EDC discusses its funding philosophy
WILLMAR -- A difference of opinion about the mission, goals and guidelines for using taxpayer money for economic development resulted in split votes Thursday for funding two proposals that were presented to the Kandiyohi County and City of Willma...
WILLMAR –– A difference of opinion about the mission, goals and guidelines for using taxpayer money for economic development resulted in split votes Thursday for funding two proposals that were presented to the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission’s Operations Board.
On a 4-2 vote - and over the objections of two board members who said the proposal was a “feel good” project that could be done instead with local staff and resources - the board agreed to spend $2,000 as part of the $13,800 Green Card Voices project that will record video stories of local immigrants for a traveling display.
The project was recommended by the EDC’s Business and Retention and Expansion Committee as a means of increasing cultural awareness and acceptance of new residents, said Connie Schmoll, business development specialist with the EDC.
A past business survey identified the need to increase cultural diversity and the regional perception of Willmar, Schmoll said, adding that this project would fill that need.
EDC Operations Board Vice President Linda Kacher said it’s a good project that someone should do. But Kacher said it’s not the job of the EDC to “change hearts” but to use taxpayer money to provide economic development.
Board member Gary Gilman said the proposal did not fit the funding guidelines and purpose of the EDC, and that it could be done using local talent and the WRAC 8 recording equipment instead of hiring someone else to do the job. That proposal was eventually approved with board members Art Benson, Rollie Boll, Donna Boonstra and Kelly TerWisscha voting yes and Kacher and Gilman voting no.
However, a $1,000 request to sponsor an October “InterCity Leadership Tour” was defeated on a 4-2 vote. The sponsorship would have slightly reduced the costs for about 25 people to tour various businesses and economic development agencies in the Fargo-Moorhead area.
The request was made as part of the Vision 2040 initiative.
Kacher said the EDC has already funded Vision 2040 projects, and EDC funding guidelines preclude additional requests from an agency in a five-year time span.
Schmoll said, however, the EDC is partnering with Vision 2040 as part of a broad community effort and it should not be classified as a single agency.
Willmar Planning and Development Director Bruce Peterson, a nonvoting member of the board, said because economic development “has a lot of voodoo in it” that involves building relationships, the tour has “high potential for paying off in the future.”
Gilman said there can be “all sorts of marketing and schmoozing,” but a proposal still needs to fit into the EDC’s mission statement to be funded.
Gilman said the EDC is already paying to send Schmoll on the tour and spending another $1,000 to sponsor the trip is not a good use of taxpayer funds.
Kacher, Gilman, TerWisscha and Benson voted against sponsoring the trip and Boll and Boonstra voted yes.
The EDC Joint Powers Board will have the final say on the proposals.
In other action, the board approved a 5 percent increase in the 2016 levy but kept the proposed budget at the same level as it is now.
The additional levy, which is the first increase in five years, means the EDC will not have to dip as far into the unreserved funds as it has in the past to have a balanced budget.
The budget will be reviewed in six months, at which time it’s hoped a new director will be hired to replace Renquist.
Renquist was scheduled to retire Aug. 1 but agreed to continue working until the end of the year to allow time for a replacement to be found.
The process was complicated when Assistant Director Jean Spaulding resigned not long after Renquist announced his retirement.
A consultant has been hired to help in the search for a new director.