The Free Press, Mankato, MN


October 27, 2013

Our View: Port Authority change important step for North Mankato

Why it matters Giving the council direct accountability of economic development plus a comprehensive land-use plan helps establish a clearer future for the city and the region.

There are some important changes happening in the city of North Mankato that may not be immediately apparent to the general public but should be.

One huge undertaking is revamping how the city manages economic development.

A 2009 University of North Carolina study found that “small communities are less engaged in efforts to shape their local economies” and therefore are missing out on opportunities. It found that two things can improve that work — greater access to information and technical assistance might make a difference.” And another would be making connections to valuable ideas, resources and opportunities. “The connections that matter the most are those that spark local innovation, facilitate desired change, produce results and help a jurisdiction accomplish what it cannot do alone.”

In other words, smaller communities can make a difference if actively engaged and open to new ideas.

Last July, city staff and an outside firm hired to help held two sessions to hear from the public opinions on the city’s economic development policies. Three major issues or challenges were identified and one of those singled out the Port Authority Commission, the economic development arm for the city. While some respondents thought the authority was the “only stable and progressive entity continuing forward movement of the city,” others perceived it as not being “transparent” and that some business incentives were not negotiated favorably to the city’s financial position.

In answer to that, staff recommended more City Council members serve on the Port Authority and reduce the number of residents. Last week, the council heard informally that the makeup should be five councilors and two residents, which would effectively put the City Council in charge of the Port Authority and ultimately act as the economic development commission.

City Attorney Michael Kennedy said “it gives you the best of both worlds” of council accountability along with citizen input.

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