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Economic Development Commission pursues ‘shovel-ready’ certification for Willmar Industrial Park

WILLMAR -- A new tool may be used to help market the Willmar Industrial Park to potential businesses looking for a place to move or expand their companies.At its meeting Thursday the Operations Board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Ec...

WILLMAR - A new tool may be used to help market the Willmar Industrial Park to potential businesses looking for a place to move or expand their companies.
At its meeting Thursday the Operations Board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission agreed to pursue “shovel-ready” site certification for the Willmar Industrial Park Fourth Addition, the recently expanded area of the industrial park on the west side of town.
The state-sanctioned, shovel-ready program, which is under the Department of Employment and Economic Development, is touted as a way to give communities an edge for marketing commercial property to a national audience.
The action came at the recommendation of the EDC’s new director, Aaron Backman, who started his job Feb. 24.
This was Backman’s first official EDC meeting and he wasted no time convincing the board of the value of the certification, which he had obtained for the city of Windom where he previously worked.
There are currently 30 Minnesota communities that have the shovel-ready site certification.
To be approved, sites must have the planning, zoning, surveys, title work, environmental studies, soils analysis and public infrastructure engineering completed prior to putting the site up for sale, according to the Department of Employment and Economic Development website.
It’s also required that land certified as shovel-ready be under the “legal control of a community or other third party” so that prospective buyers know sites can be purchased without a hassle.
It’s the kind of information and preparation that business owners need, and come to expect, when looking for land for their business, Backman said.
“I want to make it easy for the business to find out what’s available,” he said. “It’s a tool to attract new business and industry.”
Backman said the Florida consultant who works with the state to review applications will be in Minnesota in April and Backman would like Willmar to be on the list of sites the consultant tours.
The application does not have to be completed by then, but Backman said it would be beneficial to get the process started now.
There is a one-time $3,250 fee for the certification process, but there will likely be additional costs of $8,000 to $12,000 to do the soil tests, surveys, environmental studies and gather other required documents.
Backman said he would like to partner with another entity to share the $3,250 cost of the certification.
But several board members said they also wanted a partner to pay for the additional costs.
“We can’t just front all of that,” said board member Kelly TerWisscha.
Board member Gary Gilman said it did not seem right for the county taxpayers to foot that bill and that the city of Willmar should pick up that tab, since it is the Willmar Industrial Park.
“I’m not against this,” said Gilman, who worried the EDC could be “stepping on someone’s toes” by pursuing the certification and wanted to know if the city would contribute money to the process.
“The city needs to have some skin in the game,” said Chairman Robert Carlson.
Backman said the city spent $3 million to develop the fourth addition to the industrial park and he’s proposing spending less than 1 percent to market it. He said he would welcome any kind of financial partnership just as long as the certification process proceeds.
Willmar City Councilman Steve Ahmann, who was at the meeting, liked the shovel-ready tool and said he thought the city would view the certification expenses as an “investment” that would help the city be “competitive.”
Ahmann said it makes sense for the city to have a complete package of information immediately available for potential businesses looking for a place to move.
If there’s a “prospect at the door,” Backman said, “we need that information right now.”

Related Topics: WILLMAR INDUSTRIAL PARK
Carolyn Lange is a features writer at the West Central Tribune. She can be reached at clange@wctrib.com or 320-894-9750
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