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Economic development at a standstill?

By Staff | May 27, 2008

Faribault County Economic Development Authority director Gayle Jones is spending the final days on the job wrapping up projects. Her last day of work will be May 30.

There’s no question Blue Earth and Faribault County officials will face economic development opportunities in the future.

But, who is going to be in charge is unknown at this point.

For the past several months, the Blue Earth city council and Economic Development Authority board have been pondering who and how economic development will be handled for the city.

Now, county officials find themselves in a similar situation with the May 1 resignation of economic development director Gayle Jones.

“It is a really great opportunity. They have been growing and are in position to continue growing,” Jones says of her new position with AgStar Financial Services in Mankato.

The last day on the job for Jones, who has been the county EDA director since July 2005, will be May 30.

Her new duties, says Jones, will include being an analyst in the rural finance department.

County EDA chairman Neil Eckles says the board met Wednesday to discuss the vacancy and are weighing all their options.

“I think there are a lot of opportunities for different things that can be done. We’re not foreclosing on any of them,” says Eckles. In the interim, the county is considering contracting with a firm to help out until a final decision is made. Eckles says officials have already heard one proposal and will be in Mankato on Wednesday for another.

“I’ll still be available to answer any questions they might have,” Jones says.

Currently, the county budgets about $104,000 annually for the director’s salary, office and expenses.

Mayor Rob Hammond says the director vacancies pose “an opportunity” for local officials.

One solution might be for the city and county to contract with a non-profit pro-business group being formed.

City EDA chairman Lonnie Trasamar and boardmember Dennis Zitnak both think it is time to evaluate what role their group should play in business expansion.

Blue Earth has been without an economic development director since October, when Rick Juba resigned for a similar position in Oak Grove.

“I had some miscalculation of judgment. I think the non-profit county EDA is the way to go. But, we should have hired a full-time director,” Trasamar says.

Bill Eckles, who also serves on the city’s EDA board, says Blue Earth officials have a chance to try something different and if it doesn’t work they can go back to what they did in the past.

Eckles is president of BEVCOMM, one of four businesses that has pledged $30,000 to get the new pro-business entity off the ground.

Even if a new EDA is formed, Hammond says, cities may need to have their own EDA to handle day-to-day operations and deal with concerns of existing businesses.

“As a town of 35-hundred, the question is whether we want an EDA director or board,” says Zitnak. “I don’t have an idea where we are going in economic development.”

Zitnak will head a three-person committee that will come up with a job description for an EDA director and what duties are expected.