Pawlenty on hand during ceremonies to mark Litchfield's newest developments
LITCHFIELD -- Local development efforts in Litchfield paid off Monday with two high-profile ceremonies. Gov. Tim Pawlenty was in town for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Bobcat Co. and the dedication of a new facility built by Meeker Cooperative Lig...
LITCHFIELD -- Local development efforts in Litchfield paid off Monday with two high-profile ceremonies.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty was in town for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Bobcat Co. and the dedication of a new facility built by Meeker Cooperative Light and Power Association. At the Meeker Co-op dedication, Pawlenty and a federal official spliced two wires together instead of cutting a ribbon.
Both projects took advantage of tax breaks offered by Job Opportunity Building Zones, a program proposed by Pawlenty to spur economic growth in rural areas.
At each stop, Pawlenty praised local officials for their efforts to aid development.
"I know Minnesota's quality of life is cherished," Pawlenty said. "One of the key aspects to quality of life is people need to have jobs,"
It's good to talk about other government programs, "but if our folks aren't working, none of the rest of that stuff really matters," he said at Bobcat.
Later, at Meeker Cooperative, Pawlenty talked about trends taking people and businesses away from rural areas.
"We can't stand back and say we want to have a healthy whole state without trying to do something about those trends," he said.
The JOBZ program offers "the mother of all incentive baskets," Pawlenty said. It includes a period of tax-free operation for businesses that build and hire in small communities. The tax breaks can last up to 10 years.
"It's not a panacea," Pawlenty said, "but it's been a big help."
Roy Molter, general manager at Bobcat, said he was glad production is under way in a building that had been just an empty shell a year ago. The Litchfield facility makes attachments for other equipment.
Bobcat's parent company Ingersoll-Rand is supporting the project by providing a variety of new equipment for the plant, he said.
JOBZ helped convince the company to expand in Litchfield, Molter said.
"It all comes in play when you ask the executive board of a corporation to spend this kind of money," he said.
Bobcat has been able to upgrade its technology and is becoming more self-sufficient, Molter said, but will continue to work with local suppliers, too. Bobcat spends $500,000 to $600,000 locally on manufacturing supplies each month, he said.
The company currently has 128 hourly employees and 40 salaried employees, Molter said. That number is expected to grow.
Meeker Cooperative was able to use JOBZ benefits to move from four different locations in Litchfield into a new 57,000-square-foot combined facility on the east edge of the city.
"It's great to finally get to a building that was designed and built for utility operations," said General Manager Tim Mergen. "Now, we've got our own building -- we know we're going to be here for the next 30, 40, 50 years or beyond."
U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Jim Andrew, administrator of the Rural Utilities Service, also spoke at Meeker Cooperative, along with Minnesota Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City.
"This is an outstanding facility," Peterson said. "It's good to see that this kind of use is made of the programs we put together in D.C."
Urdahl thanked the cooperative for being an industry leader since the 1930s, when it was one of the first co-ops to set up a farm to demonstrate how electricity could be useful to farmers.
Andrew praised the co-op for looking ahead and building a facility for the future. "In the long run, you will be happier with this facility," he said.
Co-op board chairman Bernard Hankins of Litchfield said it wasn't always easy to convince members that the new building was needed, but "I think we're all happy" now that it's done.
Local officials were pleased with the outcome of the town's first two JOBZ efforts. Two other projects have also been approved.
Suzanne Hedtke, director of Meeker County Development Corp., was at both events. She looked around the large warehouse/garage at Meeker Cooperative and said, "This was our first JOBZ." The program's benefits were helpful in both cases, she said.
In the case of Meeker Cooperative, "they've been able to do so much more than they thought they could do," she added.