County seeks grants for developmentDouglas County, the village of Poplar and the Development Association are partnering to pursue a Community Development
By: Anna Kurth, The Daily Telegram
Douglas County, the village of Poplar and the Development Association are partnering to pursue a Community Development Block Grant to find a use for the General Mills Poplar facility.
The General Mills taco shell manufacturing plant in Poplar is closing in August. The plant employs 113 people in eastern Douglas County.
The county board voted Thursday to apply for the grant from the Wisconsin Department of Commerce. The requested $25,000 grant would be used to help the village and county respond to the facility’s closing by investigating the feasibility of operating the facility as a multi-tenant business incubator, developing an economic development strategy for Poplar and conducting a county-wide survey to identify businesses with expansion plans that could use the General Mills facility. The survey would also look into which businesses are experiencing growth and need employees to replace jobs lost with the General Mills plant closing. The last countywide business survey was conducted in 2002.
“We need to try to create jobs in Poplar because that would be good for Poplar and rural Douglas County,” said board chair Doug Finn.
The grant is being matched by $8,500 from the Development Association, General Mills, Superior, Water, Light and Power, and Dahlberg Electric.
The Poplar facility has been used by General Mills to manufacture taco shells since the 1970s. It was constructed in the 1940s and expanded in the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s.
General Mills plans to market the building to sell to a buyer that can use the entire facility, but the company is not likely to find a buyer quickly because of the age, location and layout of the facility, according to the grant application.
The study is looking into the possibility of using the plant to create a business incubator, an operation that supports startup companies as an alternative use for the space.
The county board wants a viable business or multiple businesses to use the space, Finn said. If the wrong group gets use of the Poplar facility it could end up not being viable and taken off the tax rolls, he said.
The plant closing affects the entire eastern portion of the county, he said.
“The shock wave of when it closes hasn’t been felt yet because it doesn’t close until August,” said board member Mark Liebaert.
The plant closing will have an impact for the entire county because if nothing comes in to replace General Mills, the people who lose their jobs at the plant will seek work in Superior and compete with people from elsewhere in the county for positions available in the city, he said.
“We’re a little afraid that if we don’t get some professional help on this with this grant money that the building will probably close and if it closes or is turned into a warehouse probably Poplar will lose that opportunity ... this grant is a good idea,” Liebaert said.
Many people from throughout Douglas County work at the General Mills plant and its closing will be a hardship for all of them if nothing else can replace it, said board member Kay Johnson.
The Development Association will now send the application to the Department of Commerce. The county should learn soon about whether it will receive the funds so it can get started on the project, Finn said.
The board approved a second Community Development Block Grant application that would fund development of an Eco-Industrial Development Network to connect businesses that could find uses for other businesses’ waste products. The network would include businesses as far away as Bayfield with businesses throughout northeastern Minnesota, Finn said.
Call Anna Kurth at (715) 395-5019 or e-mail email@example.com.