The Free Press, Mankato, MN

July 16, 2013

North Mankato holding economic development talks

Private meetings will focus on city's role in subsidizing private businesses

By Dan Linehan

---- — NORTH MANKATO – The city’s economic development and subsidy policies are under the lens this week, as the City Council, Port Authority and a group of business leaders meet privately with a consultant.

The goal of the meetings today and Thursday is to help the consultant, St. Paul-based Springsted, understand what policies and procedures the city is comfortable with.

Anthony Schertler, a senior vice president at Springsted, said his job isn’t to tell the city what to do.

“I think we can make sense of what the tradeoffs are,” he said.

Schertler will be making the same presentation both evenings. The city is holding two sessions to assist participants who can’t make a single date, City Administrator John Harrenstein said.

The meetings, held at 6 p.m. at the Police Annex, will not be open to the public, he said.

The law requires meetings of public officials to be open to the public only if a majority of members in the body – three for the City Council and four for the Port Authority – are present. The law does not prevent the city from opening meetings to the public just because there is no quorum.

Harrenstein said two councilors will attend each meeting, and likewise isn’t expecting a quorum of Port Authority members on either night. He said the meetings weren’t scheduled this way to skirt open meeting laws.

Thirty-two members of the public, mainly business people who have had dealings with the Port Authority or council, were invited. About 26 are expected to attend.

Harrenstein said some skeptics of the city’s economic development measures were invited.

Wheeler Avenue resident Barb Church is among the invitees.

“This is, to me, one of the most important things that’s happened in a long time in North Mankato and will affect our future, long-term, with any luck at all,” she said.

She said she’s been concerned over the city’s lack of economic development policies and guidelines.

“As I watched over the last year and a half … it’s become apparent that we should have more structure than we do,” Church said.

Schertler, the consultant, said all Minnesota cities’ economic development policies are regulated to some extent by state law, but cities add their own standards.

“Some communities won’t do a thou shalt and thou shalt not,” he said, instead having guidelines that let them be more flexible.

Schertler sent each of the participants a seven-question survey about where they stand on economic development. Participants were asked about the city’s strengths and challenges; about what short-, medium- and long-term goals the city has; and about what their priorities and the city’s role ought to be in economic development.

After the meetings this week, the consultants will write a policy that will be discussed and, presumably, approved by the council.