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Greater Bemidji pitches "MI2 Initiative" to council

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BEMIDJI -- The city of Bemidji on Monday threw its hat into the ring of local companies, colleges and government units trying to turn the Mayflower Building into an incubator for area startup business.

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Dave Hengel, Greater Bemidji director, made the case for the City Council to give $150,000 to efforts to buy the mostly-vacant building in the south end of downtown Bemidji. The "MI2 Initiative," a group of area manufacturing companies and schools, wants to use the building to create an "Engineering/ R&D Accelerator" that will house both new and established manufacturing businesses at cheaper-than-normal lease rates to incentivize them to do business in Bemidji. They will also be neighbors to a BSU outreach facility to help them access resources from the college, and Greater Bemidji will likely relocate its offices to the building as well, Hengel said.

A "recruitment suite" is also planned for the building, which Hengel described as a potential "front door" to the city that area businesses can use when wooing job applicants, clients and investors.

Two companies have already committed to opening offices in the accelerator, which would create 45 jobs "immediately" Hengel said in a March letter to the council (the companies have not yet been publicly identified).

"I don't take the use of public funds lightly," Hengel said in the letter. "However, I believe this project is a difference-maker and rises to the level of city, county, and Greater Bemidji financial support."

At a work session held inside the Mayflower Building on Monday, the City Council voted 6-0 to allocate the money with the stipulation that Greater Bemidji pay the city back for the full amount should Greater Bemidji eventually sell the building. Mayor Rita Albrecht was absent from the work session, which was chaired by Council Member Roger Hellquist.

So far, Greater Bemidji has put forward $200,000, the Neilson Foundation gave $450,000 and

the Beltrami County Board of Commissioners voted May 6 to contribute $150,000.

Hengel said following the meeting that he has commitments for roughly $950,000, but the Greater Bemidji board has not yet decided upon an offer with which to approach building owner Kraus-Anderson Realty. Linda Autrey, a leasing agent for the company, said although the Mayflower Building is not formally for sale, Kraus-Anderson Realty is willing to field offers for the building.

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