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Legislation promotes business growth in rural areas

State Representative Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, testifies in support of legislation she authored to provide $20 million in funding for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program as Jerel Nelsen, community development director for the city of Staples, looks on. Contributed photo.

Help is on the way to help cities in rural Minnesota grow and attract businesses.

A grant program to provide public infrastructure for private business growth in Greater Minnesota passed its first hurdle Tuesday in the House Greater Minnesota Economic and Workforce Development Policy Committee.

Infrastructure includes water, sewer, roads, wastewater treatment systems and other improvements.

House File (HF) 578 and HF 579, both authored by Representative Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, appropriates $20 million to the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) grant program.

That would double the largest annual amount the program has received since its inception in 2003. It appropriated $10 million in 2005.

The legislation also makes the program useful to more cities by increasing the maximum grant award from $1 million to $2 million and allowing grants to be used for more types of infrastructure projects, according to the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC), which supports the proposal.

The Senate companion bills, SF 763 and SF 386, both authored by Senator Vicki Jensen, DFL-Owatonna, were recently introduced and are expected to be scheduled for a hearing soon.

Key Greater Minnesota senators, including Jensen, held a press conference last week to promote the BDPI bill and other rural economic development proposals.

“I’d like to thank Representative Franson and Senator Jensen for authoring legislation to increase funding and make important changes to the BDPI program,” said Heidi Omerza, CGMC president and a member of the Ely City Council. “BDPI grants help cities of all sizes and in every region of Greater Minnesota.”

Since its creation in 2003, a total of $52 million in BDPI grants have been awarded to 166 cities in Greater Minnesota.

The grants have had an impact locally. In 2003, Alexandria received a $300,000 BDPI grant. Osakis was awarded a $383,140 grant in 2006.

The grants have led to the creation of 1,625 jobs and increased the tax base in Greater Minnesota cities by millions of dollars, Omerza said.

Jerel Nelsen, the community development director in Staples, testified in support of the BDPI legislation. He said that a recent $23,230 BDPI grant helped his city afford infrastructure needed to accommodate a local business’s expansion, which will bring 10 new jobs to Staples and increase the city’s tax base by $600,000.

The city of Staples would have had to raise property taxes by 6 percent to cover the infrastructure costs had it not been awarded the BDPI grant, he added.

“I wanted to come down and support BDPI because it’s a great program,” Nelsen told the House committee. “It really helps with the economic needs in rural Minnesota.”

PROGRAM HELPED OSAKIS:

The city of Osakis received a $383,140 grant through the Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) grant program back in 2006.

ABOUT THE COALITION:

The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC) is supporting

new bipartisan legislation that would provide cities with more grants for improving infrastructure needs. The CGMC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 85 cities outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The Coalition educates legislators about issues important to Greater Minnesota. Visit the CGMC online at greatermncities.org.

Al Edenloff
Al Edenloff is the news and opinion page editor for the Echo Press. He was born in Alexandria and lived most of his childhood in Parkers Prairie. He graduated with honors from Moorhead State University with a degree in mass communications, print journalism. He interned at the Echo Press in the summer of 1983 and was hired a year later as a sports reporter. He also worked as a news reporter/photographer. Al is a four-time winner of the Minnesota Newspaper Association's Herman Roe Award, which honors excellence in editorial writing.  
(320) 763-1236
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