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Korrie Wenzel/Prairie Business U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, left, Gov. Mark Dayton, Digi-Key President Dave Doherty and Thief River Falls Mayor Brian Holmer throw the first shovels of dirt during a Digi-Key groundbreaking ceremony Friday in Thief River Falls, Minn. The approximately $300 million expansion could lead to more than 1,000 new jobs at the facility, which already employs 3,200.

Digi-Key breaks ground on expansion

THIEF RIVER FALLS, Minn. -- Walking across the expansive parking lot just west of Digi-Key in Thief River Falls takes about five minutes.

Coincidentally, the massive asphalt slab is nearly the exact footprint of the planned million-square-foot expansion at Digi-Key, a distributor of electronics components that already employs 3,200 in this western Pennington County town of 8,000.

Friday, dignitaries from the company, the city and around the state broke ground for the expansion, which could eventually add more than 1,000 jobs at Digi-Key and, leaders predict, spur approximately $184 million in new state revenue annually.

The expansion project itself could cost as much as $300 million.

About 70 people attended, including Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., Mayor Brian Holmer, members of City Council and several members of the state Legislature.

“I’m just in awe,” Dayton said. “I cannot begin to express how important your company is in Thief River Falls. This is a great example of all of us working together for the state of Minnesota. Congratulations again to everybody involved.”

The project first was announced in the spring and officially put in motion earlier this summer. Friday, company leaders praised the work of local and state politicians who pushed for incentives that were used to make the project happen, including sales-tax exemptions to offset costs, loans from the Minnesota Investment Fund and the sale of city property for the expansion.

It could help the company increase its employees to as many as 4,500 by 2027. By comparison, there were 654 employees in 1997.

Starting wages at Digi-Key generally are around $32,600, with a good benefits package.

“These are very good jobs that will be created and are being created at Digi-Key,” said Rick Trontvet, Digi-Key’s vice president of administration and human resources. “This project will be a win for Thief River Falls and the state of Minnesota.”

Early during Friday’s ceremony, Digi-Key President Dave Doherty showed a video of what the new building will look like upon completion. The high-tech format will improve efficiency, he said, although the new building will dwarf Digi-Key’s existing structure. The building that houses workers today is only about a quarter of the size of the planned expansion.

“We decided early on that our goal wasn’t to be the biggest distributor, but the best,” he said. “We recognize our responsibility not only to our customers, but also as stewards of the community. We don’t take that lightly. We want to pause and say ‘thank you.’ ”

Holmer, the city’s mayor, called it an “exciting day for Thief River Falls” and noted that it was the result of a joint partnership, “from the lowest level of government to the highest.”

And Rep. Peterson, a Democrat, said others should emulate the bipartisan cooperation that resulted in state support for the Digi-Key expansion.

“We need to do (this) in Washington,” he said.

Following an indoors presentation that included short speeches from many of the dignitaries present, the entire contingent was loaded into two buses for transportation across the broad parking lot -- which the new building will overtake -- to the ground-breaking site.

There, the leaders donned construction hardhats, were handed ceremonial shovels and grinned for numerous photos.

“I am so proud,” Dayton said. “This is one of the greatest Minnesota success stories.”