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Author Archive

Local Painter’s Bucket List Doesn’t Cut Corners

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenter Ben Hildre. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase originally posted on April 7, 2017.

The painting industry generates more than $31 billion in revenue each year, but it is estimated that only 5,500 new painting jobs will be created in the next decade. With high demand and a small labor force, there is not much time for innovation in the industry. But a company in Minnesota is looking to change that.

Bucket Tools has a new invention to cut painting time, costs and is better for the environment. Ben Hildre is looking to shake up the industry, and help his team improve and grow.

 

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

Name: Ben Hildre
Age: 35
City you live in: Athens Township
City of birth: Coon Rapids
High school attended: St. Francis High School

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Bucket Tools LLC
Website: www.buckettoolsllc.com
Twitter: @BucketEdge
Business Start Date: March 2014
Number of Employees: 2 (Hildre and partner, Sean Erickson)
Number of Customers: Goes up everyday

 

Q&A

Q. What led to this point?

A. I’m a creative guy who enjoys living life to the fullest. However, “real” life started a little earlier than I anticipated. I found out I was going to be a dad my last semester of high school. That kicked my butt in gear and kept me working as a painter. Over the years I kept painting and then started my own company in 2007. I invented the Bucket Edge the winter of 2014.

The Bucket Edge was created with two main goals in mind. First, I needed a tool that would help expedite or eliminate the need to tape off rooms. As owner of my own painting company, I noticed that countless man-hours and endless amounts of tape were being used at each jobsite. There was so much waste product created, which led me to my second goal. To create a product that would reduce the amount of waste put into landfills and be better for the environment. The Bucket Edge is meeting both of those goals.

Q. What is your business?

A. Bucket Edge is multi-use painting tool to cut down on costs of taping off woodwork before painting. The Bucket Edge was created to cut down on materials and time when painting practically anything, anywhere. As owner of my painting company, Bucket Painting LLC, I have already noticed significant savings. Costs have gone down almost 80 percent on tape alone. There is no need to keep buying sleeves of tape spools on every job. The savings don’t stop there. My labor costs and set up times have also decreased.

It’s almost like tape and dropcloth in one because of the length it extends off the wall. Tape only protects an inch and a half away from the wall, (Bucket Edge) gives you over 13 inches to save from paint splatters. It will pay for itself and give you money back in your pocket the more you use it.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?

A. My partner, Jessica; we have been together for 14 years. She is always there to cheer me on or pat me on the back when something doesn’t work.

Q. What is the origin of the business?

A. It is kind of a funny story. It was back during the foreclosure craze.  I painted lot of dirty houses where tape didn’t stick. One night I came home and was watching “Shark Tank” on ABC with my oldest daughter. Someone made a great deal with one of the “sharks” and Hannah looked over and said, “Dad, you think you’re so smart, create something to put me through college!” I turned to her with a devilish smirk and said “Fine I will, but I’m going to use money for a boat instead.” We have great sense of humor in my house. The next day, I show up to my jobsite and all the taping I had put up had fallen down. What my daughter said sparked the light bulb in my head. That day I drew up the first draft of the Bucket Edge….READ FULL ARTICLE

 

You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org

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Libraries Helping Libraries: Curating Our First Collection

In 1915, the James J. Hill Reference Library’s first head librarian Joseph Pyle began the task of selecting and collecting the books that would one day grace the library’s shelves, working in consultation with James J. Hill. When Hill passed away in 1916, this job was wholly incomplete, and Pyle now faced this duty with little more than very preliminary lists and Hill’s vision: to be a specialized reference library. Not only that, but Pyle wasn’t even a librarian! He was a trusted friend and colleague of Hill’s, his speechwriter and first biographer.  

How did Pyle approach this immense task? With strategy, dedication, networking, and lots of hard work. He relied heavily on other libraries and the experts who worked there.  

