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EDC approves budget proposal of slightly under $500K for 2007

WILLMAR -- The operations board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission has settled on a 2007 budget of just under $500,000 and a tax levy of $455,000.

WILLMAR -- The operations board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission has settled on a 2007 budget of just under $500,000 and a tax levy of $455,000.

The recommendation was made unanimously Thursday at a meeting of the agency operating board. It'll now be forwarded to the Economic Development Commission governing board, which meets July 27.

There's still room for adding to and subtracting from individual line items over the next few months, said Milan Schmiesing, chairman of the joint operations board.

"We will probably have this discussion again as we refine some of this," he said.

But for all practical purposes, the Economic Development Commission now has a defined spending target for next year.

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The agency's governing board has said it wants to see a budget no higher than $500,000 and a tax levy no higher than $455,000. At $499,594, the budget recommended by the operating board falls just a shade under the governing board's target -- and represents a 5.8 percent decrease in spending compared to this year.

The proposed tax levy amount is the same as this year. The Economic Development Commission plans to make up the difference -- some $43,000 -- by using leftover funds that aren't spent this year.

There's every indication that there will be some reserve funds to carry forward, Schmiesing said Thursday. "We're still going to have some cushion there."

Now in its third year, the agency has grown rapidly. Its scope of activities also has broadened, ranging from renewable energy initiatives to a project to entice area high school graduates home to Kandiyohi County. At the same time, the EDC has struggled this past year with what its mission should be. Indeed, the organization plans to hold a strategic session this fall for an in-depth discussion of its mission and focus.

"The organization has reached out in a lot of areas," said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.

Some of those issues were on the minds of board members Thursday as they queried the proposed spending targets, particularly for committee activities.

The agribusiness and renewable energy committee, for instance, has requested a $50,000 budget for next year, including a staff person and office space. The committee has an $80,000 budget this year.

"I think the committee has been very active and has shown a lot of development activity going on. In order to perpetuate that, there needs to be more staff," said Duane Hultgren, a member of the operating board and co-chairman of the agribusiness and renewable energy committee.

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Other board members weren't sure to what extent the committee is achieving results.

"I have to be convinced more that things are happening," said Betty Bollig.

The EDC staff also voiced concerns about slashing the community support budget from $20,000 just two years ago to $5,000 next year.

This is money that's used to support business training programs at Ridgewater College and to chip in for critical projects that may arise during the year, said Kathy Schwantes, assistant EDC director.

"Five thousand dollars doesn't get us very far," she said.

Some successes build slowly but have the potential to reap enormous dividends, Renquist said.

He pointed to the MinnWest Technology Campus, a nucleus of technology-related businesses being developed on the former Willmar Regional Treatment Center campus.

The Economic Development Commission is actively helping to recruit new tenants to the campus, with the long-term promise of creating several hundred new jobs.

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"The introduction of technology to our economy will be the biggest thing we've added to our economy in the last 15 or the last 50 years," Renquist said. "We're not doing it for them, we're doing it for ourselves."

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