Building Fairmont’s Economy With Strategic Business Recruitment

8 Jan 2018

Recruiting a company is one of the most challenging methods of economic development. It also has one of the biggest potential payoffs, particularly for rural areas.

The City of Fairmont, Minnesota has developed strategies over the years to help attract companies. Key among these are: building relationships and offering great incentives.

As Fairmont’s economic development coordinator, one of Linsey Preuss’ key roles is relationship building. She attends key trade shows and events to connect in person with company executives and site selectors.

“It’s important to go and represent Fairmont at these events,” says Preuss. “It’s really beneficial to have that one-on-one with decision makers.”

Preuss notes that the city has competitive incentives. One particularly attractive incentive is a shovel ready site, complete with infrastructure, in Fairmont’s industrial park off I-90.

A company that agrees to build a 20,000 sq. ft. building on the property can access a portion of this land for free. The goal is to attract a manufacturer or other industrial tenant that would bring in jobs with good wages and benefits as well as diversify the economy.

Fairmont successfully attracted a CHS soybean processing facility a number of years ago. According to Mike Humpal, Fairmont’s city administrator, inside information was key to recruiting the company. An area farmer and Martin County Commissioner initially tipped off city officials when he heard the company was going to build a $90 million processing plant between Sioux Falls and Albert Lea.

Recruiting the company wasn’t an easy task. The process began in 1998 and unfolded over a number of years. There were some setbacks along the way, but the city ultimately put together a proposal demonstrating that Fairmont could meet the company’s expectations — and then some.

CHS crushes soybeans and makes oil from them, which can be used for everything from cooking to crayons to pig feed. Humpal says the company was a great fit, since the Fairmont region is one of the top three soybean producers in the state.

The decision to locate a CHS plant in Fairmont has had a great impact on the area. The company invested more than $90 million in the plant initially. It has expanded several times since opening in 2005.

The Fairmont facility employs 68 people and processes 133,000 bushels of soybeans each day. Humpal estimates the company brings $5-15 million in new revenue to area farmers as a result of more soybean sales to the region each year.

The company is also community-minded. It has an employee giving fund, where the company matches donations to area charities. It also helped spur a major project to build a city playground with accessible equipment.

In addition to the CHS soybean processing plant, Fairmont has successfully attracted two ethanol plants both in town and 4 miles to the west in the small community of Welcome. Creating higher demand for both soybeans and corn has been a boon for the local economy.

Ensuring a more diverse agricultural base has proven to be a strategic move.  “We’ve positioned ourselves with both plants to be more resilient as a community — to be more resistant to cyclical commodity prices,” says Humpal.

As a result of Fairmont’s business recruitment, the area is becoming known for value-added agriculture. “In our region, we’re building a brand that we call the ‘GreenSeam,’” explains Humpal. “If you’re looking for a financial solution, you go to Wall Street, if you’re looking for a software solution, you go to Silicon Valley. If you need a solution to an ag problem, come to South Central Minnesota.”