Pine County is moving closer to hiring a person to lead economic development efforts.
At last week’s county board meeting in Sandstone, county board chair Stephen Hallan of Pine City noted this effort was very “near and dear” to the heart of county commissioner Doug Carlson of Sandstone, who passed away at the courthouse shortly after one of the meetings held to focus on economic development.
Hallan also noted the efforts of another Pine County commissioner, Mitch Pangerl of Pine City, for working with University of Minnesota Extension on the economic development study.
There are three economic development authorities (EDA) already in the county in Pine City, Hinckley and Sandstone. Hallan said there are several models out there for the county to follow, making a county-wide EDA or just having an EDA director.
“There is a lot that an economic development person could do,” noted Hallan.
The county board is planning to spend half a day at an upcoming committee of the whole meeting to discuss the pros and cons of what would work best in Pine County.
Administrator David Minke said the board should first meet on what goals they would want to have this person accomplish. If there is consensus on that effort, the board then could bring in someone to help the county come up with a plan. Minke also said it was important to get input from cities in the county on what they would like for this person to accomplish.
“I would like to hear success stories,” Pangerl said of what model might work best in Pine County.
Pangerl also said he would like to see “what is the return for our investment.”
“It would be good to look and see what happens in other places so we don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Pangerl said.
Hallan said Chisago County has a Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) which has EDA powers. Both Aitkin and Mille Lacs counties don’t have a full-blown EDA but have a person to lead economic development efforts. Hallan noted if the county did set up an EDA, it would be another government.
Hallan noted one surprise in these economic development meetings held at the courthouse is how one business can affect other businesses in the county. He noted that Luoma Egg Ranch in Finlayson has 32 employees but helps lead to employment for 200 other people in the county.
“We don’t have many value-added jobs in Pine County,” Hallan said.
NLX debate continues
The debate on whether to continue membership on the high speed rail project Northern Lights Express (NLX) board took place before the county board for the third straight meeting.
NLX opponents spoke at the past two board meetings. Last week, two local residents spoke in favor of the NLX.
Charlie Rike of Pine City said he always favored high-speed rail and noted Amtrak service was always slow when it was used to serve the area.
“For the future of our kids, grandkids, we need to build it now,” Rike said. “In honor of Doug Carlson, I hope it gets built.”
Jeanne Larson of Sandstone also said she would like to honor Carlson’s memory by advocating for NLX.
Larson said, “if Uncle Sam has money for us to put in high-speed rail,” why not accept it and do the project in northern Minnesota.
In other business:
– The board approved a resolution recognizing correctional officers and employees for National Correctional Week, which was held.
“It is a very well run department and you should be proud of that and the people who work in that facility (county jail),” said Terryl Arola, County Probation Director.
– The board approved a county employee formal credit card policy, something it had not officially had in the past.
“I felt we needed to have something in black and white,” said County Auditor Cathy Clemmer.
Clemmer noted it does not change the voucher system already in place. She also said she has authority to take away a credit card if it is not being used in a good manner. The new policy will not change anything the county is doing now, just putting current protocol in writing.
– With the passing of Commissioner Carlson, Hallan approved several committee assignment changes, something he will review again in September after the election. Curt Rossow of Willow River was also elected as vice-chair, another position he used to hold.
“It is a different board,” Hallan noted. “We will continue to remember a lot of ‘Dougisms’ when we move forward in this process ... we were lucky to serve with him.”
Hallan moved himself into the NLX committee.