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A Chinese partnership in Austin, MN

Kevin Coss, Austin Daily Herald, Minn. –

Hormel Institute partners with Chinese province; Dayton visits Austin –

The delegation from a Chinese province unrolled its gift to Minnesota before the crowd. An intricate illustration more than 20 feet wide pictured an old Chinese village; it was a customary sign of friendship, one interpreter explained. In return, Gov. Mark Dayton presented each delegate with a book on Minnesota.

“We can’t match your generosity,” Dayton laughed. “The state of Minnesota has a budget deficit.”

The exchange took place Wednesday after The Hormel Institute announced an upcoming partnership with officials from Henan, one of China’s largest provinces at 105 million people.

A delegation from the Henan Province comprising the Honorable Vice Gov. Tie Wang and other Chinese dignitaries met Dayton along with staff from The Institute to discuss the new partnership, which The Institute said will greatly support its continued growth. Other state and local leaders also attended, including U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar and Rep. Tim Walz, both D-Minn., and Minnesota Senate Majority Leader David Senjem, R-Rochester.

The Henan government has agreed to invest in research at The Hormel Institute, a development that aims to accelerate medical research for the U.S. and China. The move will also benefit Minnesota economically, according to Dayton and Institute officials.

“Cancer is a common ground for collaboration,” said Dr. Ann Bode, associate director of The Institute, in a presentation to the delegates. “We have an extraordinary opportunity to work together.”

During a presentation of the Henan province’s health care system, Dr. Xuezhou Liu said he saw the value in investing in The Hormel Institute’s research.

“I can see your great support for the development of the health industry,” he said through a translator.

While the combined efforts of technology and medicine have been able to defeat most infectious diseases, cancer is a non-infectious disease that is still on the rise, Bode said. She showed how lung cancer has become much more common since the 1930s in correlation with smoking, and said cancer deaths are expected to escalate in the future.

Members of both delegations stopped to view a 3-D interactive image that showed how a molecule taken from a green onion could be used to turn a protein on or off. The Institute has used green onions, green tea and ginger in recent projects.

Dr. Zigang Dong, Institute executive director, introduced the delegates by name and occupation. Among them was his brother, Ziming Dong, who is dean of one of the largest medical schools in China.

Klobuchar said the partnership was a great example of how to both save lives and add jobs. She said she and Walz will work together to secure funding to help the Institute develop technology to fight cancer.

“Our state is known for its international involvement and partnering with businesses across the world,” she said.

Walz highlighted the public-private partnership as a model to which others can aspire.

“It is not hyperbole for us to say this is a great day for the peoples of our two nations,” he said.

Henan, one of the oldest provinces in China, is near the southern part of the Yellow River in China. It has the fifth highest gross domestic product of any province in the country, and is prominent in agriculture. Gov. Wang said the Henan government is conducting health care reform right now, and is promoting medicines and drugs to its people at zero profit.

Before the presentations, Dayton toured The Institute, which will undergo a $27 million expansion. Dayton highlighted the project in January when he unveiled his proposed bonding bill. The Legislature set $13.5 million in bonding for Austin’s Port Authority to put toward the expansion.

“This institute is one of many ways in which Hormel Foods and The Hormel Foundation have given back to this community and to Minnesota,” Dayton told the delegates. “I’m just delighted the state of Minnesota has again joined as one of your partners in the expansion.”

The expansion, totalling 73,000 square feet, will double The Institute’s size, adding 20 state-of-the-art laboratories and room for 120 more researcher jobs. Construction could begin in early 2013, but there are a few hurdles between now and groundbreaking, said City Engineer Jon Erichson at a Wednesday afternoon Port Authority meeting.

First, before the project can start, the state requires a pre-design to be submitted. That lets state officials ensure the money will be used as the bonding bill described before it hands over the $13.5 million in bonding money.

There’s also the matter of the property itself.

“The property actually needs to be owned or under a lease arrangement with the Port Authority,” Erichson said. “There could be a number of issues with that.”

Right now, the Hormel Foundation owns the land where the expansion will go. The existing parking lot will be moved across the street, but several of the houses there have not yet been acquired.

The Port Authority has approved the use of $100,000 to go toward legal costs, the pre-design and an ownership agreement.

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