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Hospital to give $30,000 to county economic development

By Staff | Apr 7, 2008

Jeff Lang

Organizers of a private, non-profit group to promote business expansion in Faribault County recently got a “financial shot in the arm” from the medical community.

United Hospital District board of directors approved earmarking $15,000 annually for two years.

Administrator Jeff Lang says giving money to the group is within the hospital’s policy to support not-for-profit entities that provide a community benefit.

“I believe strongly that the hospital needs to take a leadership role in many different matters other than health care,” says Lang. “Economic development is a major issue that needs to be addressed.”

In the past several months, Blue Earth Mayor Rob Hammond, city officials and members of the Economic Development Authority have held informational meetings around the county pushing the EDA idea.

The new entity’s board of directors, says the mayor, is expected to consist of business leaders, not elected officials.

UHD board president Dennis Zitnak says formation of the new EDA idea has been well received throughout the county.

Zitnak says the group will be involved mainly with creating jobs.

“They are bringing together the best minds of business to one group,” he says. “If we do this, I think there are others that will give to the entity.”

Hammond says he’s happy with UHD’s show of support and that three other parties also have indicated they will match the hospital’s ante.

“It is a nice opportunity for the county. The hospital is one of the largest employers in the county and is a part of economic development,” says Hammond. “Economic development benefits both the county and the hospital.”

UHD boardmember Larry Anderson has been involved with economic development in Blue Earth and believes the private sector will play a larger role in business growth.

“We would be making a mistake if we passed on it. We are investing in our communities and our future,” Anderson says.

While most UHD boardmembers support making the donation, there were questions they want answered.

Some wonder what will happen to the county and city EDAs and how the new organization would be managed.

“It’s just too vague and I think it’s duplication. I wanted more information before making a commitment,” says Joyce Ehrich, who was the only UHD boardmember voting against giving the donation.

Douglas Johanson agrees with Ehrich. His main concern is how much will be spent on “organizational overhead” and not trying to attract new businesses.

“To make a (financial) commitment, ‘Shouldn’t there be a business plan?’ If it is 100 percent advertising, I would absolutely support it,” Johanson says.

Anderson anticipates the new EDA will be “light on organization and heavy on action.”

“They aren’t doing this to go to another meeting,” Anderson adds.

Hammond expects a “core group” supporting the private sector led EDA to meet soon and begin discussing details. He wouldn’t say if a minimum number of contributors was needed to get the project off the ground.

“Before we could write a check, it would have to be a not-for-profit organization,” Lang says.

The hospital administrator acknowledges there’s “some risk involved” with making the donation, because success of the new EDA is not guaranteed.

When Blue Earth lost its community development director last October, it was the fourth person to leave the position in the past nine years.

That prompted a meeting between Hammond, City Administrator Ben Martig and outgoing director Rick Juba to discuss the city’s options.