Before he could buy books, Pyle had to buy (and read!) books about books: bibliographies. He scoured bibliographic works such as “Standard Books,” “The English Catalogue of Books for Great Britain and Ireland,” and “United States Catalogue and Cumulative Book Index,” many of which were updated and re-published regularly, and publishers’ catalogs. He traveled across the country, from Chicago to New York to Boston and beyond, to visit with reference librarians, scholars, and other experts, all of whom were happy to collaborate and help.   

He looked closely at other libraries’ catalogues and bibliographies, including the St. Paul and Minneapolis Public Libraries, Library of Congress, the libraries at Harvard and Princeton universities, the Peabody Institute Library, the John W. Crerar Library, and the Newberry Library, among many, many more. He even went to very specialized libraries, such as those operated by The Societies of Civil Engineering, Mechanical Engineering and Electric Engineering, in New York City. He received a list of nearly 700 titles on architecture from Electus Litchfield, the building’s architect. 

Pyle was particularly infatuated with the British Museum. He quotes heavily from the “List of Books Forming the Reference Library in the Reading Room of the British Museum” in letters to the Hill Reference Library’s board of directors. “There cannot be any library in any English-speaking country that could more closely approximate to the dream and the hope of Mr. James J. Hill,” Pyle writes in 1917. “[Our] collection will, therefore, be rather closely modeled on the British Museum Reference Library, which is undoubtedly the choicest selective reference library in the world.” (It is, unfortunately, not noted to what extend this dream was realized.) 

To narrow down his lists, Pyle meticulously went through and made decisions on what to purchase and what to cut based on the contents of the book, budget, and what the St. Paul Library next door already had in their collection—minimizing duplication was important to him. 

We still collaborate today with the public, private, and specialized libraries in our community. By working with community partners, we’re able to recognize and fill in gaps in the entrepreneurial and business research community—whether through our database subscriptions or class offerings—and, on the flip side, know where and to whom to refer patrons who need a service we don’t offer.

 


Written by Ann Mayhew, Reference & Support Specialist, at the James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library our our historic collection at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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Libraries Lead: Dru Frykberg

In celebration of National Library Week the James J. Hill Center has reached out to individuals who are involved with the transformation of libraries to celebrate their story and hear their perspective on the future.

Dru Frykberg is Librarian at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED), is the state’s principal economic development agency. DEED programs promote business recruitment, expansion, and retention; international trade; workforce development; and community development.

Tell me a little bit about you and how libraries are integrated into your life?
As a librarian, libraries are obviously a big part of my professional life. But they’re also part of my personal life. During the last year, I’ve turned to libraries to get my toaster fixed at a Fix-It Clinic, attend a meditation class, learn about First Avenue’s history from local music writers, see my teenage crush actor-turned-travel-writer Andrew McCarthy read from his latest book, and of course, borrow all the fiction and nonfiction titles I want.

Where did libraries lead you?
Libraries led me to my academic degrees and to my careers in journalism and librarianship.

Tell me a about your library and its defining function?
The Minnesota Department of Employment & Economic Development (DEED) Library is an internal, staff library where I anticipate and respond to the information needs of my 1,500 colleagues. That means I’m performing research and managing resources for economic developers, labor market analysts, vocational rehabilitation counselors, regional trade managers, employment counselors and more. They keep me busy and on my toes!

Where do you see the future of libraries?
I see libraries continuing to respond to the needs of their communities. I’m not sure anyone knows what that will be. But if I had to guess I see libraries promoting the skills and literacy needed to live in a democracy, preparing people for jobs, providing space and resources for entrepreneurs and gig economy workers, and playing a role in the sharing economy. Maybe they’ll be circulating drones and driverless vehicles along with everything else they make available.

What is a way that communities can take action for libraries and be involved with their transformation?
Don’t take libraries for granted. Use them. Promote them through word of mouth. Let them know how they can better serve you. And support them financially.

