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Published November 29, 2012, 08:07 AM

Shuttered pasta plants in ND making comeback

The Noodles by Leonardo pasta factory in Devils Lake, which closed earlier this year, will open by year’s end. The Leonardo plant in Cando, which closed last month, has a buyer, officials there say.

By: Kevin Bonham, Forum Communications

Two recently mothballed pasta plants in northeast North Dakota could be finding new life soon.

The Noodles by Leonardo pasta factory in Devils Lake, which closed earlier this year, will open by year’s end, not as a pasta plant but as Ultra Green, a company that converts wheat straw fiber into biodegradable products.

Meanwhile, officials in Cando, N.D., are working with a prospective buyer of the Leonardo plant there. They could hear within the week whether the financial package has been approved for the prospective buyer, which already has a pasta packaging facility in North Dakota.

It was just about eight months ago that Leonardo closed its Devils Lake facility.

Company officials said then that production would be consolidated at its Cando facility. At the time, the Cando plant had 33 employees, while the Devils Lake operation had 15.

The Devils Lake plant closing came about a year after the death of company founder Leonard Gasparre, a millionaire developer from St. Paul, who built a home in Devils Lake in the early 1990s.

However, the Cando plant stopped producing pasta sometime in October, although a small crew has been working at the facility since then, according to JoAnn Rodenbiker, president of the Towner County Economic Development Corp.

“If we can get that pasta plant back up and operating, that will be great,” she said.

LM workers

The former Leonardo plant in Devils Lake has been undergoing a major renovation since Ultra Green took possession in July.

The company plans to make nearly $2.4 million in improvements to the plant, with the majority of that work going to local contractors, according to a recent report officials made to the Devils Lake City Commission. The total project cost is $12 million.

Ultra Green already has about a dozen employees on the payroll in Devils Lake. It expects to employ about 150, with an annual payroll of more than $3.5 million, by the end of 2013, according to CEO Mack Traynor. The company could add another 90 to 100 employees by the end of 2014.

The company held a job fair in Grand Forks last week, talking with employees at LM Wind Power, about potential jobs in Devils Lake, Traynor said. LM announced last month that it would cut more than 300 jobs at its Grand Forks facility by the end of November.

“LM has employees who drive from towns such as Michigan and Petersburg,” he said. “It would be about the same distance.”

He added that while wind blade production is different from food containers, the skills necessary to operate one machine can be easily adapted to others.

Jobs from China

Ultra Green, based in Plymouth, Minn., was founded in 2007.

It started producing its Tree Saver line of products in 2010, contracting with three factories in China that use sugarcane fiber and bamboo to produce biodegradable pizza pans, take-out boxes, bowls, forks, knives, spoons and even toilet paper.

The Devils Lake plant is the company’s first and only manufacturing facility in the United States, according to Traynor, a Fargo native with family ties in the Devils Lake area.

The company expects to shift all of its China manufacturing to the United States by 2017, purchasing wheat straw, the stalks or stubble left after harvest, from farmers in the region.

It already has stockpiled enough bales of wheat straw to begin production.

Once it’s in full operation, it expects to have an annual capacity of more than 15,000 tons of finished products, according to Traynor. About 95 percent of the water used in the manufacturing process will be recycled.

The company markets its products to several companies in the United States, including Whole Foods, Safeway and Sam’s Club.

Call Bonham at (701) 780-1110; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1110; or send email to