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Council approves new economic development program

WORTHINGTON — In an attempt to boost the city’s housing and amenities, the Worthington City Council on Monday approved a concept to address both.

Council members directed the city to engage Worthington Public Utilities (WPU) management about the possibility of a joint housing development program, and dedicated $1.5 million from Worthington Regional Hospital sale funds to get the program going. The council also allocated $2.5 million in hospital sales funds toward the community growth subcommittee, which has several projects in the works.

Council member Chad Cummings introduced the idea, arguing the city cannot grow because businesses are unable to fill all of their positions, and therefore aren’t able to expand as they would like.

Some of the city’s largest employers spoke during the meeting about the biggest issues in attracting and retaining good candidates — a lack of single-family housing, rental housing and amenities.

Sanford Worthington Executive Director Jennifer Weg said more than half of her employees in professional positions live outside Worthington. She wants that to change.

“My goal is to have 100 percent of them live here,” Weg said, adding that amenities are key, as most prospective employees need to get a great impression the half-day they visit.

Kim Milbrandt of Bedford Industries said employees struggle to find a house, as well as a rental while they are waiting for a house. Kelli Van Grouw, administrator of Avera Medical Group Worthington, agreed and said employees specifically struggle to find middle-income housing.

The details of the housing program aren’t crystal clear just yet, but Cummings said the $1.5 million would be used to help small contractors build homes by allowing them to avoid some upfront costs, which would be paid back once the house is finished.

The idea is WPU would inject its own $1.5 million to create the fund.

For more of this story, see Wednesday's print edition or