EDC votes for full-time ag specialist position
WILLMAR -- Spurred by a growing number of agribusiness and renewable energy initiatives, the governing board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission voted unanimously Thursday to make the agency's ag specialist position a full-time one.
The move had been recommended last month by the EDC's joint operating board.
Cathy Keuseman joined the staff a year ago as the ag and renewable energy specialist, overseeing projects that range from fuel cell development to pursuing Greenstep Cities certification.
Her work load has grown beyond the part-time hours for which she was hired, said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.
"The productivity of the position is there," he said.
Board members also have been happy with Keuseman's performance. "We really have an outstanding person," Denis Anderson said.
The position, which previously came with an hourly wage and no benefits, will now pay $45,000 a year plus benefits.
The increase isn't included in the EDC's current budget, but Renquist said the agency has enough in its reserve fund to cover the additional cost for the next two years.
He also raised the possibility Thursday that he may request a small increase in the EDC's property tax levy next year or the following year.
Funding additional staff hours "isn't sustainable without a levy request," he said.
A staffing increase goes counter to the fiscal austerity being practiced by local government the past few years, Renquist said. "I'm acutely aware of the sensitive timing of this."
But agriculture and renewable energy development are two of the EDC's major program areas, and they have been exploding with activity in recent months.
One of the current initiatives: developing a dairy research and training facility in Kandiyohi County. Funding for a feasibility study is in a legislative ag bill, and Kandiyohi County is one of the candidates to host the site.
Another major project is the development of an anhydrous ammonia plant, fueled by biomass. Meetings will be held this coming month with three local cooperatives to explore the formation of a new entity for the project and pursue a planning and engineering study.
Harlan Madsen, chairman of the EDC governing board, said he was concerned about the long-term implications of increased staff costs.
But if the ag and renewable energy projects come to fruition, "it means that we're having success and economic development," he said. "That's to all our benefit."