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As things change, they stay the same for EDC

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission is looking at an austere budget for 2011: no increases in revenue or spending, and no pay increases for its two employees.

Members of the EDC joint operations bo-ard approved the budget on Thursday after a review and discussion. It will be a challenge for the agency to accomplish the ambitious goals it has set for itself, said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.

"This will be our most difficult budgetary year by far, but this is not a time to go to taxpayers and ask for more," he said.

The 2011 budget has already been approved by both the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners and the Willmar City Council. It also was endorsed last week by the EDC joint powers board.

It calls for a property tax levy of $455,000 -- the fourth year in a row the levy has been set at the same amount. Proposed expenditures of $485,111 are virtually identical to this year's budget. The budget also calls for drawing $30,000 from the EDC's reserve fund.

With two months left in the current year, the Economic Development Commission has spent about 77 percent of its budget, Renquist said.

That puts the agency on track to finish the year well within budget limits, he said. "There's not a lot of discretionary expenditures for the remainder of the year."

The Economic Development Commission has spent the past two months developing a five-year list of priorities on which it wants to focus. The list is being forwarded within the next month to the EDC committees, whose members will be asked to come up with plans for how to address the priorities.

One of the goals at the top of the list: finding ways to maintain and expand existing businesses in Kandiyohi County.

"We recognize the majority of new jobs will be created by people who are here right now," Renquist said.

Although this has always been among the EDC's priorities, the agency wants to rededicate itself to focusing on existing businesses, he said.

Other goals include helping recruit more tenants to the MinnWest Technology Campus, helping Rice Memorial Hospital strengthen its position as a regional hospital, developing a regional biosciences corridor, successfully commercializing at least two renewable energy projects, and increasing use of the Willmar Municipal Airport.

Board members approved a motion Thursday to have the EDC staff start collecting some data.

The information will be used as benchmarks, "so we have a reference base point to chart our progress," said board member Ron Erpelding.

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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