2010 is a vital time to secure vets home funding

WILLMAR -- Expect to see a strong presence in St. Paul by the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission during the 2010 legislative session.

WILLMAR -- Expect to see a strong presence in St. Paul by the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission during the 2010 legislative session.

Local officials view this as a make-or-break year to secure bonding for a geriatric, mental health and long-term care veterans home to be built in Willmar, and they plan to lobby ag-gressively for the project.

"I believe the window of opportunity is there for us," Steve Renquist, executive director of the EDC, told members of the operating board on Thursday.

The EDC's governing board last week voted to hire a lobbyist, former state senator Dean Elton Johnson, to help open doors and move the initiative forward in the Legislature.

But EDC officials themselves plan to be visible too at the state Capitol, Renquist said Thursday.


One of the messages local officials believe is particularly important: The veterans facility that is being proposed will incorporate mental health services for veterans of all ages, as well as geriatric and skilled long-term care for aging veterans.

This makes it unique, and distinct from the traditional veterans homes that already exist, Renquist said.

The Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs has identified a need for such a facility and has placed it on the department's priority list for the Legislature, he said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs in fact has not specifically requested legislative funds for a traditional veterans nursing home, Renquist added.

Local officials also hope to convey the message that operating costs for the proposed facility in Willmar might not be much greater than what the state is currently investing in veterans care.

Not only are many of these costs already being incurred, but the structure of the veterans home proposal would make it eligible for federal funds and would reduce the financial responsibility of state and county government, Renquist said.

"We think we can make a strong argument that it'll save the state of Minnesota money," he said.

Renquist said the process has already begun of introducing a bill in the House to allocate funding for 35 percent of the construction costs for a veterans facility in Willmar. During each of the past two sessions, the project made it all the way to the conference committee level before being cut from the final bill.


Although local officials are placing their foremost emphasis on the need to ensure Minnesota veterans are being adequately cared for, they also view the project as an economic benefit to Kandiyohi County.

Renquist shared figures with the Economic Development Commission's operating board Thursday from a study that attempts to quantify the economic benefit a new veterans home would bring to the community. He said the data come from a study conducted for another city with a similar size and wage scale to that of Willmar.

The study estimates the direct economic impact of construction costs at $18.6 million, not including land acquisition or furnishings and equipment. The construction is estimated to directly create 168 construction jobs and another 79 jobs related to services and products.

Altogether, construction could stimulate the local economy by as much as $12.2 million in gross regional product and $9.85 million in labor income, according to the study.

Daily operation of the veterans home could create 268 jobs and contribute $11.2 million a year to the gross regional product, the study estimated.

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