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Hubbard County Board, HLDC brainstorm countywide economic opportunities – Park Rapids Enterprise

Mary Thompson, executive director of the Heartland Lakes Development Commission (HLDC), shared with Hubbard County commissioners how they might boost economic growth for the region.

She spoke with the county board last week.

“It has become very clear that housing is important to economic development. That is a barrier for employers who are looking for employees to come to the area. There is no housing in the community, so it really is an economic development issue, really more than it ever has been before,” she said.

A sufficient workforce is “a significant issue.”

The lack of broadband internet services is another roadblock.

“There are still areas of the county that don’t have any access to broadband. That is prohibitive when we look at potential places to live because people who work remotely can’t live some places in the county,” Thompson said.

She emphasized that, in order to recruit new businesses and employees, they need financial resources, like incentives or assistance.

“We’re one of 87 counties in the state of Minnesota looking to attract workers,” she reminded the board.

Rising prices have had an impact, too.

“Right now, with the increased costs of everything, it’s hard,” she said. Businesses have had to downsize projects because costs are “so prohibitive.”

Marketing Hubbard CountyThompson recommended that the county “create tools that don’t stop at a city’s border.”

“There is only so much property available, particularly in Park Rapids, but there is a lot of county left,” she said. Yet there aren’t many financial tools, like tax abatements or increment financing, beyond Park Rapids’ city limits.

She suggested leveling the playing field for the entire county.

Northern Hubbard County has advantages that Beltrami County doesn’t, she added. For example, it’s eligible for a HUBZone, a program of the U.S. Small Business Administration. “Meaning, businesses that locate in northern Hubbard County have tax advantages and incentives that they wouldn’t if they were just two miles north,” Thompson said.

She pointed to Bemidji Steel Company as a perfect example. The manufacturer recently constructed a new, nearly $3-million corporate office in Hubbard County. They have a location in the Bemidji Industrial Park as well, but expanded to property just south of Bemidji, located at the corner of U.S. Hwy. 71 and County Road 9. This allowed them to access a state program from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development called the Job Creation Fund, which gave them a rebate upon completion of their expansion.

Thompson said northern Hubbard County needs to be marketed as an industrial area for Bemidji “because their industrial park is full.”

County commissioner Tom Krueger wondered if there is tax-forfeited land in that region that could be converted into an industrial park.

“I believe there is,” Thompson replied.

Other advantages should be identified and promoted. That’s an example of being proactive instead of reactive, she said.

HLDC at workThompson mentioned HLDC’s accomplishments in the last 12 to 18 months, such as 56 units of workforce housing, called Meadow’s Edge and Meadow View Apartments, in Park Rapids.

“That property is on the tax rolls and has added an estimated market value of $5.7 million. We also, as part of those projects, were able to garner $1.2 million of state resources. That really made a difference in making that project affordable,” she said. “The rents there are affordable as well, so people who live there really can afford to live there.”

HLDC helped with the disbursement of $1.8 million in COVID relief funds to over 100 organizations.

The HLDC has received funding through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development to establish a program called the Main Street Revitalization Project. Eligible recipients can use the leveraged grants for repair or renovation of real property, building construction, landscaping and streetscaping, demolition and site preparation, predesign and design, engineering, non-publicly owned infrastructure and related site amenities.

“This is really an infrastructure or construction grant,” Thompson explained.

HLDC received two rounds of funding in a competitive statewide process.

“We received $450,000 that can be 30% of a project. What that does is leverage a $1.5 million dollar investment in improvements in businesses,” she said.

The first round of funding was exclusive to Park Rapids, but the second is available to all commercial corridors in Hubbard County, which are Akeley, Nevis, Dorset, Lake George and Laporte.

Thompson said the average grant has been about $15,000.

HLDC also administers the Park Rapids Revolving Loan Fund.


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