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Bemidji City Council brainstorms economic development ideas

During a work session Monday, the Bemidji City Council held an open discussion regarding ideas for economic development initiatives.

Bemidji City Hall 2020 web art.jpg
Bemidji City Hall.

BEMIDJI -- The Bemidji City Council expressed interest Monday in utilizing its economic development powers to levy a tax, which it would reinvest in helping businesses.

According to a presentation given during a work session, the city has the statutory ability through its Economic Development Authority to levy up to 0.01813% of the city's estimated market value. This could generate $195,000 for the city.

In his comments, Mayor Jorge Prince said he'd be interested in utilizing those funds, if the tax was levied, to pay for a community development director position. In 2020, the former director, Steve Jones, left the position to relocate, and the position was unfilled in 2021.

In summer 2022, though, the city intends to bring the position back. Duties with the position will range from assisting with grant development to working with community partner organizations. These organizations include Greater Bemidji Economic Development and the Bemidji Downtown Alliance.

"In general conversations, we've talked about this being one of the duties of this position," Prince said. "Being that interface between businesses and the city. To help grow business, bring new business opportunities to the community and shepherd businesses through the city process depending on the project they may want to do."

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City Manager Nate Mathews mentioned that another idea the council can consider with such a tax is a microgrant program, where the EDA would provide small amounts of funding to businesses planning to purchase new equipment or make upgrades leading to growth.

Another subject related to the EDA is the amount the city invests in economic development. The city has the authority to invest $50,000 for economic development purposes, and it provides $30,000 to Greater Bemidji on an annual basis.

Ward 1 Councilmember Audrey Thayer suggested that in the future, the city should consider using the funding to partner with more entities, such as the Northwest Indian Community Development Center.

At the meeting's conclusion, Prince suggested city staff explore what the market value levy may look like in 2022 while the council works on getting community feedback regarding the future of the EDA's work.

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