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Commentary: Willmar’s Field of Dreams: Our new Industrial Park

By Ken Warner

Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce

If you build it they will come was one of the slogans in the baseball movie, The Field of Dreams. Willmar now has its own Field of Dreams and the first batter is up to the plate. Will they score or strike out? With home field advantage, I hope they hit a homerun.

I can appreciate the due diligence that the City Council is asking for, but we also need to be sensitive that we are not overreaching or sending the wrong message to a corporation looking at a major expansion. There are a lot of communities out there that would love to be in our situation, would have sealed this deal a long time ago and would be celebrating as a community.

We can’t let this one slip through our hands by nitpicking it too far not to mention other entities who might be interested in expanding and observing to determine if they want to have to go through a similar process to invest in our community.

I am proud that Jennie-O Turkey Store calls Willmar home and I’m proud to tell people we are the home of Jennie-O. They are a great corporate citizen in all of the communities that they have locations in with Willmar no doubt receiving more than their fair share of the benefits. If it’s the iCardinal iPad program, new soccer fields, the YMCA, etc., to employing over 2,000 employees within a 30-mile radius of Willmar, we win.

Jennie-O has demonstrated over and over again the strong relationship they have with our greater Willmar community and their employees. We appreciate their dedication and support of our community

Jennie-O is at a point where they need to do something to keep up with the growth for not only the demand for turkey value-added products to meet the needs of the market and to stay competitive with their competition.

The company must also look at their current needs as they are “busting at the seams” in their current facilities and they need to look at the overall operation to become more efficient in their operations.

In a perfect world, this would be ideal for Jennie-O if this could happen all in one location and we sure hope that location is Willmar.

The three most important things to remember and emphasize with the expansion of the Field of Dreams:

n It doesn’t matter if it is a large business or small one, as long as they meet the business subsidy criteria as approved by the City Council, they would be allowed to receive the same opportunities to grow their business.

n This just isn’t about economic development; it is about developing the economy. We taxed ourselves through our Local Option Sales Tax to have a new industrial development park that would welcome all businesses and now is the time to get busy and do what we can to fill it. We should be optimistic and welcoming of other businesses wanting to take advantage of these tools.

n No matter if it is tax increment financing or tax abatement; both options have a great return on investment for the City. The policies and procedures are in place and if we follow them, we can and will continue to grow and expand as a true regional center.

In summary, the Chamber sees this as an opportunity that the community uses the approved tools in the tool box to make it happen. If this were an outside company looking at Willmar for a new location, it is my opinion that the community would do whatever it could do within reason to make that happen, and Jennie-O should be no exception to that opportunity.

The City of Willmar and the region should look at this as a wonderful opportunity to solidify our notoriety to be the corporate headquarters of the world’s largest turkey producer right here in our own backyard.

We need to speak out and assure Jennie-O, and the City Council, that the business community and overall community supports the project regardless of what a vocal minority might bring forth as objections.

Jennie-O is a very important part of Willmar’s history and by securing this potential expansion with a progressive proposal geared towards success that they will have to consider, will only secure their future in Willmar.

We have to go into this knowing that we did our best and that we didn’t leave anything on the table — including Jennie-O!

Ken Warner is president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.