The Free Press, Mankato, MN

January 8, 2013

Dehen urges EDA for North Mankato

By Tim Krohn
The Free Press

NORTH MANKATO — A discussion about whether North Mankato should become more involved with Mankato and other area towns in promoting economic development became a contemplative assessment of the city's future.

Mayor Mark Dehen told other members of the North Mankato Port Authority that the city needs to join a regional economic development authority or risk being left behind.

"There's a gaping hole in marketing us as a regional center and that is us," Dehen said.

He said the joint EDA would help North Mankato create a long-term land use plan, expose it to companies across the country and free up staff time, among other things. And while some on the Port Authority said the city should focus mostly on industrial development, Dehen said future commercial development space is also a crucial issue to be addressed.

"Our commercial areas are pretty much full," Dehen said of the downtown and Upper North Mankato's Commerce Drive areas. "As you're thinking of the next 20 years, where do we want to go with our next commercial development?"

Dehen suggested that the area west of County Road 41, along Highway 14 would be one obvious location.     

Dehen said joining with Mankato, St. Peter, Le Sueur, Eagle Lake, Lake Crystal, Madison Lake and Blue Earth County in a joint EDA would offer a host of benefits for a reasonable cost of $29,000 annually.

The joint effort would be run under the auspices of Greater Mankato Growth, the regional chamber of commerce. Member communities would pay a per capita fee, with Mankato paying a per capita fee double the amount of the other members.

One big benefit, said Dehen, is that all available North Mankato development lots would be on a GIS website that allows businesses across the country to focus on potential development sites and look up an abundance of demographic information about the area.

A national restaurant chain, manufacturer or store could use the site to identify potential building sites in the area and then look up information on household income, ages and other information.

In a passionate speech, Dehen portrayed North Mankato as being at a critical juncture and urged support for becoming a partner with Mankato rather than a competitor.  

Port Authority Chair Bob Knutson began the meeting by suggesting decisions be delayed until the city's new city administrator starts, sometime in the next 60 days. Knutson has been highly critical of GMG and wrote a letter outlining a number of concerns he had with joining in a regional EDA.

In a controversial move, North Mankato broke ties with GMG six years ago, saying it could market itself better for the amount of money it was paying GMG.

Dehen said the city has done very well on its own in economic development in the past, but said things are changing. "We have been very successful as North Mankato, but we need to look beyond that," he said "We'll get pushed down if we don't think differently."

The Port Authority -- the city's economic development authority -- doesn't actually have any say in whether the city joins the regional EDA. That's up to the City Council. But city officials want the group's input.

Dehen said the council has decided it will wait until its new city administrator is on board before making a decision on joining the regional EDA.