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To the very end: EDC sought to keep Molenaar plant here but ‘just couldn’t make it work’

Now the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission must turn its attention to finding a new tenant for the Molenaar LLC building in Wilmar. Tribune file photo

WILLMAR — Right up until last week, when a surprise announcement was made that Molenaar LLC was sold and the Willmar plant is closing in June, staff of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission were engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations to keep the facility here.

A $5 million financing package was even put together to allow two individuals, both unnamed, to buy the Molenaar plant so that it could stay in Willmar.

But all efforts ultimately were unsuccessful. “For whatever reason, we just couldn’t make it work,” Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission, said Thursday.

Renquist outlined for the EDC’s joint powers board Thursday some of the steps taken to try to keep Molenaar in town.

The company, which makes promotional business products, has been owned since 2007 by Wilson Tool International of White Bear Lake. It was announced last week that a letter of intent was signed for Wilson to sell Molenaar LLC to Fey Promotional Products Group of Edgerton. Fey plans to close the plant in June and move all the operations to Edgerton, in southwestern Minnesota.

Jobs will be offered to some Molenaar employees but much of the workforce is being laid off. The plant employs about 70 people.

Renquist called it “a business decision” by Wilson to sell the company. He voiced disappointment, however, at the loss of a longtime local employer and dozens of jobs.

“I take that personally,” he said. “We were working on it diligently but our package apparently wasn’t good enough. ... We’re not used to losing around here.”

The financial impact to the local economy hasn’t been calculated yet, he said.

Members of the joint powers board were also dismayed at the loss of Molenaar, while at the same time acknowledging that the EDC made a strong effort to broker a deal to keep the facility here.

“It’s disappointing, obviously, but there was at least discussion,” said board member Harlan Madsen, a Kandiyohi County Commissioner.

At least one local bank and two nonprofit development organizations were prepared to help finance the purchase of Molenaar LLC by the two unnamed investors. The Economic Development Commission also proposed to contribute $50,000 through its business loan fund.

The EDC will now turn its attention to finding a new tenant for the Molenaar building on Minnesota Highway 40, on the west edge of town.

“We’re hoping to find ourselves another company that hopefully will come in,” Renquist said.

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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