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Greg Peters column: It's snowing microchips

Let it snow; let it snow; let it snow! There's a snowball effect and it's not coming from the sky but from the River Falls business park. It all started with an email from Reis Insurance owner Warren Kozitza to River Falls City Manager Scot Simpson.

"We insure Todd Westby's buildings in the cities" said Kozitza, "and he (Westby) was looking to build at a new location in Minnesota and I sent Scot an email letting him know he was looking to build. Why not build in River Falls, right?"

Right you are, Mr. Kozitza; right you are.

Westby, owner of Turn Key Corrections and Three Market Square, said, "Scot gave me a call and basically recruited our business to River Falls and I'm glad he did."

River Falls is glad, too, Mr. Westby, and the flakes will be falling in all shapes and sizes in the years to come. There's a mammoth snowball heading downhill and it's glistening with innovation, technology, and education.

Turn Key Corrections (started in 2000) makes software for vending market kiosks. Their products are in 20 countries around the world in over 2,500 businesses. They also have a niche market for vending machines in over 150 jails across the country. About three months ago, Westby's other business, Three Square Market (established in 2014), went "viral" with over 150 news outlets from the New York Times to the BBC to Nippon Television in Japan reporting on "The Chip Company."

"That's what we're known as," said Westby, "we're known as 'the chip company."

Westby, along with 100 of his employees, have a micro-sized chip in the loose skin between their thumb and index finger, a microchip they developed.

"We don't have passwords or log-ins at work," said Westby, "we just scan the chip in our hand and helps with opening doors, logging on to your computer, and we can even make payments on the vending machines."

Business is good for Three Square Market but that's not where the snowball stops gaining momentum. Westby has a passion for cutting edge technology, as there are plans to make the City of River Falls a "smart city," using the chip technology (which is known to pocket protector patrols as a RFID tag) to send information when a street light is out or there is an accident, but Westby also has a soft spot in his heart for volleyball. Westby's daughter, Claire, played volleyball for Hill-Murray and will be an outside hitter at St. Ben's next fall.

When the Turn Key Corrections/Three Market Square building was being built, Westby had extra square footage added onto the warehouse for two volleyball courts, used solely for River Falls youth volleyball practices.

"I've heard gym space is really tight in River Falls," said Westby, "it's the right thing to do and I want to be involved in the community. Sports keeps kids on the right path and it creates friendships."

Westby said the volleyball courts will be available for at least three years but he's currently talking with a major donor about funding a brand new community recreation center to alleviate the dire need for gym space in River Falls.

Westby also lends his state-of-the-art conference rooms to youth sports organizations, the City of River Falls, and UWRF when needed. Westby said he's excited and honored to speak at The Princeton Review this June on "The Chip Company."

"That audience will include the top 100 college students in the country," said Westby, "and we're going to have the opportunity to hire these graduates."

Having some of the top 100 college graduates in the country moving to River Falls will likely increase our collective town's I.Q. Turn Key and Three Market Square also partner with UWRF and have 10 internships annually, helping keep some of our most talented minds living and working right here in town.

"We want to grow with River Falls," said Westby.

Thanks for balling up the first snowball, Warren, and pushing it down the hill with the email to our City Administrator. Let it grow; let it grow; let it grow.

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