 

The James J. Hill Center, founded as the James J. Hill Reference Library is 1921, is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated visit www.jjhill.org

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It All Adds Up: Assessing the Importance of Emotional Capital

Junita Flowers is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, mom and the owner of Favorable Treats. With more than 20 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, she spent her career advocating for families and leading social change initiatives. She shares her thoughts and experiences with us in her monthly blog series “It All Adds Up.”

 

Later this month, I will moderate Taking the Lead, a panel discussion for women in business, on the topic of accessing and raising financial capital, so I thought it was especially fitting to take a few moments to share my perspective on the importance of raising an additional source of capital…emotional capital.

When describing entrepreneurship, I often hear words like passionate, visionary, dreamer, inspired, optimistic, etc. Words that describe strong emotions…emotions that produce great results. Yet, there is still a strong sentiment communicated, that “emotions have zero place in business.” As a woman in business and a solo parent, I remember meeting with a small business advisor who “advised” me to postpone starting my business and focus on raising my family because the emotional demands of managing both are extremely tough. At that time, I didn’t have a term for it, but that interaction was my first introduction to the importance of emotional capital as an entrepreneur.

Emotional capital is simply the ability to build and sustain strong relationships that ultimately lead others to want to work with you, buy from you, support you and to conduct business with you. Clearly, the business advisor from my example didn’t understand the importance of emotional capital in building a trusting advisor/advisee relationship and the overall impact to the business financials. That interaction was my first and last as that advisor’s business client.

Emotions are a piece of the equation in everything we do and should be positioned as a valuable commodity in creating strong and thriving businesses. As a social entrepreneur, emotional capital is at the core of my work. Emotional capital is an asset that, over time, becomes the differentiator which aids in my ability to build meaningful and mutually beneficial relationships, allows me to strengthen my influence, is the foundation to create a trustworthy brand and is ultimately a positive impact on my business financials.

In addition to a solid business foundation, growing and maintaining a financially strong and profitable business must prioritize the importance of emotional capital. Whether purchasing cookies from my cookie company or hiring me to speak at an event, every potential customer will want to conduct business with me based on how they feel when interacting with my products and services, and for me, that is the result of successfully raising emotional capital as an entrepreneur.

I would love to hear from you. How does emotional capital fit in your business operations? You can share your perspective with me by clicking here.

 


You can read more about Junita Flowers on her website favorabletreats.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Take Your Interview Prep to the Next Level

It’s finally happened! You’ve landed the big interview for your dream position. You’ve got the passion and drive to succeed once you’re hired, but how do you stand out from the crowd of other applicants? Supplement that charming smile with some hot facts to impress your interviewer by visiting the James J. Hill Center.

Start by checking out an industry profile using IBISworld. IBISworld reports include sections on supply chain, competitive landscape, and a five year forecast for revenue, growth, and trends at the national level. Link your position within the company to one or all of these topics and explain how you’re ready to be a solution to a company’s present and future challenges.

Once you’ve perfected the macro-level view, head to A-to-Z Databases to get a sense of the company’s competition. You can pull a list of companies within a specific industry at the state, metro, or even zip code level. This helps you generate questions for the company, namely how are they different from the rest of the field? A-to-Z Databases partners with Indeed.com so you can also scope out other job postings, just in case.

Finally, check through Business Source Premier from EBSCO for recent news stories on your company. Nothing says “I did my homework” than casually referencing an upcoming merger or saying congratulations for a recent award.

Keen to find out how these resources can take your interview to the next level? Visit jjhill.org to see our collection of databases and research guides to get started.

 


Written by Jessica Huffman, Business Outreach Librarian, at the James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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America’s Seed Fund

For startups, financing can be challenging, and often the biggest barrier. Each month we’re focusing on a different financing option in Minnesota for startups and featuring experts in the field. 

