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GreenSeam promotes agriculture and agbusiness in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa. (Supplied image.)

Greenseam: Group out to make southern Minnesota, northern Iowa the Silicon Valley of ag

You've heard of Wall Street. You've heard of Silicon Valley. And you may have heard of the Research Triangle, the area anchored by North Carolina State University, Duke University and the University of North Carolina.

If Sam Ziegler and others in his group are successful, you'll soon hear about GreenSeam, too — and think of southern Minnesota and northern Iowa as a global leader in agriculture and a great place for agriculturalists to work and do business.

GreenSeam aims to become "the premier ag business epicenter in the United States - the most diverse, balanced and sustainable," the organization says.

"Think of an industry cluster like Silicon Valley. Well, agriculture is our cluster," said Ziegler, GreenSeam director. "Our goal is to proactively let people know we are a global industry cluster," thus attracting new ag businesses to the region and helping existing ones expand.

The region's existing ag base — including crop and livestock production, ag education and ag processing and manufacturing — is massive, but can become even bigger and better, Ziegler said.

"We have a big vision, a big goal, of growing our region,' he said.

Agriculture — and efforts to enhance ag — in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa is spread among many communities and organizations. GreenSeam seeks to unify those efforts and make them more effective, Ziegler said.

"We're coordinating the players, starting the conversation: 'What do we do about talent? About business development? About policy? About shining a stronger light on our area?," he said.

Ziegler identified GreenSeam's four primary goals as:

• Business growth and retention

• Creating and attracting businesses.

• Developing, attracting and retaining talent, i.e., a suitable workforce.

• Branding the region an agricultural epicenter, just as the Silicon Valley is a high-tech epicenter.

Expanded approach

The project started in 2013, when Greater Mankato Growth began working to build on and connect ag businesses in the region though was known then as Project Ag Business EpiCenter.

Greater Mankato Growth is the chamber of commerce/economic development organization in Mankato, a city of 47,000 in south-central Minnesota. Initially, the organization focused on helping agriculture in Mankato but later realized Mankato's own long-term economic success depends on helping smaller communities in ag-heavy southern Minnesota and northern Iowa, Jim Marzolf said.

A Mankato-based principal with Clifton Larson Allen, a large professional services and accounting company, Marzolf works with ag businesses across southern Minnesota and has been involved with the project since it began.

In 2016, the project took the GreenSeam name. For the first few years GreenSeam built an organizational base but now has begun to take a more visible public role, officials say.

Today, Ziegler is the sole full-time employee of Green Seam, though the organization also can draw on Greater Mankato Growth staffers.

Ziegler said he's not aware of a similar ag-promotion organization that serves primarily a rural area.

Many people in southern Minnesota and northern Iowa take agriculture for granted, which works against further ag development. But GreenSeam, by talking about ag's importance and potential, can help to change that, Marzolf said.

"When you tell people the story, it resonates. But they have to know the story," he said.

To learn more about GreenSeam: https://greenseam.org/