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Amid frustrations, Lyon County EDA talks move forward

Area economic development leaders say county needs to work together

Photo by Deb Gau At Tuesday’s Lyon County Board meeting, Tracy EDA coordinator Jeff Carpenter joined the discussion of a possible economic development partnership between Lyon County and the city of Marshall.

MARSHALL — Talks on whether Lyon County should start a new economic development partnership with the city of Marshall heated up a little on Tuesday with a Marshall EDA Board member speaking out against what he saw as bias against a proposal from Marshall EDA Director Lauren Deutz.

Marshall business owner and EDA Board vice president Chet Lockwood said he wanted to talk about “the perceived culture” of the county board, and the politics of some county commissioners in discussion of the EDA proposal.

“The politics need to get out of this,” Lockwood said. Lyon County communities need to be able to compete with South Dakota for business, and they can’t afford not to work together, he said. “These other communities need your help.”

Commissioners and representatives of Lyon County communities went back and forth on what steps they needed to take to pursue an economic development partnership. Commissioners ended by voting in favor of dedicating $75,000 in funding to an economic development partnership, as well as meeting with representatives of Lyon County communities to talk about a possible joint EDA.

County discussions about possibly hiring economic development staff started last fall. In August, Deutz presented a draft proposal for an economic development partnership to both the Marshall City Council and the county board. Commissioners said they wanted to hear what surrounding communities had to say about an EDA partnership.

However, after a Sept. 2 meeting between commissioners and representatives of area cities and economic development organizations, Lockwood said it sounded like some commissioners were biased against partnering with Marshall. He said Lyon County and its communities — including Marshall — needed to be able to work together to be competitive.

“I don’t care about politics. I care about Lyon County,” Lockwood said. If the county were to have its own separate “silo” for economic development, it wouldn’t be helpful, he said.

“I never meant to throw Lauren under the bus,” Commissioner Rick Anderson said. “I apologize to Lauren.” However, if the county was to become part of a joint EDA, there also needed to be buy-in from area cities, he said.

“I don’t think we’re anti-EDA. I don’t think we’re anti-Marshall, and I don’t think we’re anti-working together,” said Commissioner Charlie Sanow. However, Sanow said, he also thought there were “a lot of ways” to work together. Sanow said he was interested in learning about different possible arrangements, like the one Kandiyohi County has for its joint EDA.

Some of the options before the county included collaborating with the Marshall EDA, hiring its own EDA director, contracting out for help with specific projects like grant writing, or taking a funding-only role like having a revolving loan fund.

“We need to work together,” Commissioner Steve Ritter said of Deutz’s proposal. Ritter said Deutz has been doing an excellent job as EDA director. It would also be duplication for the county to hire its own separate EDA director, he said.

Cottonwood City Administrator Teather Bliss said she would like to get area communities together with commissioners, EDA members and housing authorities to plan for an economic development partnership.

“We all need to be in the room together and have the conversation,” Bliss said. “So far all we’re doing is bashing heads together.”

Anderson emphasized the need for area cities to be on board with the decision to have an EDA partnership. Maybe commissioners would have to go to the cities, he said.

“Don’t we need a commitment from the county?” asked Tracy EDA coordinator Jeff Carpenter. If the county committed funding for an economic development partnership or joint EDA, it might be easier for cities to help determine what they would want from the partnership.

Anderson moved to dedicate $75,000 in funding for an EDA partnership, for the next three years. He said county commissioners should also meet with area communities and get an indication of whether they would participate in a partnership. The motion passed unanimously.

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