Guest column: Quality of education will affect Ford’s decision

Published 12:00 am Saturday, November 2, 2002

A key goal of Greater Jobs is the creation of good high-paying jobs in Albert Lea. Needless to say, our primary focus as of late has been on convincing Ford, a Fortune 100 Company, to build a 225,000 square-foot distribution facility in Albert Lea rather than Stewartville or Menominie, Wis. Should they choose Albert Lea, it will initially mean an estimated 100 new jobs for our community, with an average wage of $25 per hour plus benefits for those so lucky to be hired to work in the warehouse. Ford wants the facility operational by mid-2003, and projects that they could eventually employ up to 200.

As president of Greater Jobs, I was part of the Albert Lea delegation that met with representatives from Ford and the State of Minnesota several weeks ago in St. Paul to discuss the project. Ford’s initial questions to us concentrated on our location, the land we have available for the site, tax incentives available from both Albert Lea and the State of Minnesota, and whether or not we could meet their tight project timetable. Albert Lea’s package for Ford is extremely strong in regard to all of these issues.

Ford then turned its entire attention to our community and the amenities Albert Lea has to offer. They stated that a challenge would be to convince existing Ford management personnel (and their families) to transfer to the new facility from Chicago and Kansas City. The key community attribute that they then focused on in this regard was K through 12 education.

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Ford will make its decision by mid-November (coincidentally after our upcoming referendum vote). If they elect to take those $25 per hour jobs elsewhere, it will not be because of Albert Lea’s poor location, lack of available land for the facility, or our tax incentive package. Our location and site are perfect for Ford’s stated needs.

When leaving the meeting in St. Paul we passed by the &uot;other Minnesota delegation&uot; awaiting their chance to make their presentation to Ford. They were not from Stewartville, but rather were from the Rochester Area Economic Development organization. Assuming they have the same basic land and tax incentive package as we do, will it be easier for Ford to attract its executives to Albert Lea or to Rochester?

I have heard it said by many that we can’t afford the school referendum because &uot;Albert Lea is a low-income blue-collar town,&uot; that the entire economy is just too bad right now, or that we can’t afford both the school referendum and the courthouse. Albert Lea cannot afford for the school referendum not to pass!

Albert Lea will stay a &uot;distressed community&uot; if we fail to invest back in our community. We will never have the type of jobs an organization like Ford promises if we stay as we are right now. The passage of the school referendum is absolutely crucial to Albert Lea moving forward and progressing.

Greater Jobs strongly encourages all Albert Lea citizens to vote &uot;Yes / Yes&uot; on Nov. 5 for our school referendum. We can’t afford not to!

Brad Arends is president of Greater Jobs, Inc., a Freeborn County economic development organization.