County Board expands on Grow Austin; Contribution to business incentive program open to all within county

Published 9:04 am Thursday, October 12, 2017

Mower County is on board with a rebate plan designed to attract businesses to Austin that offer wages at least 140 percent above the poverty line. However, commissioners decided the county contributions should be more widely available.

“I think we need to open it up to all of the county,” Commissioner Mike Ankeny said.

In pledging to budget $30,000 annually, with a fund balance cap of $150,000, the County Board this week decided that its funding would be open to any Mower County business project.

Email newsletter signup

In Grow Austin, the city and the county evenly split the cost of a project’s rebate. For projects outside Austin tapping only the county funds, they would only get the county’s half, said County Coordinator Craig Oscarson.

The city and county dollars will not actually pool together in one account waiting for applicants. Each government will maintain and distribute its own funds as needed. Each applicant also must gain the separate approvals of the City Council and the County Board.

“I make a motion that we contribute $30,000 per year to the Grow Austin fund effective Jan. 1, 2018,” Ankeny said to set up the vote, which was unanimous Tuesday. “This would also be made available — the county portion — to anyone within the county and that if they request payment for more than our portion, we could look at that on a case-by-case basis.”

Grow Austin is similar to the state’s Job Creation Fund, although the local effort has more stringent wage requirements.

“Participants in the local program will receive a 1 percent rebate – capped at $100,000 – on a minimum $250,000 capital investment in real property, and between $250 and $3,000 for each new, permanent full-time job per year,” City Administrator Craig Clark said in a news release announcing the program. “To lure quality jobs, the requirement for wages must be at least 140 percent of the poverty level for a family of four as set by federal guidelines.

“Austin Utilities will offer $200 to $1,500 per-job rebates tied to increased monthly electrical demand.”

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development currently offers a sliding scale job rebate of $2,000 to $4,000 per each new job and a 7.5 percent capital investment rebate up to a $500,000 cap under similar terms as adopted with the Grow Austin program, he said.

The local and state programs are separate and businesses can take advantage of both at the same time.

“This is supposed to be a complementary program; it is supposed to be a little plus that might set Austin apart from another city to do this,” Oscarson said. “It would be an added incentive for someone to grow a job in Austin versus Albert Lea.”

The county will follow the same eligibility requirements for applicants outside of Austin, Oscarson said.

The state’s Job Creation Fund has not been tapped in Mower or Freeborn counties. According to the Minnesota Employment and Economic Development website, Mower County has not seen any business financing awards between July 1, 2013, and Oct. 1, 2017. The programs included in the agency’s assessment are the Angel Loan Fund, Emerging Entrepreneur Loan Program, Job Creation Fund and Minnesota Investment Fund.

The nearest awards were in Olmsted and Fillmore counties in the cities of Stewartville, Chatfield and Harmony.

Halcon Corp. in Stewartville was awarded $175,000 in 2015 from the Job Creation Fund. Twelve new jobs were projected.

Harmony Enterprises, Inc. in Harmony was awarded $187,000 from the Job Creation Fund in 2014. Fourteen new jobs were projected.

EZ Fabricating, Inc. in Chatfield was awarded $408,000 in 2013 from the Minnesota Investment Fund. Twenty-four new jobs were projected.

The Job Creation Fund has awarded $33.6 million between July 1, 2013, and Oct. 1, 2017, the Minnesota Investment Fund $40.16 million, Angel Loan, $4.2 million and the Emerging Entrepreneur Loan $977,250.