Blue Earth wins $1 million grant

BLUE EARTH – Blue Earth has been awarded a federal grant for nearly $1 million, making it possible for the city to move forward with an industrial park project.

Linsey Warmka, director of Faribault County Development Corporation, announced the grant.

The city has been planning an industrial park at the northwest corner of Interstate 90 and Highway 169. Blue Earth hopes to attract businesses to take advantage of the busy traffic corridors. Cost of the project is estimated at $3.7 million.

The $993,050 grant from the Federal Economic Development Administration will pay for half the costs of essential roadway, water and sewer infrastructure.

“For the rest of it, the city will match it through bonding,” Warmka added.

Getting the money is a big relief, noted Warmka and Rick Scholtes, mayor of Blue Earth.

“It’s a huge deal,” Warmka said. “This is a project the city has been talking about for decades.”

“Without it, we wouldn’t be able to do the full project,” Scholtes said. “We’d have had to figure out a way to scale it back.”

“It’s been a long time coming,” Warmka said. “We put a lot of work into it.”

Applying does not involve just filling out paperwork.

Only areas considered “distressed” qualified for the grant. Applicants had to meet a certain unemployment level and an average per-capita wage.

“We had to do an environmental survey, engineering survey; we had to have a business committed to being in the industrial park,” Warmka said.

The engineering study was required to determine how much the project will cost, because the grant only funds half.

One business is committed to setting up shop in the industrial park, Warmka confirmed, but declined to identify it.

“The business is established in the area but is going to expand,” she said.

Although Blue Earth met the requirements, its first application filed in December was not accepted.

“They did not have funds, so we were declined,” Warmka said. “They encouraged us to re-apply.”

The second application in June proved successful.

But there’s still work to be done.

“The only thing the grant doesn’t cover is land acquisition,” Scholtes said. “We already have a purchase agreement with the landowners on that.

“We have to finalize the agreement with the [federal] EDA,” he added. “There’s a couple of contingencies we need to get worked out.”

Then the city will advertise for bids on the project.

“The target start [for construction] is spring of next year,” Scholtes said.

The goal, he said, is to bring in jobs.

Warmka said the industrial park will provide seven buildable lots.

“The anticipated impact and outcome is 108 jobs created, 12 jobs saved and $25.5 million in private investments,” she said.

“All in all, it’s a great project for the city, county and area,” Scholtes said. “Businesses are looking for property along the interstate, high visibility locations. We have a great area to have it be built.”