Following public hearings held by the Economic Development Authority (EDA) of Little Falls and the Rural Development Finance Authority (RDFA), both organizations approved business subsidies for incoming manufacturer Wabash National Corporation.
The company, which will be producing panels for refrigerated trailers here, has purchased and will move into the former Larson Boats facility in Little Falls.
Eric Demerly, director of corporate tax at Wabash said the company is also considering having the Little Falls facility as the location to assemble the entire refrigerated trailers and truck bodies.
In 2017 and 2018, Demerly said Wabash would be investing $11 million into the Little Falls facility, including $5.5 million for improvements in 2017.
Business subsidies were approved for Wabash, including a $50,000 tax rebate per year for 10 years, totalling $500,000, from the city of Little Falls, which was approved by the Economic Development Authority.
The RDFA also approved a $400,000 tax rebate through the county, $40,000 a year for 10 years. The RDFA, EDA, the Little Falls City Council and the Morrison County Board of Commissioners also approved sponsoring Wabash for an additional $400,000 grant from the Minnesota Investment Fund Grant for job training and a displaced worker program.
The subsidies are contingent upon Wabash meeting employment goals.
Wabash plans to meet those goals with 53 employees by the end of 2017 and 70 in 2018.
Residents argued for or against the subsidies at the public hearings.
Robin Hensel said she opposes business subsidies to any company, calling subsidies “corporate welfare.”
She, Theresa Skorseth and Mike Hawkins also had issues with EPA and OSHA violations by Wabash in the past, citing cases as recent as last year.
Hawkins asked the city and Demerly, what would be done to prevent pollution at the Little Falls facility.
“I’m all for jobs. People need to live, they need to make money, but let’s do it the safe way,” Hawkins said.
In a comment issued by Wabash National, Corporate Communications Manager Dana Stelsel said Wabash’s priority was the health and safety of employees and the community.
“Our number one value at Wabash National is the health and safety of our associates and the communities in which we operate,” Stelsel said.
She also said that the company will be pursuing ISO 14001 status, an international environmental management standard for businesses, at the Little Falls location and at other locations across the world to go along with the five that are already certified.
Other residents said the town needed to take action to get Wabash to come to town and replace jobs that are gone along with Larson Boats.
“When opportunity knocks, we need to answer the door,” Tom Scherling, who represented Community Development of Morrison County, said.
Wabash is set to begin production at the facility in April. The facility is being purchased for $3.5 million.