The Free Press, Mankato, MN

November 19, 2012

Our View: Regional EDA is good for the area

The Free Press

— Since its designation a few years ago as the Mankato-North Mankato Metropolitan Statistical Area, Blue Earth and Nicollet counties have benefited in myriad ways.

The federal designation -- based on combined population in the area -- puts the area on the map in numerous ways. Federal funding and data tracking now include the Mankato-North Mankato area. Major corporations and business developers of all sizes now find this area listed on a variety of reports that can be used by them when they're making decisions about where to expand or locate.

That's why it's a prime time for Mankato, North Mankato and area communities to develop a regional economic development authority.

The idea is being promoted by several local elected officials, including the mayor of North Mankato and Mankato council members.

The plan would create a joint-powers agreement creating a regional EDA that would better promote the area to prospective businesses -- particularly those outside southern Minnesota -- while protecting the autonomy of individual cities involved. It would also save money and staff time for individual communities and standardize many of the incentives given by communities to attract business.

Under the plan, communities would have equal representation on the regional EDA and it would have staff to promote the area and make initial contacts with prospective businesses.

Greater Mankato Growth, the regional chamber of commerce, would promote the area's workfoce, available buildable lots and available buildings in all communities.

Having GMG do the marketing especially makes sense as they have just invested heavily in something called a GIS Planning site that catalogs, in one location, pertinent information for site planners. The technology gives GMG a leg up with busy site selectors and planners.

But each community would continue to have its own EDA, which either consists of the entire city council, or in the case of North Mankato, its Port Authority. And if a business came directly to one community with interest in building there, that prospect would be that city's alone.

The regional EDA board would also allow all the cities involved to agree to standardized incentives: when to give land at a discount to a prospective business, or what criteria to use for giving tax increment financing or other incentives.

That would bring fairness, eliminate businesses playing one community off another as they shop for the best incentives, and it would be in the best interest of all taxpayers in the region.

The regional board also takes pressure off of staff in individual communities -- staff that now has to do all of the work when initially dealing with prospective businesses.

North Mankato plays a pivotal role in deciding whether the regional EDA model moves ahead. The city a few years ago pulled out of a relationship with Greater Mankato Growth and the GMG Convention and Visitors Bureau -- a move many saw as ill conceived.

The regional EDA would give North Mankato limited involvement in GMG -- for marketing purposes. While some North Mankato civic and elected leaders have voiced reservations about any involvement with GMG, those fears are unfounded.

The Mankato-North Mankato area is moving forward, for the good, by unifying and creating alliances and partnerships. It's something taxpayers expect and benefit from.

There are many details to be worked out, but the regional EDA concept is a good idea for everyone involved.