Bob Hansen, co-owner of Spring Grove Soda Pop, talks to Sen. Jeremy Miller (right) about taxes, partisanship and the general state of affairs in government, during the senator’s tour of Southeast Minnesota last week. Miller spent last Monday in Fillmore County and Tuesday in Houston County.SGH/Gray
Bob Hansen, co-owner of Spring Grove Soda Pop, talks to Sen. Jeremy Miller (right) about taxes, partisanship and the general state of affairs in government, during the senator’s tour of Southeast Minnesota last week. Miller spent last Monday in Fillmore County and Tuesday in Houston County.

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Sen. Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) made numerous stops throughout Southeast Minnesota during the Senate's Spring Break. April 9 he visited Ostrander, Preston, Harmony and Chatfield.

On April 10 he visited Houston County with stops in Spring Grove - 8:30 a.m. at Spring Grove Soda Pop and 9:30 a.m. at LaX Fabricating. He finished up the morning at Miken Sports in Caledonia before heading to the Golden Living Nursing Home in La Crescent for the afternoon.

He spoke to Bob Hansen of Spring Grove Soda Pop about his long-standing small business that was founded in 1895. Hansen and his wife, Dawn, purchased the business almost 10 years ago.

During the tour of the factory, discussion about property taxes and partisanship occurred. Miller noted, "Small businesses are the backbone of our economy." He said he was very frustrated by the partisan divide, "Many of my colleagues say it is the worst it has ever been."

Miller expressed his disappointment with Gov. Dayton's veto of last session's business property tax relief. Hansen pointed out that his property taxes increased 30 percent this year.

"The Market Value Exclusion didn't significantly impact the (property) taxes, it was local decisions," Miller contended.

Hansen thought that all politicians could do a better job of communicating with the general public and explaining the various sources of funding that make programs work, especially those local and state programs that receive a large portion of money up front from federal funds that eventually dry up.

When asked about the Spring Grove SWIM Center, which Miller gathered can be controversial in Spring Grove, Hansen chuckled and then pointed out that it is one of the most positive things for his business that has occurred in the community.

"We used to do 8 to 10 tours a summer, now we do 15 - 20 a day during the summer months. Many come right from the pool, it has made a very positive impact on my business."

Lax Fabricating sees growth for 2012

Sen. Miller met with LaX Fabricating co-owner John Mitchell and Jim Jumbeck, finance director.

Miller was impressed with the diversity of the product lines the company manufactures and their future growth projections.

Jumbeck explained, "Currently, we have 19 production staff and 8 to 9 office staff. We would like to hire another 10 to 15 people to bring us up to 45 employees, which we see as a sustainable number for the foreseeable future."

Mitchell pointed out that it was nice to see the economy improving and for the company to have the "luxury" to be more choosy on the projects it bids on.

"For instance, in the structural area we have such low (profit) margins, and it is so cut throat."

Jumbeck said that in 2009 the economy was terrible but 2010 was a little better, and in 2011 there were several spikes in areas the company can compete profitably. "We are very optimistic about 2012."

He told Miller that he saw 2012 as a strong year. In fact, the company is diversifying further, setting up a powder coat painting system to allow them to perform more work in-house and create another possible line of growth and revenue.

Jumbeck also talked about the company's investment in a 3D software program that has been paying dividends by making production more efficient and cutting down on manufacturing issues.

Miller asked about employees and if they were coming to the firm with enough educational training?

"We draw from a large area for our employee pool. High gas prices make it tough for some to commute, as well as the time factor, too," Jumbeck explained.

"Education is important (to fund) but we have to strike a balance, as we need opportunities for our businesses to survive and flourish to employ those graduates."

"We are working at putting our roots deeper into this community. We are here to stay," he said, adding, "Spring Grove is an amazing community. It is tight knit and strong."

During the visit and tour, Miller heard concerns about the high gas prices, funding for roads, bridges and infrastructure, and frac sand mining.

Jumbeck particularly raised concerns about the recent moratoriums placed in Houston, Fillmore and Winona counties. "We actually manufacture components for the (frac sand mining) industry and have sold quite a bit into Wisconsin.

"Furthermore, there are a lot of opportunities for businesses to make money from the industry - like motels, local trucking companies and restaurants (to name a few)."

A brief discussion on the Vikings stadium was held, Miller felt the biggest hang up for his fellow Republican senators was a "moral" one.

"The casino proposal I've sponsored is a partnership with the poorest Indian tribe to build a casino in the Cities. In return, they will split the net profits 50-50 and pay the $400 million price tag (the state's whole portion) up front to build the stadium.

"Some of my colleagues feel that we should not allow new gambling on 'moral' grounds. My argument is, it (gambling) is already here, so this would just be a way to keep it in the state (referring to Iowa and Wisconsin's nearby gambling facilities)."

In closing, Mitchell said, "This is the busiest we have been since 2008. Mabel and Spring Grove areas have provided us with some exceptional employees. Things are looking very good!"

Miller thanked both businesses for their time and investment in their community. "LaX is throughout the world and Spring Grove Soda Pop is across the nation (in 40 states). Southeast Minnesota is represented well by these two companies."

Miller said he is always happy to hear from his constituents, contact his office anytime at sen.jeremy.miller@senate.mn or call (651) 296-5649.