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EDC approves branch office on tech campus in Willmar, Minn.

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission will open a branch office at the MinnWest Technology Campus for its agriculture and renewable energy specialist.

The move was approved by the EDC joint operations board on Thursday.

The arrangement is for a trial period of six months, after which it will be evaluated to decide whether to continue.

It comes at the cost of $450 more a month in rent for the office space.

There's little room in the EDC budget for another expense, acknowledged Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.

"There's no way of getting around it -- it's still a cost to the EDC. I understand that," he said.

But it represents an opportunity for the Economic Development Commission to solidify and enhance the agency's efforts to make renewable energy one of the cornerstones of the local economy, Renquist said.

He had recommended the move last month to the operations board.

Having a presence on the technology campus is expected to enhance the visibility of the EDC's renewable energy initiatives within the biotech industry. It could also open the door to increased partnership with enterprises such as the University of Minnesota's new Mid-Central Research and Outreach Center, which is opening next year on the technology campus.

There might also be opportunities to work more closely with ag venture capitalists to help bankroll promising renewable energy projects in the start-up stages.

Members of the operations board voiced some reservations Thursday about the long-term viability of maintaining a separate office on the technology campus.

In the end, however, they said they'd support it on a trial basis.

"I think it would be a positive thing to do," said Duane Hultgren. "We can look at this again, in depth, at that point in time when the six-month trial is up."

Over the past several months, the EDC has been able to make significant strides in projects ranging from anhydrous ammonia to fuel cell development, said Ron Erpelding, chairman of the operations board.

It demonstrates what can happen when the right resources are in place, he said. "It's amazing what's going on out there. ... It wouldn't have moved one step if we hadn't had someone leading the initiative."

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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