When Julia Ketcham Corbett graduated from Hamline University Law School in St. Paul, Blethen Gage & Krause in Mankato offered her a job. She eagerly accepted it, thinking she would spend a few years with the law firm and eventually make her way back to the Twin Cities.

That was 18 years ago, and all thoughts of leaving Mankato have long since disappeared.

Today, Ketcham Corbett is a managing partner in the 116-year-old general practice law firm that has 14 lawyers on staff. “I fell in love with the community and the job,” she says. “I have great work-life balance here. It’s a growing community, which is good for our business, but I can still go to the grocery store and run into someone I know. It’s a safe community, where you know who your kids are going to school with. The cost of living and salaries are competitive, and it’s a beautiful area.”

1012_mankato_pic1.jpg Julia Ketcham Corbett, Partner, Blethen Gage & Krause

Ketcham Corbett’s story is not unusual. Situated on the banks of the Minnesota and Blue Earth rivers about 80 miles southwest of the Twin Cities, Mankato is home to an impressive and growing number of businesses that provide opportunities for workers seeking good jobs and good pay, while the city provides them with an enviable quality of life.

The many livability awards Mankato has earned in recent years is testament to its appeal as a great place to live and work. Forbes ranked the city 11th on its 2012 list of the 100 best small places for business and careers; in 2010, the magazine ranked Mankato 15th out of 126 U.S. cities as one of the best small cities to raise a family. The city’s amenities are a big reason for those rankings. It is home to five colleges and has more than 60 parks, eight golf courses, and 50 miles of paved walking and biking trails. And it offers residents and visitors myriad sporting and cultural events in an attractive setting. But it is the vitality of Mankato’s business community and the stability of its economy that typically is the initial draw for people from outside the city: The Mankato area boasts a $9 billion economy driven by a strong, diverse business community. Once people experience life in Mankato, like Ketcham Corbett, they often are hooked.

Way to Grow

1012_mankato_pic5.jpgKeith Boleen, CEO and President, Frandsen Bank & Trust

Keith Boleen moved to Mankato in 1985. Today, he is CEO and president of Frandsen Bank & Trust in North Mankato. “The size is an attraction,” he says. “[The city] has grown to be a regional center, and it’s only one hour away from the Twin Cities. There is a mix of retail, wholesale, and manufacturing, so we’re not completely dependent on one industry to do well. And we’re in the river valley. Put all that together, and that’s why we’ve stayed here.”

Boleen also praises area businesses’ commitment to the community and its residents. “One of the things that is notable . . . is that we have a community that strongly backs the United Way and other groups that support diversity and educational needs,” he says. “It’s a very giving community. Businesses take a real serious attitude in knowing that in order for their businesses to prosper, it takes a certain amount of giving.”

Jean Bye, CEO and president of Dotson Iron Castings, grew up in Mankato and, like many young people, thought she would not return to the area after graduating from Concordia College in Moorhead. Yet here she is, running a company and enjoying the quality of life she took for granted when she was younger. “I worked at Dotson during the summers while I was in college,” Bye says; when the company made her a good job offer, she accepted and has never looked back.

Dotson Iron Castings was founded in 1876 as a blacksmith shop, evolving over the years to what it is today: a foundry occupying a 115,000-square-foot building with a 10,000-square-foot addition under way, an impressive list of products and clients, and 160 employees. The company melts scrap steel and iron and pours the molten metal into sand molds for parts that range from brackets and foot pedals to tillage points for agricultural machinery.

1012_mankato_pic4.jpg Jean Bye, CEO and President, Dotson Iron Castings

“We have about 1,200 different parts,” Bye says. “We use technology in designing, so we get a sound, solid part, and our plant is exceedingly automated. The other thing that sets our foundry apart is a quick turnaround. Our standard lead time is two weeks, which is way [faster than] industry standard. And we have a 99 percent on-time delivery, which is way above the industry standard. We deliver high-quality parts on time with a short lead time, which helps our customers capture market share.”

Like Bye, Todd Reinmann, managing director and COO of MTU Onsite Energy Corporation, is a Mankato native who has found everything he needs, and wants, in the city. Next March, he will celebrate 30 years with MTU, which designs, manufactures, and delivers power generation systems. Last year, the company built and delivered 36 generator sets (an engine with a generator that will start automatically and produce power) to a client in Japan—and it did so in just three months.

MTU Onsite’s clients include data centers, treatment plants, office buildings, and hospitals; it also has customers in the agriculture industry. “Our clients are worldwide—anyone who has a need for backup for their power needs,” Reinmann says, adding that the company builds to clients’ specific standards. Generators for hospitals, for example, “have to be up to speed and carrying full loads in 10 seconds,” he says. “We sell a whole solution, which includes software and switching.”

1012_mankato_pic3.jpg Troy Volk, CEO and President, Volk Transfer

MTU Onsite has 350 employees in Mankato, which includes the corporate headquarters, an 85,000-square-foot production facility, and a 90,000-square-foot inventory control site. “More than 50 percent of our workers [come] from outside the Mankato area,” Reinmann says. “That’s unique. We get a lot of support from Minnesota State University, Mankato, for engineering people and for internships.”

Mankato native Troy Volk is the third generation of his family to run Volk Transfer. Started by his grandfather in 1948, then run by his father, Volk Transfer transports products and goods throughout the United States and Canada. Troy Volk took the reins as CEO and president in 1997. Last fall, Volk Transfer completed construction of a 32,000-square-foot facility, quadrupling its space.

Volk credits the area’s industry mix and strong leadership for driving the local economy. “Mankato and North Mankato have a dynamic mix of manufacturing and retail,” he says. “The two cities and the public leaders have done a good job of promoting both. There is a lot of downtown revitalization, and Greater Mankato Growth [the area’s chamber of commerce and chief economic development organization] is progressive and proactive, and understands what our needs are.”

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