greens, said Meyer, “something that uses a lot of nitrogen.” Lettuce, basil and any leafy herb would fit the bill but lettuce is readily salable. Five varieties of lettuce have been tested and the best varieties for growth have been identified. After planting seeds in a spun volcanic rock product that holds water well, they will be transferred to the pond after about 10 days. The heads of lettuce will be ready for market after about 30 days.
Lettuce production will reach 500,000 heads annually. Fish production will reach 25,000 pounds annually.
“Our real goal is community building,” said Meyer. “So people will know where their food comes from and what’s in it.”
The business is managed by two people. Phil Hudson is Manager of Aquaculture and Equipment; Pam Vrieze is the Manager of Greenhouse Production.
More information about the new business can be found on the internet at

Fuel oil dealer pleads not guilty

A longtime fuel oil distributor from Glenwood City pleaded not guilty Wednesday in St. Croix County Court to 14 criminal counts accusing him of defrauding customers.
John P. Rassbach, 54, pleaded not guilty to five felony counts of theft, six counts of misdemeanor theft and three counts of attempted misdemeanor theft. A pre-trial conference is scheduled for February 10.
Rassbach is accused of defrauding customers of his business, Rassbach Oil Co., which sells fuel products to homeowners and farmers. The charges arose from an investigation by the State Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection in conjunction with the St. Croix County Sheriff’s Department.
Rassbach reportedly intentionally deceived or attempted to deceive customers to whom he sold fuel products, including LP gas, gasoline, and diesel/fuel oil.
Rassbach faces a maximum penalty of more than 20 years in jail, more than $110,000 in fines and restitution if convicted of the charges.
The state Attorney General’s Office is prosecuting the case.

From the Exchanges
   Interesting items from
      the surrounding areas

AMERY FREE PRESS: In his second meeting as acting mayor, Mike Karuschak, broke a tie vote, a rare experience in Amery’s history. The issue revolved around the non-motorized trail from Amery to Dresser. The issue concerned a desire of some to have the county reconsider its plans for a limestone surface and instead install asphalt. It currently has a $1.2 million fund for the project. With council members Kay Erickson and Diane Taxdahl absent, council members Kris Strobusch and Rick Davis led a charge against the idea. Their position was that at some future date, legislation may be passed permitting motorized vehicles on the trail and surfacing it with asphalt was not necessary. Currently the state of Wisconsin, which owns the trail, mandates that it be non-motorized. Council members Dave Myers and Jack Rogers supported the asphalt option. When the council deadlocked on the vote, Mayor Karuschak broke the tie by voting for asphalt.

SUN ARGUS (THE GATEWAY TO PIERCE COUNTY): In a letter to the Elmwood Village Board dated December 28, 2009, Jodi Pulk announced her intent to officially resign her position as village clerk. According to Pulk, her reasons for resigning from a position that she has held for six years include job stress “dealing with the Talford and Meyer situation” along with “always being on duty.” Pulk described her six years as “contentious” and indicated that it was time “to just take a step back and concentrate on my family.” In her resignation letter, she wrote, “I have truly enjoyed my time getting to know the residents and learning the history of the village, but it is time for me to find a less stressful position and get back to enjoying life again.” Rick Talford contacted the Sun-Argus on Monday, January 11. In an interview with him the following day he claimed that he has had no contact with Jodi Pulk since May of 2007. “I am not responsible for her current stress,” he said. Talford claimed the basis for the conflict he had with Pulk prior to May of 2007 stemmed from her refusal to grant his request to view public records. The conflict escalated to the point that Pulk requested and was granted a restraining order against Talford. Talford said that the restraining order was based on false information. He further claimed that Judge Robert Wing dismissed the disorderly conduct charges that the Village of Elmwood had filed against Talford in 2007. This was confirmed in an article in the Pierce County Herald dated August 9, 2007. Talford also claimed that Pulk had been suspended with pay as part of a disciplinary action. This was confirmed by Bob Rapakus, chairman of the Personnel and Finance Committee. “The suspension began on December 18 and was to have ended on January 11 at the monthly board meeting,” he said. In the meantime, Pulk resigned. Rupakus declined to provide details about Pulk’s suspension.

THE COURIER-WEDGE (DURAND): Spenser A. Weber, 19, of Eau Claire, who is one of the four men accused of the November 4 drive-by shooting in Rock Creek, pleaded not guilty Monday, January 4 to two felony charges, according to the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram. Weber faces charges of party to first-degree reckless endangerment and discharging a firearm from a vehicle. He is scheduled to return to court on March 23. Facing the same charges are James M. Hutter, 20, and Johnathan M. Hutter, 18, both of Arkansaw, Wis., and Tony Hurlburt, 19, of Durand. According to police, all were involved in the shooting incident. Allegedly the shooting occurred over the sale of some marijuana or a disagreement about a comment regarding a girlfriend. According to the criminal complaints: Dunn County authorities were called to a home owned by Denise Hazen at N1170 850th St., Mondovi at 8:15 on November 4. Hazen reported there had been a drive-by shooting at her home. Her son Cody and his girlfriend were home at the time of the incident. According to the Leader-Telegram, Johnathan Hutter is believed to have been the shooter, authorities said. However police said all four men knew about the shooting. James Hutter has an arraignment hearing on Monday, January 25. Hurlburt, who has pleaded not guilty to the charges is scheduled to return to court Tuesday, March 23.

THE SUN (OSCEOLA): No quarry, they said. In what amounted to a tight-rope decision between individual landowners’ rights against the rights of a collective group of neighbors and environmentalists, Polk County’s Land Information Committee narrowly voted last week to deny a special Exception Permit requested by Kraemer Mining Materials, Inc., that would have allowed the company to open a 61-acre trap rock (basalt) quarry. The company and a group of area landowners had proposed the mine for a 187-acre site east of County Rd. MM near Dresser.