In November, the Wright County Board of Commissioners voted to create an Economic Development Authority (EDA) for Wright County after receiving a recommendation from the Wright County Economic Development Authority Advisory Committee, which met in August and October to explore the options of whether or not to create an EDA.
Wright County Commissioner Darek Vetsch said the idea to start a county EDA wasn’t something that the County Board took lightly or did quickly. A lot of due diligence was taken into account to determine if it was best for Wright County.
“The creation of the EDA didn’t happen overnight and it wasn’t something we just jumped into,” Vetsch said. “We have been looking at this process for the last two to three years – pretty much from the time we approved building the new Government Center and knew that, in the fall of 2021, the current Government Center and the Health & Human Services building were going to be vacant.”
The county board commissioned an advisory committee in July and the 13-member committee included five representatives from Wright County cities, three from Wright County townships, three from non-profit development and the business community and two county commissioners (Vetsch and Mike Potter).
The advisory committee recommended that the Wright County Board authorize moving forward with the creation of an EDA. Vetsch pointed out that the EDA in Wright County would have three primary objectives.
“I want our residents to know that the creation of the EDA is to serve three purposes,” Vetsch said. “First, we need an EDA to be able to market county properties to maximize the return we can get for them. Second, an EDA can help support the goals and visions to partner with cities and townships help to move their projects forward. Third, there are many state and federal grant programs that require an EDA to be in place. Without one, Wright County would not be able to leverage those grant opportunities.”
The primary short-term driver for the EDA is to sell the Wright County Government Center in downtown Buffalo and the Health & Human Services Center at the intersection of Hwy. 55 and Hwy. 25 in Buffalo. Without an EDA, the county would have to put the sale of the properties out for bids and potentially could be forced to sell the properties for less-than-market value. With an EDA in place, not only can the county market the Government Center and HHS Center properties to get a better price, it can also make sure that the Government Center can be sold to a buyer with a specific intended use for the property, which is located in a neighborhood in the city and could change the landscape of the area depending on the intent of the purchaser.
Bruce Kimmel, a bond counsel for the county from the firm Ehlers Inc., said the reasons for the development of an EDA have been misconstrued and he wanted to be sure that the actual reasons for the Wright County EDA are better understood by county residents – what the intentions are and, just as importantly, what the EDA won’t be doing.
“I think it’s vitally important to communicate what a county EDA is – and isn’t – to everyone,” Kimmel said. “There was some concern, especially among township representatives as well as some of the survey respondents we heard from, that somehow the EDA would be involved with land use or planning issues. That is not at all the case. You don’t have the statutory authority to do that at the EDA level and that is not the intent of the EDA.
“You have been very clear as a board and affirmed at the EDA Committee level that, at this point and for the foreseeable future, there is no interest for having an EDA tax levy,” Kimmel added. “While an EDA would have the authority to do so at some point in the future – it would require county board buy-in to do that – we think it aptly makes sense to say, No. 1, you’re not intending to have an EDA levy, and, No. 2, if you do at some point, you could give (cities and townships) the option to opt in or opt out at that point. That seems only fair and in keeping with the good-faith effort you are making to be transparent and open in discussing what this EDA is about.”
When the EDA conducts its first meeting in January 2021 and establishes bylaws, it will be clear the intent of the scope of its work and a caveat will be put in the language of the bylaws that the county board will review the EDA each year to determine whether to keep it active, mothball it or abolish it.
Vetsch said the county is coming into the EDA process later than counties its size, but that the time has come – whether it becomes a robust organization that aggressively seeks funding sources currently unavailable to the county or is primarily a means of selling off county properties and working to assist cities and townships in their development efforts.
“The hope is that county residents will understand the real reasons we’re starting an EDA,” Vetsch said. “Every county in our population range already has one and they are active to varying degrees. Our goal is simple. We want to maximize the return we can get for county properties, we want to partner with our cities and townships to assist them in achieving their goals and we need to have an EDA in place to access state and federal grant opportunities. It’s just that simple. Once we sell the county properties, we could have an EDA that is relatively dormant and is used only as needed for other two goals of assisting our cities and townships and applying for grant funds – nothing more than that. We aren’t looking to change how we conduct business in Wright County. This is just another tool to help get us where we want to be in the future.”