Waseca's EDA will look into tools at its disposal to provide financial assistance to those looking to buy property in town. (County News file photo)

After a Waseca Economic Development Authority member expressed a desire to see the group be more proactive in assisting potential developers, the board will take a close look at the tools at its disposal.

An update on the old Waseca Mutual building on Elm Avenue led to a broader discussion of what Waseca EDA’s role could or should be in rendering financial assistance to entities looking to purchase a location in town.

Economic Development Coordinator Gary Sandholm said the city has had some discussion with the ownership of the building, about which there have been inquiries. Sandholm said there have been questions about whether the EDA and City Council could assist a potential buyer.

“There has apparently been some interest in the building, and there are some possibilities that could be very good for Waseca,” Sandholm said, while noting that discussions are in very early stages and there’s nothing concrete yet.

But EDA member Marty Armstrong wanted to know what is within the abilities of the authority to directly assist a potential buyer with finances.

“How are we able to assist financially with the acquisition of a property?” he asked. “We can recommend tax abatement, but that’s the city. We can lobby for them to get tax abatement from the county, but that’s the county.”

City Councilor Ann Fitch referenced a joint work session between the EDA and the council at which it was established that if the EDA makes a recommendation to the council, the council would trust the EDA as part of what she called a “new understanding of the relationship between the council and the EDA.”

But Armstrong said he wanted to know more about what tools the EDA itself has to assist if, for example, a potential buyer says they need a $300,000 incentive.

While the EDA does have funds that could be put toward a project like that, Sandholm said those funds are limited.

“If we had an individual that said, ‘I’m ready to go,’ but needed a $300,000 financial package, we’re six to 12 months away from being able to do anything for that individual,” Armstrong said. “What I would like to see us as an EDA do is develop those tools ahead of time to be proactive and say, ‘We’ve got $300,000 available for someone who’s going to bring 25 employees or expand a business.’”

Mayor Roy Srp added that he remembered when the EDA was created as a tool to both assist the council and to court businesses.

“At the time, it was directly associated with the Chamber of Commerce in going out and sending envoys to talk to businesses and manufacturers. I think we’ve kind of gotten away from that and I’d be very interested in coming up with a plan,” Srp said.

The next step, following board direction, is to outline the various tools at the EDA’s disposal to use for any situation that could come up, the rules for each and impacts to the EDA’s budget. That will be presented at the EDA’s next meeting.

“If we had a full gamut … all of a sudden, we’d have a nice financial package, and we also have a great number of employees available who are ready to go,” Armstrong said.

Reporter Jacob Stark can be reached at 837-5451 or follow him on Twitter @WCNjacob.

Covering Waseca, Janesville, and New Richland.

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