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Biotech company wants a $53 million home on Minnesota's Iron Range

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A fledgling company with plans to turn timber into industrial chemicals and fuels wants to build a $53 million plant on Minnesota's Iron Range. And a regional agency may put together a loan package to cover nearly half the cost.

Sweetwater Energy is a Rochester, New York, company with plans to build manufacturing plants in that city and in Mountain Iron, Minnesota.

On Friday, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) will vote on whether to approve an $18 million loan, which would be added to state loans to create a $26 million economic aid package for the project.

Sweetwater hopes to open the plant in 2017 and says it would start with 35 employees but that figure could grow to more than 100.

IRRRB Commissioner Mark Phillips says in a statement the project would put northeastern Minnesota on the leading edge of the growing biotech industry, using the area's natural resources to create well-paying jobs and diversify the local economy.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, if the aid package is approved it would be the second-largest ever offered by the IRRRB.

In an interview with the Star Tribune, Phillips acknowledged it would be a big expenditure for the state but added: "... if the state wants to play in this bio industry segment, these are the kinds of deals we have to consider. It’s an emerging industry, and the world is turning away from carbon-based chemicals to more plant-based and biodegradable-based products.”

The Star Tribune says under the deal Sweetwater would not receive the state money until it has lined up the other $26.8 million needed to build the plant.

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