How big a deal was it when Pipestone persuaded a manufacturer to set up shop there a couple years ago?
Picture a town of some 4,300 people in the far southwestern corner of Minnesota; a once-thriving agricultural economy that’s been gutted in recent decades as farms consolidated and families moved away; a downtown just a few blocks long with five empty storefronts; a place where residents were asking the city council why there wasn’t “anything that our kids would want to come back to Pipestone for—we would hear that from our constituents,” says Pipestone City Administrator Jeff Jones.
Picture a place where the most recent piece of significant economic development had been luring a meat processing plant across the border from South Dakota in 1986.
Suzlon Rotor Corporation opening its plant in Pipestone in November 2006 “was the biggest thing since that business was brought to town” 20 years earlier, Jones says. “It was a big deal.”
More precisely, it was this big: The city bought and gave to Suzlon 42 acres of land on which to build. It spent $1.1 million to improve infrastructure in the industrial park where the land was located. Through Minnesota’s JOBZ (Job Opportunity Building Zone) program, Pipestone also gave Suzlon a package of property and other tax breaks worth millions more.
In return, Suzlon promised jobs—something like 200 to begin with, but then the potential for many more. Suzlon Energy Limited, the parent company, manufactures wind turbine equipment in China, Belgium, and India, where it was founded in 1995. It would make Pipestone its North American base and produce rotor blades and nose cones at the new plant. But with its turbines in high demand—three years’ worth of orders to fill when the plant opened—Suzlon hoped in time to bring other manufacturing processes into Pipestone and expand there.
Really, no one should have been surprised at what happened after the Suzlon plant opened. And given the generous support the company has received and the economic shot in the arm that Pipestone got in return, it seems wrong to call the results a “problem.” So call them instead a study in the challenges of rural economic development.
Suzlon Rotor Corporation, now with 500 employees, can’t find enough workers in Pipestone. The company is paying to bus nearly half of its employees in from out of town. The city, meanwhile, grapples with a shortage of rental housing and affordable starter homes that could make it easier and less costly for Suzlon to have the work force it needs. That’s something that the city can’t change overnight and that Suzlon feels every day.
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