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EDC ponders veterans' home proposal

WILLMAR -- Financial assistance might become one of the bargaining chips as the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission continues its push to obtain a veterans' nursing home and mental health facility for Willmar.

The possibility was put forward Thursday as the EDC's operations board contemplated how to stay in the running for the project.

"I think we need this discussion to go a little further so we know what we're putting on the table," said Duane Hultgren, chairman of the operations board.

During the past legislative session, the veterans' home proposal came close to being approved. But ultimately it failed to get enough votes from a Minnesota House and Senate conference committee.

For two years now, the proposal has stalled in the Legislature. Local economic development officials are disappointed with the lack of progress on what they see as a unique and essential service for veterans: traditional nursing home care for aging veterans coupled with mental health and traumatic brain injury services for veterans across the age spectrum.

Indeed, legislators might not fully understand what has been proposed, suggested Steve Renquist, director of the Economic Development Commission.

"We're just not getting the message through," he said.

"That's my biggest frustration with this whole process," agreed Bruce Peterson, economic development director for the city of Willmar.

Renquist said he has been wondering if a different approach should be taken.

"It seems to me it's time we dust off our proposal and take a hard look at it," he said.

Other cities -- Bemidji, Brainerd, Montevideo and Owatonna among them -- also are vying to host a veterans' home, and Renquist voiced concern Thursday that the process could turn into a bidding contest.

If Willmar wants to remain in the competition, it might need to offer some financial incentives, such as assistance in bonding for a veterans' home, Renquist said.

This is a role the EDC could play, he said. "If need be, we could have a significant contribution."

No dollar amount was identified Thursday, nor did Renquist ask the EDC to consider a specific funding proposal. But he told operations board members that they can expect to hear more in upcoming months.

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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