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EDC proposing bioenergy office at Willmar, Minn., tech. campus

WILLMAR -- Spurred by the promising future of renewable fuels, the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission is contemplating opening its own bioenergy office at the MinnWest Technology Campus.

The concept, which has been recommended by the EDC's agriculture and renewable energy committee, is far from a done deal. It hasn't been formally approved by the EDC board yet, and several of the details still need further development.

What it could do is help solidify Kandiyohi County as a player in the renewable energy field, said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.

"This is an exploding marketplace," he said. "What the ag and renewable energy committee is doing is positioning Kandiyohi County to take advantage of that."

The proposal was presented Thursday to the joint operating board of the EDC. Board members did not take action.

Their initial response, though, showed interest in talking about it further.

"I think it's a grand idea," said board member Bev Dougherty.

The issue will be back on the agenda in October, after more study and review.

The proposal calls for moving Cathy Keuseman, the EDC's full-time agriculture and renewable energy specialist, from the EDC office in downtown Willmar to a bioenergy and renewable materials office that would be created on the technology campus.

"We have an office that's being extremely productive right here, right now," Renquist said.

The initiatives Keuseman and her committee are working on range from development of a viable fuel cell to extracting energy from anhydrous ammonia.

Moving to the technology campus could help create a stronger identity for the EDC in the bioenergy field, make it more visible and enable it to increase its networking ability, Renquist said.

A separate bioenergy office could allow the Economic Development Commission to expand some of its partnerships, such as venture capitalists and other technology campus tenants. There's also potential for working more closely with the University of Minnesota's new Mid-Central Research and Outreach Center, currently being developed on the campus.

There are practical issues too. Renquist said the EDC office is starting to run out of storage space and meeting space for all the renewable energy initiatives that are under way.

But a stronger presence is "the biggest reason" for the proposed move to the technology campus, he said. "It would give us a look at what it could be."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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