WILLMAR — If Paul Damhof is able to secure the capital he needs to complete a $10 million expansion of his saltwater shrimp farm near Blomkest, he said he believes he would be able to produce 250,000 pounds of Pacific white shrimp a year.

Pretty impressive considering the Pacific Ocean is more than 2,000 miles away.

"We are raising shrimp in salt water," Damhof said. "All we are doing is mimicking the ocean water and raising saltwater shrimp right here in Minnesota."

Damhof moved one step closer to his fundraising goal on Tuesday as the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners added its support to the project. The board approved two resolutions supporting Damhof's applications for state funds through the Minnesota Investment Fund and the Minnesota Job Creation Fund.

Damhof has been working with Connie Schmoll from the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission. The EDC will be writing and submitting the applications to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development on behalf of Damhof. One of the requirements is a letter of support from the local county board.

"Paul Damhof and Simply Shrimp have met all the criteria to be eligible for the funds," Schmoll said.

The Investment Fund and Job Creation Fund both provide financing to business projects creating new jobs in Minnesota. Damhof plans on employing eight to 10 full-time workers at the expanded farm, paying between $20 and $24 per hour, depending on the position.

"It is going to be a fun and exciting time," Damhof said.

If Damhof is awarded financing, funds from the Investment Fund will go toward machinery and equipment costs, while Job Creation funds will help pay employee salaries during a startup term.

Simply Shrimp first opened in 2016 and has a loyal customer base. Damhof said people come from 150 miles away to purchase his fresh, never frozen shrimp.

"We have never been able to keep up with demand," Damhof said.

Even with that success, finding private investors has been a challenge, since saltwater shrimp farming in west central Minnesota is a bit out of the box.

Damhof is looking into private funding, though Schmoll said the project would not be able to move forward without local and state financial support. The EDC is prepared to put $30,000 toward the project.

At Thursday's meeting of the EDC's joint operations board, Schmoll said the COVID-19 pandemic caused some potential investors to pause on their interest in the project.

Damhof is excited for what the future might bring if the expansion project is a success.

"We just need to make this next step and get moving forward," Damhof said.