WILLMAR - Saying the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission is failing to serve the city’s best interests, a member of the EDC joint operations board has called for an end to the partnership.

In a letter emailed Tuesday to the Willmar City Council and the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Robert Enos said the city may be better served by “charting its course alone.”

“Exploring city/county collaborations is worthwhile, but not all collaborations will make sense,” wrote Enos in his letter, which was also forwarded to the news media.

As the city has become more urbanized, “its challenges have diverged from those of the smaller rural hamlets surrounding it,” he wrote. “Government supports for farming and tourism may help the townships, but the benefits to Willmar are limited. To those who would argue trickle-down economics, I say Willmar is entitled to better; a lot better.”

Whether there’s support on the Willmar City Council or Kandiyohi County Board for dissolving the economic development joint powers agreement is unclear. Neither body has ever formally discussed ending the 10-year-old partnership, and those most directly involved with the Economic Development Commission offered a muted reaction Tuesday to Enos’ letter.

“I don’t have any comment at this time,” said Denis Anderson, a member of the Willmar City Council and chairman of the EDC joint powers board.

County Commissioner Harlan Madsen declined to comment as well.

It would be “inappropriate” for an individual member of the joint powers board to respond to a letter that was directed to the board as a whole, said Madsen. He is chairman of the Kandiyohi County Board and on the Economic Development Commission joint powers board.

The joint powers board is next scheduled to meet Nov. 21.

If there’s discussion about Enos’ letter, it would be by the full board, but a decision hasn’t been made yet whether to place the issue on the agenda for the upcoming meeting, Anderson said Tuesday. “It might be a topic,” he said.

Enos declined to answer questions or comment further.

“The letter to the City Council speaks for itself. I feel no need to elaborate further,” he told the Tribune in an email.

At stake is a partnership formed in 2003 between the city of Willmar and Kandiyohi County to carry out countywide economic development. The organization has its own taxing authority, levying a property tax to support its operations. It has a staff of two (a third position, for an agriculture and renewable energy specialist, is currently vacant and in the process of being filled), a tax levy next year of $455,000 and a proposed 2014 budget of $531,707.

Enos, who was appointed to the joint operations board at the beginning of this year, said he is “not at all impressed” by what he has seen of the Economic Development Commission’s performance.

His four-page letter took aim at the EDC’s track record and priorities. The organization is failing to diversify the county’s economy and falls short in creating jobs and bringing new businesses into the county, Enos charged.

“It’s time to hold the department to high goals and fierce, measurable standards,” he wrote.

Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission, said he believes the organization “should be available to be put under the microscope and closely examined.”

 He defended its track record, however. “I feel the EDC has a long list of accomplishments. … He and I in this particular case disagree,” he said of Enos’ claims that the Economic Development Commission isn’t delivering what it should.

Renquist said he’s open to direction from the joint powers board on what course to take.

“I’ll listen to what the board wants me to do,” he said. “I’ll enter into open verbal conversation, I’ll do a written report - whatever the board sees as necessary. Once something has been put on the table, the question is, ‘Now what?’ I think the members of the joint powers board will have to make that decision.”

Staff writer Carolyn Lange contributed to this report.


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