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Commentary: Let Willmar and county be the place for growth

By Steve Renquist

The word “progress” signifies movement. To a city, a county and a region, the word progress often is thought of as forward movement but the motion may be backwards as well. Cities, an.d the extended community they comprise, are given an opportunity to, by their actions, make a statement regarding who and what they are.

We have a two-fold opportunity before us with the Jennie-O Turkey Store project.

The first is we get to decide what statement we’re going to make to the board of a Fortune 500 company regarding our understanding of the business decisions they must make regarding their future in Willmar and Kandiyohi County.

The second opportunity is we get to decide if we’re going to grow this city and county by how much money we get for our industrial park land or how many businesses did we grow and how many employees did those businesses hire?

Our extended community will prosper by the jobs that are permanently created, not the temporary thickening of the city’s reserve accounts from land sales. By the way — I hope you’re prudent with the labeling of your reserve accounts because people watch such things.

When the city established its business subsidy policy or the industrial park writedown policy (both either reviewed or created in the past 12 months), it was done without the pressure of an eminent project. It was done because they made sense and I believe our Council wants the city to grow. We established ground rules from which forward progress could be made.

I am not empowered to speak for the company but I believe they do wish to do a purchase option on the second phase of the project land.

It is the intent of any company to eliminate, or mitigate, as many of the future potential variables as they can. Market forces that cannot be controlled by the company will determine if they expand, when they expand and the nature of their expansion.

We must observe they are trying to create the scenario by which that expansion happens in Willmar — and they do it by reducing the variables.

Right now, by using a purchase option, they can predict what the price of the land will be — eliminating a large variable.

Right now we can agree to a wage floor for future jobs to be counted as part of the industrial park land writedown policy — knowing that the ambient job market at that time and state law will prevail. This action mitigates future obstacles to local corporate growth.

I’m delighted to have this public conversation for, you see, I don’t know if I’m allowed to lobby our City Council over how they ought to vote on a project. However, it is perfectly acceptable to respond to a letter to the editor on such an important topic.

Okay, Willmar and Kandiyohi County — how do we define progress? The whole state is watching — how are we going to treat a Fortune 500 company that employs over 2,000 people within 30 miles of Willmar center, purchases $300 to $400 million in area feed and another $250 million in outside services and supplies. Their balance sheet is strong and they are good business people. Their growth will happen in a place that is both hospitable and eliminates as many obstacles and future contingencies as possible.

Let us be that place.

Steve Renquist ‘s commentary is his personal opinion. He is the executive director of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission.