What started as a small operation almost 40 years ago has grown into major contributor to the economy in Albert Lea, Minn.
Mrs. Gerry’s Kitchen, Inc., started on Dec. 4, 1973, in a building that occupied 1,100 square feet. Today, Mrs. Gerry’s is adding a 36,500 square-foot addition that will bring its building to over 100,000 square feet and help meet growing customer demand for its real (no flaky stuff here) mashed potatoes and other products.
The company makes over 130 products and distributes in a 17-state region. In addition to mashed potatoes, about 145 employees make salads, entrees, dips and desserts. Production ranges from 1-3 million pounds per month and most of the potatoes, vegetables and other ingredients are purchased locally.
Agriculture Under Secretary for Rural Development Dallas Tonsager recently toured Mrs. Gerry’s to see firsthand how a USDA investment is growing the company.
Through its Rural Economic Development Loan program, USDA awarded a $1 million loan to Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Services in Albert Lea. Freeborn-Mower is re-lending the funds to Mrs. Gerry’s to cover a portion of the expansion costs.
“It means a lot to our company,” Mrs. Gerry Vogt said. “It all comes back to the local economy and being able to employ people as we have. It’s huge. It’s great.”
Mrs. Gerry’s isn’t the only company to use USDA funds delivered through Freeborn-Mower. Since 1998, the cooperative has used $4 million in USDA loans and grants to boost 15 local businesses and economic development projects. Examples include a truck stop, medical center, biodiesel plant and a landscaping business.
A pair of loans using USDA funds passed through Freeborn-Mower helped Pam Sander open a facility for her business in Albert Lea. Zumbro River Brand, which has grown to 120 employees, is a contract food manufacturer, producing packaging food ingredients and finished products to customer specifications.
“These types of funds help create jobs in our local communities,” Sander said. “They’re just great.”
Before touring Mrs. Gerry’s, Tonsager visited the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency (ALEDA), where officials from Freeborn-Mower and ALEDA were joined by local businesses to highlight the impact USDA investments have made in the community.
ALEDA was recently selected to receive a $385,000 Intermediary Relending Program loan, which will be used to establish a revolving loan fund for local small businesses. The organization currently administers a revolving loan fund from a previous USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant.
“Both Freeborn-Mower and ALEDA are financing businesses,” Under Secretary Tonsager said. “They’re helping get the rural economy moving and they’re using local products to do it.”