February 04, 2012
Austin Daily Herald
Setting the American economy back on track is near the top of the list for many legislators, and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., knows cities like Austin are integral parts of that process.
Klobuchar visited the Austin Packaging Company on Friday afternoon as part of her Made in American tour, which she has been doing ever since becoming Senator. And while the Austin Packaging Company reveals very little from the outside, the quintessential industrial process is constantly happening inside. Austin Packaging produces frozen, refrigerated and shelf-stable products, including portion control pouches, bowls and cups and specialty pizzas.
While Klobuchar has toured packaging companies before, she’s never seen one that produces pizzas, macaroni and cheese and other common food items. The tour was an interesting visual tour for Klobuchar and local city officials, including Mayor Tom Stiehm, Chamber Director Sandy Forstner and Development Corp. Director John Garry.
While cameras weren’t allowed, officials saw how 80,000 pizzas are made each day in one of two pizza production rooms. They saw how cheese is partitioned into packages, monitored, frozen and boxed. They saw robots, conveyor belts, countless stainless steel machines and more. However, the message was more important: Industrial jobs still need to be a key part of America’s economy.
Klobuchar, Austin Packaging owner Jim Heimark and Director of Operations Jim Esson spoke about changes within factories and warehouses. Consumers are demanding more quality, fresh, safe foods, and producers are demanding more well-trained employees.
One change Heimark has noticed is that young adults don’t view industrial jobs quite the way they used to. Heimark mentioned when he was younger, industrial factory jobs were still very desirable. That may be changing.
Heimark and Klobuchar hope things like community college partnerships with companies and in-house company training may entice potential employees.
“It’s trying to figure out what the companies need to get the workforce they need,” Klobuchar said.
Heimark also mentioned that some of Austin Packaging’s customers are scaling back their orders. For that reason, some of Austin Packaging’s departments have scaled back their production.
But Austin Packaging is still chugging along. In its 14-years under that name, the facility has had to evacuate for flooding four times, but it has stayed on its feet.
“We are so happy that they stayed,” Klobuchar said.
Among Austin Packaging, Klobuchar also visited Rochester’s Lincoln K-8 Choice School, spoke at the Mayo Clinic’s National Wear Red Day and toured Minnesota Corrugated Box Inc. in Albert Lea.
Klobuchar’s Made in America tour is designed to showcase successful Minnesota businesses and job creation. Since late October, she has visited more than 30 businesses across the state.
Klobuchar serves as chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Competitiveness, Innovation and Export Promotion. She has also introduced the Innovate America Act to promote innovation and boost America’s ability to compete in the global economy.