From innovation, entrepreneurship and commercialization, America’s Seed Fund has helped startups and small businesses transform their ideas into marketable products and services. America’s Seed Fund focuses on high-risk, high-impact technologies — those that show promise but whose success hasn’t yet been validated — and each year, nearly $2.5 billion in non-dilutive funding are available from the congressionally mandated programs – Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR).  These programs support commercialization of technically risky ideas with research interests and budgets varying among the 11 federal participating agencies.

MN-SBIR, a program of the Minnesota High Tech Association, is the State’s focal point to assist seed, early stage, emerging and existing firms (1-500 employees) to successfully access funding through the SBIR/STTR programs. MN-SBIR’s goals are to foster innovation and help create businesses and jobs in Minnesota.  MN-SBIR assists companies with proprietary technology, which refers to technical innovations that are unique and legally owned or licensed by a business, including innovations that are patented, patent pending, a subject of trade secrets, or copyrighted across the spectrum of science, technology and engineering, and multiple industrial sectors.

MN-SBIR provides outreach, education and coaching to companies to research, develop and commercialize world class technologies for social and economic benefit.  MN-SBIR is funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, University of Minnesota, Office for Technology Commercialization and the Minnesota High Tech Association. To learn more click here: Minnesota High Tech Association.

Ms. Pat Dillon is the director of MN-SBIR. She is responsible for the strategic direction and leadership and its services to seed, startup and small businesses in Minnesota. Dillon has consulted with hundreds of businesses to support technology innovation and commercialization in science and technology sectors important to state and national economies.

For more information about MN-SBIR please visit the website or follow them on twitter @MHTA.

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It All Adds Up: Top Three Traits of a Coachable Mentee

Junita Flowers is a writer, speaker, entrepreneur, mom and the owner of Favorable Treats. With more than 20 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, she spent her career advocating for families and leading social change initiatives. She shares her thoughts and experiences with us in her monthly blog series “It All Adds Up.”

As a social entrepreneur, I’ve reached a point on my business journey, where in addition to being profitable, my benchmarks for measuring meaningful success are based on leading with integrity, being kind and choosing to serve the community in which I live and work.

While there are countless workshops, seminars, training and networking opportunities designed to create a road map to reach and measure those benchmarks, one of the best resources for supporting my growth was seeking out and building a relationship with a business mentor.

Initially, when I began the process of seeking out a mentor, my concept of this unique relationship was based on childhood experiences. A mentor/mentee relationship was designed to celebrate, encourage and gently guide the mentee. After some initial research and several conversations, I discovered that most professional mentor/mentee relationships are less about offering support and encouragement and everything about honesty and tough love.

I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot from having a mentor and I would highly recommend it as a must-have relationship for every entrepreneur. As I think back to the early days of my relationship with my mentor, I’m sharing the top three traits that made me a coachable mentee.

1. Personal desire to learn and grow — Since I was a young girl, I’ve always been identified as or put into the role of a leader. While there were times when I felt the pressure to lead, I was also driven to continuously seek out opportunities for growth. Having a growth mindset and a willingness to learn communicated to my mentor that I valued their commitment to my professional development and allowed me the opportunity to maximize their time investment.

2. Willingness to receive feedback AND take action — While a mentor ultimately wants to see you succeed, a mentor’s primary role is not to be a cheerleader and supporter. The most valuable pieces of advice I received from my mentor were often the toughest lessons to hear. My mentor challenged me to do things differently and to be open to change. I consistently welcomed and accepted the advice and committed to take the appropriate action to achieve better results.

3. The ability to embrace failure as valuable learning opportunities — As I’ve mentioned before, failure is a part of the growth and success process. It comes with the territory. If I’m not failing at least occasionally, then I’m not growing and I’m not challenging myself. My mentor served as a resource as I learned to accept failure as much as I accepted the wins. Having a safe space to work through failure, ultimately led me to accept my failures as a prerequisite for strength building.

I would love to hear from you. Have you developed a successful mentor/mentee relationship? If so, which traits have made your relationship a success?


You can read more about Junita Flowers on her website favorabletreats.com. You can also follow her on Facebook and Instagram.

