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Should the county be funding private development group?

By Staff | Feb 14, 2009

Faribault County Commissioner Tom Loveall makes a good point when he says he is concerned about “giving” $50,000 to the newly formed Go Minnesota, a private business development group.

He says it is taxpayers’ money, and if the county gives it to the group, the county needs to know how – and on what – the money is going to be spent.

In other words, he wants some accounting of this money. That is a point we can agree with.

However, he also says the county needs to have some say in how the money is being spent. This is where we part ways with Commissioner Loveall.

By their own admission, the county board says their efforts on economic development in the past have been hit or miss at best. That is not anyone’s fault, it is just the way things are in rural Minnesota.

With a group of local businesses ready and willing to take the bull by the horns and formulate a new plan, it may be time for the private sector to give economic development efforts a try.

It seems to make sense in many ways. In many areas, they have more expertise than a government employee.

One of their first bold moves has been to hire a person with a lot of background and expertise to be their director. David Piggott has more background in organizing region-wide economic development than most.

The group of business leaders who formed the group said they wanted someone who was high caliber, and they were willing to go out and find the right person – and spend the money necessary to do it.

The county should be backing this effort, and if that means showing their support with some cash, so be it.

The fact that if this new Go Minnesota is successful in any type of business development in the county, it will translate into many positives. More jobs, with perhaps additional people moving into the area. More businesses and employees paying taxes on property.

There could be an increase in property values, some new construction, more students in county schools, etc.

Of course, this has been a goal for every county and town in the state, for many years.

But our thought on this new Faribault County group is this. You have someone stepping up and willing to work towards an improved business future in the county. Let them try it.

Watching them try is one thing, but supporting the effort is also necessary. That is why the county board is right to put the $50,000 towards the group.

While they shouldn’t micro-manage and demand to be in on every decision the new group makes, that doesn’t mean the county board doesn’t need an update.

Their county economic development committee is going to get updates from Piggott periodically. The full county board should get a couple of updates during the year, in our opinion.

Then, at the end of the year, the board can get a full review of “what they got for their 50 grand.” as Commissioner Loveall said.

At that point in time, they may have to make another decision, as to whether they want to continue to fund the program.

With the threat of big state funding cuts looming on the horizon, that could be a tough choice to make a year from now. It would be an easy cut to make.

But if Go Minnesota is making any progress at all, we hope the county board chooses to back them for a reasonable period of time. We would think a three-year investment in the future of Faribault County could be justified. It may take that long to accomplish the goals the group has set out for itself.

If, at the end of that time, nothing has been accomplished other than some brochures, logos, web sites and contacts, it will be time to rethink the whole thing.

If, on the other hand, some serious progress in building a business and industrial base in the county has occurred, the board will know it did, indeed, get a big bang for its buck.

Both the county and the City of Blue Earth have made a $50,000 grant to Go Minnesota. In both cases a contract was signed, by the economic development authority of the local government boards.

In the contracts, many items are spelled out as to what is expected of Go Minnesota by both EDAs. We hope many, if not all, of those goals are accomplished.

Sometimes you just have to have a little faith.