Wednesday, June 11, dawned a bright and sunny day, perfect for a ground-breaking ceremony at the site of Preston Dairy and Farm's new expansion facility. Shown from left, are Preston Dairy and Farm Board Member Kurt Raaen, Jim Bakken from the city of Preston, Dairy and Farm Board Members Paul Hamann, Lynn Staupe and Dean Solberg, Preston Economic Director Cathy Enerson, Chairman of the Preston Economic Development Authority Charles Aug, Nate Scheevel of Scheevel Engineering, Preston Mayor Kurt Reicks and Chairman and CEO of F & M Community Bank Dan Christianson.  BRETTA GRABAU/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
Wednesday, June 11, dawned a bright and sunny day, perfect for a ground-breaking ceremony at the site of Preston Dairy and Farm's new expansion facility. Shown from left, are Preston Dairy and Farm Board Member Kurt Raaen, Jim Bakken from the city of Preston, Dairy and Farm Board Members Paul Hamann, Lynn Staupe and Dean Solberg, Preston Economic Director Cathy Enerson, Chairman of the Preston Economic Development Authority Charles Aug, Nate Scheevel of Scheevel Engineering, Preston Mayor Kurt Reicks and Chairman and CEO of F & M Community Bank Dan Christianson. BRETTA GRABAU/REPUBLICAN-LEADER
Over the past few years, Preston Dairy and Farm has hoped to expand its facility in a new location. As the current location is only three acres in a landlocked area, the company is excited to be transitioning to a new piece of land at the corner of Highways 16 and 52.

On Wednesday, June 11, under a beautiful blue sky and sun glistening off the golden shovels, members of the coop board, city of Preston and Preston's EDA gathered at the site of the new buildings behind Gehling's Auction house. Although the site has already undergone several stages of the development and preparation for the building process, the formal ground breaking ceremony took place on June 11.

When the expansion was first suggested, the board members discussed where and how they would be able to carry it out.

The first obstacle in the way was the decision of whether or not the coop would be absorbed, eventually, by some larger retail as other small businesses had been before.

"We decided we wanted to build and not be bought out. It would have been easy to be absorbed, but it is good to buck the trend," commented Dairy and Farm Board Member Paul Hamann. "This is quite an endeavor for a small coop to do something like this. Not many small coops can spend $4 million to expand, which makes us unique. And we are stable financially."

The project has been on the discussion table for several years and is finally now seeing fruition.

"They talked about the project for three or four years. It took a little longer since it is a coop," stated Charlie Aug, chairman of the Preston Economic Development Authority and chief operation officer of F & M Community Bank.

"They have been a very good customer for a long time at the bank. They came to us for the financing of the project and we were glad to help out. The hardest part was finding the land for it," he added.

That problem was easily solved when Ron Gehling stepped forward with a proposition.

"Ron Gehling offered the site to us and the arrangement saved many loopholes. The land is already certified and zoned as industrial, saving us the trouble of changing from an ag or housing site. We got together with him and came up with a price that he was happy with and we were happy with," related Hamann.

When the coop purchased the land, they approached the Preston city council to annex the site, committing "to grow and prosper in Preston," according to Cathy Enerson, the community and business development specialist.

"Their purchase and need for more land, to double the size of their current location, corresponds well with the city's planned growth, existing infrastructure and its proximity to the existing industrial land, which is home to the POET ethanol refinery," she noted.

"The expansion and annexation will substantially aid the city's growth and sustain the city utilities, regional tax base and area employment," Enerson continued. "Expanding infrastructure provides opportunities for future manufacturing and commercial businesses to continue to grow to the north and west of Preston."

Another step for the coop to take was to locate someone who would help develop the new site. For this they located Nathan Scheevel from Scheevel Engineering, LLC, in California.

"I grew up on a dairy farm in rural Preston and worked construction with Scheevel and Sons, Inc., from the mid 1990s until 2002. In 2002 I moved to California and went back to school to become a civil engineer," he stated.

"I've known the Dairy and Farm general manager and members of the board of directors my whole life and did excavating work for many of them personally. Dairy and Farm approached me in 2013 to do some feasibility level analysis to help them decide if the project was feasible and how to best implement it," he continued.

After completing the feasibility analysis, Dairy and Farm asked Scheevel to design and manage the project. Since it was a great opportunity to come back to Preston and help them with the project, he gladly accepted.

As the development moved forward, the design of the project became a collaborative and iterative process. After Scheevel met and conversed with the Dairy and Farm general manager and board of directors many times, they settled on a design which would provide the most effective and efficient facility in a very cost effective manner. Local contractors and suppliers also assisted in the development to optimize the design of each building and equipment arrays.

At the present, the building site has an existing office building and shop. But as a part of the expansion, there will be a total of five new structures and a new grain facility added.

"The new structures include a dry fertilizer facility, a feed storage building, a seed storage building, a chemical storage building, a feed mill/mixer facility and a grain elevator and bin system. There will be a total of approximately 28,000 square feet of new buildings and structures," Scheevel noted.

The project will be completed in stages. First, the hope is to have the new dry fertilizer facility operational by this fall. Afterwards, the other buildings should be completed by early winter this year and fully operational by the late winter or early next spring. Although this design approach takes a little more time, it will provide the best end result at the least cost.

Dairy and Farm Board Members Dean Solberg and Paul Hamann expressed their excitement for this expansion for the business and for Preston itself.

"It is extremely exciting for the local economy. All the financers, contractors and builders are local. The coop was established from local partners, so we wanted to keep the building project local. This throws a lot of money back into the town and keeps the business in town," commented Hamann.

"It's an exciting project for the coop because we have outgrown what we got. We never thought of the site but it is a perfect location for the business. We will also be keeping the Canton location," Solberg stated.

From an EDA standpoint, the expansion is big for the city as well.

"It expands the city's footprint, service and power. That was one of the incentives for Dairy and Farm. They were able to get a loan from Public Utilities and the state of Minnesota to offset the cost for water and sewer. The power rates out there will be less going through Public Utilities and it will replace an out of date facility, probably add jobs and create a bigger tax base," Aug detailed.

"There has been a lot of activity within this two mile stretch with this project, Casey's and Family Dollar coming in, B & B's renovation and the veteran's cemetery being built. We may possibly get some businesses in the three lots across the street from Dairy and Farm's expansion site [in the near future]. We have two prospects, one a relocation and one a new business," Aug continued.

Preston Dairy and Farm anticipates an exciting future with this new expansion. The board expects the new site to be fully operational within the next year.