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Ballet + Boxing: How to Create (a) Movement

Check back each month for the Original Thinker Series as we explore local innovation in entrepreneurship, the arts, and our community one pioneering mind at a time.

“I think it was really curiosity that brought us together,” says Zoé Emilie Henrot, the Artistic Director at St. Paul Ballet. The “us” she refers to is a partnership between her dance company and their next door neighbors: Element boxing gym. “We decided not to be cold neighbors, we decided to be in each other’s lives and that is what started it.”

In 2014, St. Paul Ballet needed room to grow and began leasing studio space from Element Boxing & Fitness. Since then the two organizations have been making waves through a dynamic collaboration which has included interdisciplinary training, co-performances, and a Knight Foundation award. “As we continue to progress, we want to become a symbol for unity,” says Dalton Outlaw, CEO and Founder of Element. “If we are all neighbors, if we all exist together, why can’t we work together?”

Both boxing and ballet enjoy rich traditions within the history of human movement. There have been other examples of cross-training between ballet dancers and boxers but the bond that St. Paul Ballet and Element share is something rare and wonderful. “If you are open to giving and receiving a lot can happen,” says Zoé. “In moving together, in figuring out how to be on stage, how to make it work, spending time together and getting to know each other – that’s created this whole community.”

The James J. Hill Center recently hosted a public screening of The Art of Boxing, the Sport of Ballet – a live experience co-directed by Zoé and Dalton. The performance allows audiences to contemplate both boxer-as-artist and dancer-as-athlete in a celebration of movement that is almost sacred in tone. “It’s not about being judged. It’s not about looking a certain way. In those moments when we are performing together it is about feeling,” says Dalton.

Next on the horizon for these two organizations is a ‘movement space’ for the people of Saint Paul. Zoé and Dalton share a vision for a place where anyone can come to experience not only the freedom to move but the freedom that comes from movement. This facility would house their studio and gym and be available for the community to gather. “We’ve talked a lot about windows, I think a lot of stereotypes come from not seeing other people or watching them move in space,” says Zoé.

What is it that has allowed such a unique partnership to develop here? What makes Zoé and Dalton ‘original thinkers’ is something very fundamental: human curiosity. Proximity only leads to partnership when we allow ourselves to be open to the other and to find value in what they bring to the table (or, in this case, the studio/gym). “It’s not just about sport or art,” says Dalton. “It’s about people.”

Catch another performance of The Art of Boxing – The Sport of Ballet at the Ordway on Sunday, April 15th. Tickets and more information available here


Written by Christopher Christenson, Marketing & Events Coordinator, at the James J. Hill Center. Have an idea of a person or organization to feature in this series? Send your recommendations to
christopher@jjhill.org.

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An Online Plan to Modernize Age-Old Shipping Industry

Each month the James J. Hill Center interviews 1 Million Cup presenters for the Startup Showcase feature in the Pioneer Press.  Recently we connected with presenter Tom Venable. See interview as seen in the Pioneer Press Startup Showcase on March 10, 2017.

According to the Inland Waterways section of the 2017 American Society of Civil Engineers Infrastructure Report, the waterway system supported “more than half a million jobs and delivers more than 600 million tons of cargo each year, about 14% of all domestic freight” and “between 2000 and 2014, the average delay per lockage nearly doubled from 64 minutes to 121 minutes.”

While delays are inevitable, freight shippers and receivers do have an opportunity to maximize their margins by making sure they limit (or eliminate) miles when a cargo container is empty. Enter Basin Commerce, offering technology to a business that currently relies heavily on low-tech solutions, to save time, money and headaches.

ENTREPRENEUR PROFILE

CEO/co-founder: Tom Venable
Age: 56
City you live in: Excelsior
City of birth: Peoria, Ill.
High school attended: Edina High School
College attended: University of Minnesota

COMPANY PROFILE

Name of company: Basin Commerce
Website: www.basincommerce.com
Twitter: @basincommerce
Business start date: October 2016
Number of employees: 9
Number of customers: 15

Q&A

Q. What led you to this point?
A. I have over three decades of experience starting and managing software companies all over the country. Most notably in the Twin Cities, I was SVP of sales for Digital River for most of the ’00’s.

