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Lake County News-Chronicle: Franken visits Two Harbors

Headquartered in an unassuming single-story structure set back from the road, Granite Gear gives little impression that its products travel the world, some protecting U.S. soldiers in the deserts and mountains of the Middle East.

On Saturday, U.S. Sen. Al Franken — who’s made numerous visits to the war-torn region overseas stopped by the Two Harbors-based company to talk about jobs, the impending sequestration and his vision for economic growth in the Arrowhead.

Amid good-natured conversation and handshakes, the Minnesota Democrat spoke of budget cuts slated to take effect Friday, acknowledging that they could have a long term impact on businesses.

“That’s why we’re going to stop sequestration, because I understand a lot of your sales are to the military,” he said, referring to Granite Gear products such as body armor, ultra-light backpacks and duffle-type bags that are sold to the government, many to elite forces such as Navy SEALS.

Franken did not take issue with the idea of cutting the federal budget per se, but bristled at the idea that the impending cuts would indiscriminately eviscerate needed services rather than skimming fat from bloated budget items.

Greeting him were about 40 people, including the company’s owners, Jeff Knight and Dan Cruikshank, their spouses and children, employees and family members. While many of the company’s items are manufactured off-shore, Granite Gear is bringing some retail items for local production.

“Southeast Asia is great for mass-produced stuff, but you need a local plan to do more custom work,” said Cruikshank, noting the 25-year-old company’s success that includes securing government contracts for its products.

Cruikshank said doing business overseas can be challenging because Lake County does not yet have the technological infrastructure needed to support it, although it’s in the works. He said that tools like Skype are useful for business purposes, but “we don’t have the bandwidth to support that.”

The senator agreed that renewed focus on technology is critical.

“Broadband is part of the infrastructure that will make a difference,” said Franken, adding that domestic spending on things people and businesses really need is a priority right now, not building bombs.

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