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First US Solar Manufacturer on Tribal Lands Awarded Training Grant

11/4/2016 4:00:00 PM

Aki Development LLC of Cass Lake, a LED lighting assembly and testing startup, has been awarded a $29,000 job-training grant from DEED.

Aki, meaning earth in Ojibwe, is a tribally-chartered corporation on the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Reservation in northern Minnesota. The company is opening an LED assembly and testing facility in Cass Lake that will employ up to nine workers to assemble and test LED streetlights. Aki recently purchased a 60 percent stake in Saga Solar – a St. Paul-based solar photovoltaic panel manufacturer – and moved the operation to Cass Lake.

Aki will work with the Leech Lake Tribal College in Cass Lake to develop classes that will teach the new workers how to manufacture and install photovoltaic panels.

Minnesota’s clean energy industry supports more than 54,000 jobs and is expected to add 2,300 new jobs this year.

The grant was awarded under DEED’s Job Training Incentive Program, which provides funding to help new or expanding businesses in Greater Minnesota train workers. The Job Training Incentive Program, which was created by the Minnesota Legislature last year, provides training grants of up to $100,000 to new or expanding businesses. Businesses must match the training grants on a 1-to-1 basis and create at least three new jobs.

Aki Development and the training partnership were acknowledged in an announcement by the White House observing National Manufacturing Day.

“This collaboration with the local tribal community college will train the next generation of solar manufacturers, encourage indigenous engineering and research, and lead to economic and environmental sustainability in the community,” the White House said.

Along with Aki, seven other small Minnesota companies were awarded 2017 Fiscal Year funding from the program:

Black Swan Cooperage, Park Rapids, $30,000
Minnesota National Agency, Long Prairie, $15,000
Sterns Assembly, Brainerd, $63,000
Alexandria Pro-Fab, Alexandria, $59,000
Mortek Inc., Osakis, $18,000
Kraft, New Ulm, $100,000
Long Prairie Packing, Long Prairie, $100,000

Minnesota companies awarded 2016 Fiscal Year funding include Olander Tooling, Staples; Central MN Renewables, Little Falls; BTD, Detroit Lakes; Graphic Packaging International, Crosby; AirCorps, Bemidji; and Leech Lake Distribution, Walker.

Northwest Minnesota faces distinct workforce challenges, and these are covered in the April issue of Minnesota Employment Review. Faced with a double-digit unemployment rate, Joe Hobot, president and CEO of the American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center, writes in Minnesota Economic Trends that time is of the essence for American Indians.

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