County grants MinnWest tax abatement

WILLMAR -- A unanimous vote Tuesday by the Kandiyohi County Board gave MinnWest Technology Campus the partial property tax abatement it sought.The County Commissioners said they believe the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.Commissioner Doug Re...

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WILLMAR - A unanimous vote Tuesday by the Kandiyohi County Board gave MinnWest Technology Campus the partial property tax abatement it sought.
The County Commissioners said they believe the benefits outweigh the disadvantages.
Commissioner Doug Reese called the 10-year-old technology campus “a sterling example of what can be done between private and public entities. We can be very proud of what we have in our community.”
The board’s action will allow the technology campus to receive an abatement of $68,357 in property taxes each year for the next 10 years.
The agreement also calls for MinnWest to create 175 new jobs within the next decade and invest $8 million on-campus to continue improving its facilities and increase the local tax base. A clawback provision inserted in the agreement requires the campus owners to repay the abated taxes on a prorated basis if they fall short of meeting these goals.
The abatement will be applied to a portion of the property taxes on eight parcels: the Life Center Building, Epitopix, four buildings belonging to Nova-Tech Engineering, the power plant and the maintenance warehouse. All have already been substantially developed, said Jim Sieben, campus president.
With the sunset at the end of 2015 of Minnesota’s Job Opportunity Building Zone tax break program, MinnWest also will begin paying taxes on the rest of its buildings and property. The share paid to the county for the first year is $82,405.
MinnWest earlier was granted partial tax abatements from the city of Willmar and the Willmar School District for their portions of the property taxes assessed against the campus. The request to Kandiyohi County is the third and final local tax abatement sought by the owners of the technology campus.
Even with the abatement, MinnWest is shouldering 55 percent of its property tax bill, and all of those payments will be new, Sieben said.
“They were state-owned properties prior to this and they were covered under the JOBZ program for the past 10 years,” he said.
The County Commissioners said Tuesday that they had received some feedback from constituents opposed to granting tax breaks for the technology campus.
No one from the public attended a public hearing Tuesday morning on the issue, however, and the commissioners approved the abatement after brief discussion.
The campus, which occupies the former home of the Willmar Regional Treatment Center, would likely still be standing empty if the MinnWest owners hadn’t purchased it for private development after the state closed its regional treatment centers, some of the commissioners said.
Former treatment centers in Fergus Falls and Cambridge remain in limbo more than a decade after being shuttered, said Commissioner Rollie Nissen.
“Considering everything, I think that we’re very fortunate,” he said.
If the county wants to be competitive in attracting workers and young families, ventures such as the technology campus are “the kind of thing we need to be doing,” Reese said.
Sieben said the campus owners have invested more than $16 million in renovating and improving the buildings, grounds and infrastructure on the campus. Employment has more than doubled, standing currently at 461 full-time and 77 part-time workers.
With more improvements planned over the next several years, the market value will continue to grow, Sieben said. “Over the years here we will have a natural increase in tax base.”
Commissioner Jim Butterfield said it’s good for Kandiyohi County.
“Anytime that we can have 175 new jobs in Kandiyohi County, it’s a good thing,” he said.

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