By YES! Coordinator Jon Morales:
Bob Ryan-at the time the owner of a fireplace, stone and cabinetry store in Hutchinson, MN-sold a friend a pellet-burning stove. They soon decided it would be wise to use local resources as a fuel source for the stove. This resulted in a business plan for Sunrise Agra Fuels, a company that manufactures pellets out of soybeans, straw and sunflower hulls.
Through this venture, Bob discovered a need in commercial markets for combustors that can take advantage of these new fuels. Surprisingly, there were virtually no companies that manufactured this type of boiler in the United States. Here was an opportunity to bring needed sustainable fuel technologies to the U.S. and develop a market for sustainable fuels. With some research, Bob found that Sweden, one of the top countries in the world in development of renewable technologies, had just what he was looking for. Through this discovery, European Energy Connections was formed.
This company is now transferring intellectual property, primarily from Scandinavia to manufacturers in the United States. Because of these manufacturing agreements with companies like Northwest Manufacturing in Red Lake Falls, MN, commercial businesses in the U.S. have access to energy efficient boilers.
Throughout Bob’s working career he has been motivated to improve rural Minnesota. Bob is a jack of all trades and has been a master plumber, owned a trucking business, started and grew a waste and sanitation business that evolved into a recycling and reuse business, and worked as a consultant for many years with organizations such as the Northwest Area Foundation. He has always maintained a desire to better rural Minnesota. A recent example of this is the work he is doing with the town of Milan, MN where he is working with the large Micronesian community to educate and aid them in developing local foods businesses and acting as a distribution hub. In the forty-mile radius of Milan there are 75 production sites that will be impacted by this project.
During Bob’s time as county commissioner he had the shocking realization that our population base in western Minnesota is less than half of what it was at the beginning of WWII and we continue to lose bright young minds to bigger cities. His vision is to create a rural Minnesota with jobs and places where young people can thrive. As Bob says, “places like Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and programs like YES! are the frontiers, the leaders of developing these systems of sustainability and impacting the community in a positive way.”