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.


The Mankato Free Press

---- — 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.

If adopted formally, this would put the council in a position to be more engaged as recommended by the UNC study. They would be the first decision makers and have firsthand information to make those decisions. They already are on the front line of accountability and just by that very nature will ensure their decisions are well grounded.

It is opening up its process for public input and review of policies and recommendations that can be found at http://www.northmankato.com/citynorthmankato/economic-development-policies.

To help in making those critical decisions, the city also is developing a comprehensive land-use plan.

The city contracted with WSB and Associates to “identify issues, opportunities, needs and organize public policy” to help describe “a desired future for the community over the next 20 years and establish goals to move toward that future.” This project can be found at its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/northmankatocomprehensiveplan?ref=hl

Armed with this plan and the direct accountability of the council on economic development decisions mark a new journey for the city.

In its summary of findings to the council, the staff noted that while “it is an undisputed fact that North Mankato plays a significant role in maintaining the metropolitan statistical area’s quality of life, employment base, continued opportunity for job growth and tax base,” there is room for improvement and growth.

Clearly the stronger structure and development of a clearly articulated plan for that growth can only be a great benefit to the city and its residents as well as the region.