Hoping to score: Former pro hockey player waits to get right blend of investors, management for new corn mill

Monday, May 8, 2006
Terry Kleisinger, president of SEMO Milling LLC, stood at the construction site for the corn milling plant at the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority. (Fred Lynch)

Terry Kleisinger knows how to make quick moves to reach his goals.

That's because Kleisinger, the man behind the new multimillion-dollar corn milling operation at the Southeast Missouri Regional Port Authority, is a former goalie with the New York Rangers.

"I spent three years in the NHL," Kleisinger said while giving a tour of the under construction SEMO Milling operation in Scott City. "But this is a challenge."

For four years, the Canadian-born Kleisinger has been working to get the right blend of investors and management to make a go of building and operating a corn mill in Southeast Missouri. Now, he feels like he has that right mix for success and expects the operation to be up and running by September.

The 20 or so investors include some of his old National Hockey League chums -- like current St. Louis Blues left wing Peter Senja and Colorado Avalanche assistant coach Tony Granato.

Kleisinger was a goalie for the Rangers from 1985 to 1988 before he broke his back in an automobile accident, which left him in a full body cast for about year. That ended his professional career that had been preceded by impressive college performance.

A former standout at the University of Wisconsin (1980-1984) and two-time All-American goalie for the Badgers, Kleisinger was a member of two NCAA championship teams as well as one national runner-up team. He set a school record with nine career shutouts and became just the third goalie at the school to amass more than 2,000 career saves. In 1984, he was named to the roster of Canada's national team for the Olympics.

After he retired from professional hockey, he began his coaching career with the Madison, Wis., Major AAA team in 1989, working with goalies, and more recently served on the staff of the Vail, Colo., AAA squad. Kleisinger lives in Vail with his wife and two children.

Now, though, he's got his mind on the corn mill.

Port Authority executive director Dan Overbey said that he thinks Kleisinger's sports background has been helpful.

"His tenacity as a hockey player has paid off," Overbey said. "He's been here banging his head against the wall for three or four years, and he's never given up. He wanted the right investors and the right management team, and he stayed after it."

SEMO Milling LLC will join five other businesses at the port in Scott County, including Girardeau Stevedores, which run the port's public terminal; Midwest Agri-Chemico and its sister company First Missouri Terminal, a fertilizer distributor; Consolidated Grain & Barge, a grain elevator; and Missouri Fibre, a wood chip mill.

The project -- which is costing at least $6 million -- will sit on five acres leased from the port and will include a four-story concrete milling facility, which is currently under construction. The facility also includes a nearby silo, bins for inbound corn, tanks for storage of the processed product and a two-story office building.

'It's a first for us'

The port has never before housed a food processing facility, Overbey said.

"It's a first for us," Overbey said.

The milling operation will employ 60 to start with and operate seven days a week, Kleisinger said.

SEMO Milling will purchase product locally, he said, and will create food goods for domestic and foreign markets as well as competing for foreign aid contracts. They are targeting only six or seven companies, though he refused to name them. The milled corn will be likely be used for cereals, snacks and more than 20 percent of it is being purchased by the U.S. government for foreign food aid.

SEMO Milling also will operate a separate bagging operation in a nearby building on the south side of the harbor, which will hire about 20 people, Kleisinger said. A ceremonial ground-breaking for that business will be held May 15 at 1:30 p.m.

Kleisinger said he chose Southeast Missouri because it is home of the best corn in the U.S. The mill will buy corn from Southeast Missouri and Southern Illinois. Once the operation is up and running, it will mill 24,000 bushels of corn a day, or more than 1.3 million pounds. That's 8.7 million bushels a year and 490 million pounds.

SEMO Milling has already driven more than 300 steel pipe pilings as part of the foundation for their new four-story corn mill at the port. The mill will use 27 truckloads of corn each day. Finished products will include corn meal, corn grits, corn flour and other products which will be shipped to customers by truck, rail and barge.

The port is making some improvements to make way for the mill, including 1,425 feet of concrete street paving and related. A Community Development Block Grant will pay for $468,000 of the improvements. A Missouri Department of Transportation waterways capital improvements grant of $495,000 will pay for the balance, along with $46,000 of SEMO Port funds.

smoyers@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 137

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