In 2016, I met one of my business partners who was a lifelong commodities trader. Scott Stefan explained to me the inefficiencies of the bulk freight market and I explained to him the efficiencies of ecommerce techniques. So we teamed up to create the first and only on-line marketplace for bulk freight transportation services.

It is the story of a commodity guy meets an ecommerce guy in a bar one night, and thus Basin Commerce was born.

Q. What is your business?
A. Based on the shores of Lake Minnetonka, Basin Commerce aims to increase the utilization of the U.S. Waterway System for the transport of bulk materials and other heavy loads that are typically moved via rail and trucks. We do this through an online service similar to Uber or Expedia. At ibookfreight.com a “shipper” can request pricing for moving large quantities of bulk commodities from a myriad of suppliers across the country using the Inland Waterways System.

Q. Where do you go for help when you need it?
A. My three co-founders and a network of trusted advisers I have built up over 30 years.

Q. What problems does your business solve?
A. The manual, cumbersome process of finding, buying and managing bulk freight services via barges and trucks.

Q. What big obstacle or hurdle did you have to overcome?
A. We have to overcome the hurdle of changing human behavior in an industry that has been around for over 100 years.

Q. What personal strengths or skill sets do you bring to the business?
A. Sales, leadership and the understanding of how to build a software company.

Q. What are you most proud of?
A. Besides my 33 year marriage and three adult children it would be the speed by which we were able to launch Basin Commerce and start generating revenue quickly….READ FULL ARTICLE

 

You can hear from startups like this one each Wednesday, 9-10 a.m. at the James J. Hill Center during 1 Million Cups St. Paul. The James J. Hill Center is a nonprofit in downtown St. Paul that provides access to business research, educational programming and a place to work. The Hill is open to the public 8AM – 4PM, Monday-Thursday. To keep updated on what startup is presenting next or to apply to present, visit www.jjhill.org.

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Medical & Life Science Industry Research at the Hill

If you’re thinking of getting into the fast-growing industries of medicine or life science, trying to get verified information can be a real challenge. HIPAA, or the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, protects your health information from being distributed, but can make getting demographic profiles for your business almost impossible. Thankfully, the James J Hill Center has specialized resources to aid your search!

Researching a particular medical procedure? Use the American Hospital Directory. Available here on-site at the Hill, this high-powered directory will not only let you pull up a list of hospitals and clinics by geography, specialty, and procedures provided, but will also let you investigate the finances of each organization listed. You can learn whether or not your future clinic can corner the market in your state on the latest, cutting edge medical offerings.

Keen to start a non-profit that supports biological conservation? Maybe you dream of leading a crew of volunteers to the next big ecological discovery. Use the Hill’s subscription to the Foundation Directory to find grants to fund your expedition. You can search both public and private grantmakers by topic. Did you know that there’s almost $11 billion dollars in grants available to support wildlife biodiversity work? Come in and check out with grant is right to fund your life’s work in the life sciences.

Interested in learning more about the resources at the Hill? Thrilled by the prospect of in-depth data analysis? Schedule a 20 minute appointment with our staff to learn about our database classes, memberships, and research support services.

 


Written by Jessica Huffman, Business Outreach Librarian, at the James J. Hill Center. If you have more questions about the reference library at the James J. Hill Center please contact 651-265-5500 or hillreferencelibrary@jjhill.org.

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IMPORTANT NOTICE:

Patrons with accessibility needs please access our ground floor elevator entrance via Kellogg Ave at the back of the building. Please ring the doorbell on the right hand side of door and a Hill staff member will assist you. If you have questions or concerns please call 651.265.5500. We look forward to having you visit.

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