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Franken emphasizes jobs at Renewal in Cottage Grove, literacy at school

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U.S. Sen. Al Franken made a pair of stops in Cottage Grove Monday, learning about literacy programs and Spanish immersion at Crestview Elementary and touring a Renewal by Andersen manufacturing facility.

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Franken used his visit to Andersen's 240,000-square-foot Cottage Grove Renewal manufacturing plant that specializes in energy efficient replacement windows to promote his Back to Work Minnesota initiative aimed at creating jobs by encouraging and supporting energy efficiency retrofits of buildings across the state.

Retrofits save businesses money in the long-run and cuts energy usage, Franken said, while helping create jobs at plants like Renewal.

"Retrofitting is a way to create jobs without spending any money," Franken said in a meeting with Andersen executives and employees before touring the facility. "There's capital [investment] but energy savings can pay off the capital."

The Cottage Grove plant, opened in 1999, employs between 300 to 400 workers, depending on the season, in its manufacturing facility and more than 100 employees in its offices on-site. Renewal by Andersen officials, including President Paul Delahunt, led the Democratic senator on a half-hour tour of the manufacturing floor to learn about how the company manufactures energy efficient windows.

"I just really believe retrofitting is the low-hanging fruit," Franken said.

Andersen is excited to be a part of Franken's efforts, said Susan Roeder, a corporate communications manager with the company.

"We're very eager to be a part of this initiative, to help as he is building the base," she said.

School visit

@9on11:At Crestview Elementary, Franken visited watched a reading program, visited with students and was briefed on the Nuevas Fronteras Spanish immersion school within the Crestview building.

Immersion students told Franken they are doing well in their studies, while speaking nothing but Spanish, and learning the same curriculum as other students their age.

Currently there is no federal funding for immersion programs, Franken said, adding that he wants it funded.

After observing student Victoria Mann working with AmeriCorps instructor Nicole Toni, Franken said he wants to see continued funding of the AmeriCorps reading and math program.

It's important that students learn to read by third grade, Franken told Crestview Principal Rich Romano.

The students also quizzed Minnesota's junior U.S. senator.

The first thing students wanted to know is what President Obama is like. Answering a fifth-grader's question while visiting a Nuevas Fronteras classroom, Franken said he met President Obama and his wife, Michelle, when Obama was in his first days as senator from Illinois.

"I was impressed with how calm he was," Franken said. "His kids are very important to him. He's smart, too. Michelle is also very smart."

Kids also wanted to know how he got into politics from being a writer and comedian.

Franken said he grew up during the heart of the African-American struggle for civil rights. His father told him about the importance of being interested in politics. Much of his comedy was also political, he said. But later in life, he decided to run for the Senate.

The work is hard, he told students, "but good."

Kelly Fenske's first-graders tested Franken on his knowledge of history. "Is July America's birthday?" asked one student, provoking a discussion about the Declaration of Independence.

A student asked him how old Minnesota is and Franken answered, "154 years old."

"Wow!?" said the student. "That's older than my dad."

Another student asked if the president is watching them.

"No," Franken said.

"That's Santa Claus that watches us," said another student.

"Thank you for clarifying that," Franken said.

Franken's Senate-related visits to Cottage Grove Monday came a day after he was in town for campaign purposes. Franken attended an event Sunday in Cottage Grove for legislative candidate Dan Schoen and other DFL candidates.

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