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General Mills/Henkel Case Study

Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.

Photo of Henkel site.
Source: City of Minneaoplis DPW
Before: Contamination at the former chemical research facility posed a threat to neighboring homes.

After: A small business incubator.

  • Groundwater (and possibly the soil) contaminated with volatile organic compounds, such as trichloroethylene, benzene, chloroform, toluene, and xylenes.
  • Removed groundwater, treated contamination with air stripper, and discharged clean water into city sewer system
  • Continuing to evaluate the soil for possible contamination
  • U.S. EPA
  • Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
  • City of Minneapolis
  • B.B.D. Holdings, Inc
Public Revenue
  • $236,000 in annual state taxes from spending by permanent employees
  • $411,000 in annual state income taxes on salaries of permanent employees
  • 220 permanent jobs with the business incubator program
  • $5.6+ million in total annual income and $4.5+ million in total annual spending
  • Overall protection of public health and environment
  • Protection of the Mississippi River and its tributaries
  • Enhancement of entrepreneurial spirit in community
  • Elimination of blighted property and improvement to aesthetic quality of the neighborhood
Last Updated April 1999

General Mills/Henkel
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Chemical research facility where chemical wastes were disposed of for 15 years

A business incubator program that is supporting the start-up and growth of nearly 100 businesses

Community resource for entrepreneurs, local jobs and income, and increased local spending and public revenues

Imagine an entrepreneur trying to get her dream business off the ground, quickly realizing that office space, equipment, and administrative assistance are too expensive for a start-up company’s budget. What if there were a place where a business person could find all of these services, and more, in an atmosphere designed specifically for small growing companies? Not only was a place like this created in downtown Minneapolis, but it was done on the General Mills/Henkel Corporation Superfund site. What was once a chemical research and disposal site is now home to a thriving business development service or “incubator,” which helps small businesses grow during their start-up period. What follows is the story of how EPA worked with the State of Minnesota to clean up and return this property to productive use, and the positive economic impacts and environmental and social benefits that have resulted.

Site Snapshot

The General Mills/Henkel Superfund site occupies three city blocks in a predominately industrial area of Minneapolis. There are 15 buildings on the site and railroad tracks run adjacent to the property. Although the area is industrial, there are many homes next to the site and 7,500 households within two miles. The site is 5,000 feet from the banks of the Mississippi River.

General Mills operated a technical research facility on the 6.5-acre property from 1930 to 1977. The company conducted food research until 1947, when chemical research began. Each year from 1947 to 1962, General Mills disposed of 1,000 gallons of laboratory solvents and other chemical wastes in a pit on the property. In 1980, General Mills sold the property to the Henkel Corporation, which ceased operation in 1985.

From Solvents...

In September 1984, EPA placed the General Mills/Henkel site on its list of hazardous waste sites needing cleanup. The Agency granted authority to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to oversee the cleanup being funded and performed by General Mills. General Mills analyzed methods for removing the groundwater contamination, and the state approved a system that extracts the groundwater, treats it, and discharges clean water into the city’s storm sewer system. To carry out the cleanup, the state required General Mills to obtain a permit which placed strict controls on the discharges and ensured that only treated water entered the sewer system. MPCA is now evaluating the effectiveness of the groundwater cleanup to decide whether additional action will be needed to clean up the soil. However, MPCA has determined that the site is safe for reuse and that the clean up performed to date protects workers and visitors to the site.

...To Start-Up Businesses

The General Mills/Henkel site remained vacant until 1990, when the Henkel Corporation sold the property at auction to B.B.D. Holdings, Inc., a private investment group. B.B.D. Holdings converted the site to a business enterprise development program, or “business incubator,” which supports the creation and growth of small businesses, particularly during the critical start-up period when they are most vulnerable. B.B.D. Holdings reused the entire site, almost 290,000 square feet, by refurbishing the 15 buildings on the property and converting them to offices, commercial space, and research and laboratory facilities. Since 1990, B.B.D. Holdings has successfully operated the business incubator program and now has more than 100 start-up business tenants. Tenants include small businesses in the food, computer graphics and printing, medical devices, designer clothing, and furniture industries. The incubator program offers its tenants a central location in the heart of Minneapolis, easy access to highways, ample parking, 24-hour access, and management and maintenance services.

Community Benefits

Cleanup and reuse of the site is having positive economic impacts on the local community. The business incubation program represents a fast-growing, dynamic enterprise that focuses on the economic development of the surrounding community. The program plays a significant role in providing business opportunities to local entrepreneurs, fostering the growth of small businesses that otherwise might not survive, and generating economic activity in the community in the form of jobs and income, spending, and public revenue. The transformation from a vacant, hazardous waste site into a flourishing business incubator afforded temporary construction jobs and several hundred permanent jobs for the community. The reuse has also increased the value of the site and surrounding properties, which in turn generates additional tax revenue for the community. The cleanup has also ensured the protection of people and the environment from the adverse effects of chemical pollution. It protected the Mississippi River from possible contamination, which could have damaged fish and wildlife and prevented the use of the river for drinking water and recreation. The actions at the site also eliminated a vacant and blighted property from the community.

Keys to Success

The key ingredient in the successful cleanup and redevelopment of the General Mills/Henkel Corporation site was the partnership among EPA, MPCA, the City of Minneapolis, and B.B.D. Holdings, Inc. By working together, these partners were able to clean the property and the existing buildings, so that the site could be returned to productive use in a way that serves the community, the environment, and the local economy. This cleanup strategy and the cooperation of those involved have given more than 100 local entrepreneurs and small businesses in the Minneapolis area an opportunity to grow and expand in an affordable and managed environment.

For more information about the cleanup and redevelopment of the General Mills/Henkel site, contact:

Ms. Dagmar Romano, Project Manager
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency
520 Lafayette Road North
St. Paul, MN 55155
(612) 296-7776