Your local electric cooperative: A partner in economic development

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

“From marketing sites and communities to project management and transaction assistance, utility economic development partners can be a resource along the entire value chain of site selection.”
                                                           - Josh Bays, Site Selection Group, LLC
                                                           “Powerful Economic Development Partners”
                                                          Area Development Magazine, 2017 Annual Directory

As the article referenced above suggests, site selection consultants and real estate firms are looking increasingly at regional utility providers as key partners in moving economic development projects forward – from the exhaustive exercise of a national property search, to the financing and permitting of construction projects at the local level.  

In Minnesota, electric power cooperatives are embracing this role like never before, offering a wide array of assistance to communities working with new and expanding businesses to fill their industrial parks and vacant buildings.

From rebate programs and economic development financing tools for growing businesses, to general support and sponsorship of community-led initiatives, Minnesota’s electric cooperatives are some of the most dynamic partners a community can have in helping to grow the economy and create new jobs. 

Given the impact utilities can have, economic development professionals are no longer leaving these relationships to chance. The most effective organizations are building in coordination with their local utility providers as a central component to their economic development strategies at the state and local levels, utilizing cooperative economic development financing programs as part of the overall financing packages available to pitch to new projects.

At the very least, these professionals need to be fluent in describing the utility infrastructure, capacity and reliability available to support expanding businesses in their community.  But, with an electric cooperative as your economic development partner, the marketing of energy resources can transition into a deeper planning exercise that can reduce the cost of doing business over the life of the business.

In an article titled “Energize job retention: Energy management strategies as a component of business retention and expansion programs,” the authors argue that “energy is a complex, yet essential element to business attraction, development, and growth,” but they also note that “while the practice of promoting a community’s existing resources is widely used, fewer development practitioners offer tools to help businesses develop energy management strategies after they are located in the community.”

In short, any economic development organization can offer non-traditional financing tools to reduce the cap-ex costs of business expansions, but only electric cooperatives can combine these tools with energy management strategies and other resources that also reduce op-ex costs, long after the ribbon is cut. 

Of course, with economic development professionals at the state and local levels looking to their utility providers for more coordination on business expansion and attraction projects, it is imperative that these utilities are prepared to respond and become an integral member of their regional economic development teams.

Utilities generally share the objectives of growth-oriented economic development professionals, and with your local power cooperative, you can also count on them to offer direct support as a member of your community – not just a utility service provider. 

However, these utilities cannot simply sign on as passive supporters, but must also work to provide leadership that informs and shapes economic development strategies at the state and local level, to ensure for a long-term vision that is consistent with the values and objectives of the organization.

Great River Energy works to maintain this balance when establishing and strengthening relationships between its member cooperatives and the economic development organizations active in their areas. 

Combined, the service area of Great River Energy’s members cover a larger portion of the state than any other local or regional organization can, with interests spanning both metro and out-state communities, and across all industries and community needs. We provide leadership and cooperative advocacy when engaging in statewide initiatives, and we work closely with our members to support projects big and small in the communities they serve. 

If you want to learn more about how Great River Energy can support successful coordination between electric cooperatives and the economic development community, please contact us today.

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