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WREDC moving forward

WORTHINGTON -- The Worthington Regional Economic Development Corporation (WREDC) Board met Tuesday morning at the Chamber of Commerce to discuss its overall direction and the search for a new director of economic development.

After 14 years in the position, Glenn Thuringer stepped down this month to become president of Bioverse, a water treatment company new to town.

Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh said once people leave, like Thuringer did, the group is given an opportunity to look at the job description and overall direction. He said this is similar to what any business does when going through hiring changes.

Parties from public and private sectors had a candid discussion regarding WREDC's future. The consensus was both entities should provide a financial backing, but the leadership and planning should be left to the new director.

Some business representatives suggested the need for a clearer understanding of the private sector's role within the WREDC.

"It's not whether the private sector is working or not, (WREDC) doesn't let us know what to do," said Kim Collin, of Minnesota Soybean Processors.

Bruce Heitkamp, representing the city of Adrian, said he is also trying to understand the different roles. Projects start at a good pace, but then seemingly slow down due to financial aspects, he said.

Nobles County Commissioner Bob Demuth said the mindset should be: "What's good for Worthington is good for my business. I don't mind being a dues payer, but then let the Board move projects forward."

Collin, a Lakefield resident, said many of her employees and farmers live outside of Worthington, making it difficult to get them interested in donating to Worthington projects.

Bill Wetering, of Hedeen, Hughes and Wetering, said the Minnesota Soybean Processors wouldn't have been possible without the WREDC, so employees should have a vested interest regardless of where they live.

"We are profit-driven," Collin said. "Because you helped us in the past, that's why I sit on this Board.

"If you want the private sector involved, (WREDC) needs to give us a better understanding of why we're here and what you want us to accomplish."

Scott Hain, of Worthington Public Utilities, said the focus should be on securing private funds because public money "comes with strings attached."

"(Public funds) come with accountability to tax payers and everyone else," Hain said. "In an ideal world, the (WREDC) funds would be from the private sector."

Collin said she was confused about whether to turn to the city or not after Thuringer resigned.

Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark said the city should be more of a gap financer, and have less of a leadership role.

Wetering disagreed with Clark's gap financing idea, and said the way communities attract businesses has changed.

"You're throwing an old pitch, this is a different battle," Wetering said to Clark. "The position of the City can't be, 'Gee I hope they don't bring us any ideas that cost money."

City officials disagreed and said that's not their position.

"We're not stuck in the past," Clark said. "We want to be on the leading edge and set a path to have some efficiency."

There is more than $80,000 in local tax revenue collected annually for WREDC, Wetering said.

"There are revenues there," he said. "Council decides how that's allocated.

"We are starting to harvest," Wetering continued. "We have to be patient and understand where we're going."

Jason Vote, of State Farm Insurance, inquired about the role of banks within the WREDC. He said they seem to be more visible in the economic arena of other communities.

Dan Greve, of Prairie Holdings Group, said there haven't been any projects on paper, but added the groups can work together on bigger projects.

"We have to have a strong WREDC," Greve said. "The private sector needs involved, but we have our own businesses to run.

"We need a strong leader to move projects along," Greve continued. "We're not going to spend (so many) hours a week doing WREDC work."

On the recommendation of Sandra Demuth, of the Southwest Minnesota Private Industry Council, the Board agreed to conduct an exit interview with Thuringer to get ideas about what didn't work in order to move forward with improvements.

Chris Witzel remains the WREDC interim manager of economic development until Jan. 1, 2013.

Daily Globe Reporter Kayla Strayer may be reached at 376-7322.