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EDC director responds to criticism of the agency

WILLMAR — The executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission came to the organization’s defense this week, issuing a formal response to allegations by a board member that the EDC is falling short.

“It was a situation that I felt could not go unaddressed,” Steve Renquist said Thursday.

At a meeting Thursday of the Economic Development Commission Joint Operations Board, Renquist handed out a six-page memo that responds, point by point, to allegations put forth last week by board member Robert Enos that the EDC is failing to deliver on economic development.

Enos made his concerns public in a letter sent last week to the Willmar City Council and Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners and also distributed to local news media.

In his letter, he called for dissolving the joint powers agreement between the city and county, saying they have divergent interests and that the city “may be better served by ending this partnership and charting its course alone.”

Renquist said Thursday that he doesn’t take issue with being held accountable to city and county taxpayers for the EDC’s performance.

“The taxpayers always deserve better,” he said. “We need to constantly be looking for ways to do a better job and give them an even better return.”

But while he “support[s] anybody’s right to have a statement,” Renquist said many of Enos’ assertions and conclusions are “in error.”

“I don’t think that you can make points without somebody responding to them,” he said.

Renquist defended the EDC’s record on bringing new businesses into the county and helping existing businesses grow and add jobs.

“We have at least four companies in Willmar today that would not be here without EDC involvement,” he said. The agency has “worked on smaller retail, service and additional industrial projects throughout Kandiyohi County” and played a key role in bringing the Bushmills ethanol plant to the county and in facilitating the establishment of the MinnWest Technology Campus, Renquist said.

He also defended the city-county partnership on economic development. “We are an extended community with people of like needs — one cannot survive, much less prosper, without the other,” he said.

He bolstered his case with state wage and employment statistics and specific examples of projects in which the Economic Development Commission has been involved.

“The EDC has given its taxpayers a good return on their investment,” Renquist concluded.

Copies of his memo were forwarded this week to the Willmar City Council, the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners and the EDC Joint Powers Board.

A similarly worded response to Enos’ letter to the city and county also was published Thursday on the opinion page of the West Central Tribune.

Enos, who was appointed to the Economic Development Commission Joint Operations Board by Willmar Mayor Frank Yanish at the beginning of 2013, was absent from Thursday’s board meeting.

Now that all the concerns have been aired, it’s time to get back to business, members of the joint operations board said Thursday.

“We’ve got to move on,” said Rollie Boll.

The controversy, and the time spent responding to it, has “distracted from the mission,” agreed Beverly Dougherty, chairman of the joint operations board.

“I agonized over this memo,” Renquist admitted. He said he’s ready to move forward again. “We’ll have more conversations,” he said.

The EDC Joint Powers Board is the governing board comprised of three Willmar City Council member and three Kandiyohi County Board members. It next meets on Nov. 21. The Joint Operations Board that met Thursday is comprised of seven individuals appointed from throughout the city and county.

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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