LITTLE FALLS -- It was a field of dreams.

The site of Brainerd area-based Barrett Petfood Innovations' expansion was bustling with activity and excitement when ground was broken Monday, Aug. 12, in Little Falls in Morrison County.

“We’re expanding ... and the pet industry is -- as everyone knows -- that people love their pets,” Sarah Barrett said before the groundbreaking ceremony. “We’ve moved from pet owners to pet parents, and those are the people that we cater to.”

Brother and sister Tom and Sarah Barrett are the managing directors of Barrett Petfood Innovations, which was founded by their father Mike. Barrett Petfood Innovations has been a global manufacturing partner since 1982.

Mike Barrett founded the company. His children Sarah and Tom Barrett now are managing directors. Mike Barrett is still involved in the business as his farm is one of the main ingredient sources for the company. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
Mike Barrett founded the company. His children Sarah and Tom Barrett now are managing directors. Mike Barrett is still involved in the business as his farm is one of the main ingredient sources for the company. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“Today, we’re moving a little bit of dirt, laying the foundation for the new building. Hopefully by November, the building will be going up. By June, it’ll be completed and we’ll be making pet food by July,” Tom Barrett said before picking up a shovel and hard hat for the groundbreaking.

Located in an industrial park, Barrett Petfood Innovations’ new facility in Little Falls is expected to create 85 jobs within the next three years, with an average wage of $15.98 per hour, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“We felt like this was a great site for us being right off of Highway 10 and 371 where it’s good for truck access and good freight lanes, so we felt like it’s a great location for us,” Tom Barrett said.

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is supporting the project with a $450,000 investment from the Minnesota Investment Fund and a $175,000 investment from the Job Creation Fund.

“This expansion is another example that businesses don’t need to be in the Twin Cities metro in order to succeed,” Commissioner Steve Grove said in a news release. “DEED is focused on empowering the growth of the Minnesota economy for everyone – especially those in Greater Minnesota.”

Tom Barrett said the 160,000-square-foot building will house initially one production line and eventually two, starting with a minimum of 40 employees, with a five-year goal of 200 to 300 workers. The growth is in addition to the company’s facility on Highway 25 south of Brainerd, which has about 105 employees. Tom Barrett said the company will continue business as usual at the site about 11 miles south of Brainerd and will continue to employ more than 100 there.

The Barrett family listens to the remarks at the groundbreaking Monday, Aug. 12, for the new Barrett Petfood Innovations manufacturing facility in the Little Falls Industrial Park. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
The Barrett family listens to the remarks at the groundbreaking Monday, Aug. 12, for the new Barrett Petfood Innovations manufacturing facility in the Little Falls Industrial Park. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

“One thing Tom and I don’t tell enough people is that this facility will be the first of its kind in the U.S.,” Sarah Barrett told the crowd about the company’s involvement with Wenger, a Kansas-based equipment manufacturer.

Tom Barrett added, “They are not new to the industry, however, the machine we will be utilizing is new to the industry in North America. ... It will allow us to add more fresh meat and fresh fruits and vegetables to food that we will produce.”

The full-service super premium pet food manufacturing company produces more than 150 types of pet food from dog, cat and bird food to more exotic items such as turtle, fish and primate food, according to its website, and the products are distributed locally and exported around the world.

“In terms of dry pet food, we focus on the most super premium end of that, so a lot of fresh ingredients, fresh meat, fresh vegetables and fruits, and we focus on mostly independent pet brands,” Tom Barrett said.

“Fresh and local is what we concentrate on, and we also support a lot of local farmers, buying local ingredients, so that is our focus,” Tom Barrett said.

The Little Falls City Council approved the sale of the land by the school district to the company for $1 as part of a tax-increment financing agreement. The school district will receive $494,000 for the land over the course of nine years.

State Rep. Ron Kresha said in a news release he was “proud to welcome Barrett Petfood Innovations to Little Falls.”

“Our area is a great place to grow a business, and I am excited to see the positive effect this will have on our communities in and around Little Falls,” Kresha stated.

The Barrett family stands by a sign for the future home in Little Falls of expansion facility of Brainerd lakes area-based Barrett Petfood Innovations.  Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
The Barrett family stands by a sign for the future home in Little Falls of expansion facility of Brainerd lakes area-based Barrett Petfood Innovations. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Tom Barrett said, “Our hope is that we can pull people from Brainerd, Little Falls, St. Cloud, Pierz, Long Prairie. We wanted a centralized location that we felt like we could pull our entire employment base.”

Little Falls has an estimated total population of 8,686, with over 61% of residents in the labor force, according to the Republican from Little Falls.

“Central Minnesota is growing and housing in our area is affordable, so I hope to see many more businesses expanding in our area in years to come,” Kresha stated.

Cupcakes with paw print icing and paw print napkins were offered along with coffee on a table underneath the tent in a field clearing where a sign declared the site was the company’s future home and the design/build project was by Nor-Son Construction.

“It takes a community to help a company grow,” Morrison County Community Development Executive Director Carol Anderson told the crowd of invited dignitaries.

Sarah Barrett added, “My dad said, ‘Call Carol. Just give her a call,’ so we did, and we walked into a meeting … a roundtable of about 20 people, and each one stood up and told our family what they could do for us. After that, we’ve sort of decided Little Falls is where we belong.”