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EDC members take first look at pared-down budget for 2010

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission is looking at a pared-down budget for next year, but no significant scaling back in economic development activities that range from renewable energy and the biosciences to tourism, marketing and technology.

Members of the EDC's governing board and joint operations board got their first look Wednesday night at a preliminary 2010 budget of $484,511.

It's "a rather austere budget," said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.

The EDC proposes to spend about $3,000 less next year than it's spending this year. For the third year in a row, the property tax levy being recommended by the operating and governing boards also will stay the same, at $455,000.

Board members heard a review Wednesday of the projects being worked on by each of the EDC's five volunteer committees, who are responsible for carrying out much of the agency's main activities.

Few changes are being proposed. The ag committee, for instance, will continue to work on renewable energy development and the commercialization of potential agribusiness or renewable energy ventures. A committee for business retention, expansion and recruitment will intensify its efforts to reach business owners and entrepreneurs throughout Kandiyohi County.

In technology, one of the priorities will be education to help local businesses use the Internet more effectively. The marketing committee is in the midst of redesigning the EDC's Web site and hopes to incorporate social media such as blogging and Facebook to reach out to potential audiences.

For the tourism committee, next year will be the first full year the committee has been merged with the Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau. The newly merged group is still in the process of setting its goals and developing a committee structure.

Next year the EDC will allocate $34,000 toward this joint venture in tourism promotion.

Overall, the Economic Development Commission is projected to spend $135,000 next year to support the work of its committees. The amount is slightly less than the $137,000 that is budgeted for this year.

Committee expenses are second only to staff salaries as the largest item in the EDC's budget. It's a reflection of the agency's priorities, Renquist said.

"Where you put your money is where your heart is," he said.

In spite of a relatively flat budget, the EDC has still managed to make strides in economic development, Renquist said.

Unemployment in Kandiyohi County remains among the lowest in this region of the state, he said. Kandiyohi County also is creating jobs and increasing the average wage rate at a faster pace than most of its neighbors.

"The county is doing well. We're creating jobs. We're still creating houses. We're adding to wages. We're well-focused," Renquist said.

The EDC's proposed budget includes a 0 percent salary increase next year for the executive director, who makes $78,000, and a 2 percent pay increase for the assistant director, who this year is earning just under $59,000.

One spending question that was left unresolved Wednesday: whether the EDC should once again hire former state senator Dean Johnson as its lobbyist for the 2010 legislative session.

The cost is estimated at around $12,000 for six months or $24,000 for a full year and has not yet been allocated in the budget, Renquist said.

"It would be very difficult to come up with $24,000. We at that point would have to increase the contribution from the reserve fund," he said.

An informal poll at Wednesday's meeting indicated that governing board and operating board members were split on the issue, leaving it up to the operating board to settle on a recommendation next month that will be forwarded to the governing board.

Approval of the Economic Development Commission's budget for next year is scheduled to take place in August. The budget must be submitted to the county auditor by Sept. 15.

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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