Group effort needed for Greater Minnesota

Published 9:40 am Thursday, April 9, 2015

Guest Column by Ryan Nolander

As promised last month I will continue with more questions we encounter in regards to the ALEDA organization:

Some people have said that ALEDA has typically only been involved with helping industry.  Do you think ALEDA should help any type of business that needs assistance?

Ryan Nolander

Ryan Nolander

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We assist whenever possible with any type of project.  We are currently working with the city on multiple downtown projects.  Other nonindustrial type projects we have worked on recently are: Advanced Family Dental’s new building and job creation; Schipper’s Pro Power Wash expansion; gap financing for Geneva Lumber and A.L. Tree Service to keep these businesses open and local.  These last two highlight the power of the Port and Greater Jobs being together because ALEDA is the one-stop shop for countywide economic development, whether the project is inside the city limits or not.

Other non-industrial type projects include assisting where we could with the VA Clinic project; relocating Jensen Excavating to town; selling the land to the Holiday Inn Express; and providing gap financing to businesses like Prairie Senior Cottages, Allure Salon and Rustic Winery.

• Why don’t the new industrial parks — ALEDA Park off Margaretha and the I-35/I-90 Business Park — have more tenants in them?

Building an industrial park doesn’t mean that it will fill up overnight.  Think about the original Jobs Industrial Park. It was originally built in the 1950s and it took until the late 1970s to fill it up.  The Northaire Industrial Park was constructed in the early 1980s and it took almost 30 years to fill it up. In Greater Minnesota you need to have EDAs stimulating the economic development process by developing land and building spec buildings because the private market doesn’t want to take the risk. Bottom line is you are either in the economic development game or you’re not, and these are the things that you need to do to be in the game.

• What is the biggest challenge currently facing ALEDA and the community?

The number one issue right now is a labor shortage. There are currently 100s of jobs available in Albert Lea that we can’t fill.  Workforce is such a big deal that gone are the days of companies asking about land, buildings and incentives. Their first question is now about labor. In my position it is really tough to recruit new businesses to town to create new jobs when we are having problems filling the jobs that are currently available.

Another challenge is having flexible statewide incentive programs available. Earlier this week we released the results of the 2014 JOBZ program audits. As noted, the seven companies participating in the program have created 838 jobs, the projected number at application was 134, and they have invested over $58 million in capital investment in their businesses since the beginning of the program. Whether you agree with incentives or not, the reporting shows that the JOBZ program has worked for our area.

As frustrating as incentives can be when dealing with companies looking at multiple locations, incentives are part of the economic development game, and we need state programs like JOBZ in order to be competitive. This is especially important for border communities such as ours. When you are 10 to 15 miles from another state that is very aggressive with their incentives, and takes their corporate tax structure seriously, it becomes hard to recruit businesses to your area when they can have lower long-term operating costs by locating 10 to 15 miles away right across the border.

As for solutions to these challenges, I am currently working with a southeastern Minnesota regional group looking at ways to recruit workforce to the region.  This is a numbers game so we are looking at outside the box ways to attract people to the area.

In regards to incentives, we continue to work with our local legislators on different programs, and we support groups like the Greater MN Partnership or the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities who are out fighting the fight on behalf of all Greater Minnesota cities. We alone can’t get much traction at the Capital, but together with other cities we can have some influence.

Until next month, remember that we are all in this together.


Ryan Nolander is the executive director of the Albert Lea Economic Development Agency.