DCA working to lure company, boost jobs

Published 10:26 am Friday, April 10, 2009

An anonymous company showing interest in locating a facility in Austin could possibly make a decision by the end of April.

The company, dubbed “Magnolia,” could bring 300 jobs to Austin, and Mayor Tom Stiehm said he believes the city is one of two finalists for the new business.

“They aren’t the entry level, minimum wage jobs,” Stiehm said.

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City administrator Jim Hurm said he believes Magnolia’s interest during this economy is a victory for Austin, whether they choose this city or not.

“Yes, it would be wonderful if the city would be chosen,” said city administrator Jim Hurm. “We have heard very good feedback. I hope so, maybe not.

“I think we can feel good as a community even if we are not the final community,” he said.

The Development Corporation of Austin (DCA) is working to lure the company, whose name has not been revealed because the DCA could offer it incentives.

An independent, non-profit which operates using funding from local businesses, Mower County and the City of Austin, the DCA has several other project in the works now.

John Garry, executive director of the DCA, took the helm in October 2007 from George Brophy, who had headed the entity for about 20 years. DCA has a 27-member board of directors that sets policy and maintains a network into the community. A six-member executive committee meets three times per month.

Garry said the DCA does more in the community than is perhaps realized.

“The goal is to support industrial growth,” he said. “It’s a broad definition of industrial — it doesn’t’ have to be a large industry. Raw materials, adding value and selling it.”

Garry gives periodic reports to the Austin City Council, who has voiced praise for his work with the DCA.

“I think people are willing to sit back and see what John does,” Stiehm said. “He’s kind of a spokesman to promote the area.

“If you don’t have the DCA, it’s going to lessen our chances of getting business in here,” he said.

Garry says the DCA is about more than just bringing in big employers — it’s about identifying Austin’s strengths and enhancing the overall economy. The DCA also offers revolving loans.

“I think there are things we have improved recently many of our partners wanted to see,” he said. “It wasn’t necessarily about DCA, it was about economic development. Everyone wanted to see us on the main page.”

Garry said a major accomplishment was filling the first space in the Cook Farm industrial park with printing business Smyth Companies. The park had been vacant for several years, he said.

Another large project on the horizon is a business incubator, a possibility the DCA is exploring to generate wealth and job creation. Garry said the DCA is focusing on determining what kind of businesses they would like to see in the incubator, which they do not have a site for as of yet.

“Should we focus on a specific sector, is there a need?” he said. “We are still in a feasibility stage. I think no matter where it is, it would have a close relationship with Riverland Community College (RCC).”

The DCA recently obtained a $25,000 Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation grant to develop two-year biotech degree at Riverland Community College. Garry also plans to attend a wind energy conference to promote Mower County.

Delving into emerging industries like biosciences is promising for the Austin area, Garry said. Several wind farms in the region, the Hormel Institute and planned bioscience corridor in southern Minnesota, and new training programs through RCC have the potential to make his area a magnet for those industries.

One tool to gauge that possibility utilizing the public is through a $20,000 Town Meeting Initiative Grant. The grant is aimed at engaging the community in economic development planning.

A group of business, environmental, government and community leaders has formed a committee to map out Austin’s assets. The public will be invited to give their input as well.

“In our case we are focusing on biobusiness,” Garry said, “and we have a great group of 29 volunteers who are planning out how to do this. I think it’s going to be pretty meaningful to the community.”

Garry explained that “biobusiness” really has many meanings, essentially, “anything agriculture-related” that would produce energy, like ethanol, biodiesel, biomass or wind.

“With the Hormel Institute here, it seemed like a logical area where we had tangible evidence this is a focus area where we do have assets,” he said.

Garry said he genuinely feels positive about the direction the DCA is taking in Austin.

“I love the job,” he said. “I think I like it more all the time. As I get to know the people here, the businesses here, as I better understand how to build a better foundation for economic development, we have so many of the pieces in place.”