ARDEN HILLS, Minn. — Ramsey County gave Land O’Lakes a $1.5 million Tuesday reason to stay local.
Ramsey County Commissioners voted 6-1 to give the Fortune 200 company headquartered in Arden Hills a 15-year tax abatement on the company’s proposed expansion in the northern suburbs.
This is the first time the county has granted a tax break to spur economic development.
Ramsey County Commissioner Janice Rettman cast the lone “no” vote.
“Property taxes are what counties have to finance county government; it’s what Ramsey County has to finance Ramsey County government,” Rettman said. “To exempt one entity for 15 years for their expansion for jobs, then I submit the same offer should be made to every business and every resident alike, for that is fairness and equity for all, not by exception.”
Other commissioners said the abatement was a critical move to keep a key and growing employer in Ramsey County.
“We need more companies to come to Ramsey County … we need more jobs to stay in Ramsey County,” commissioner Blake Huffman said. “Land O’Lakes is a Fortune (200) company… the fact that we are going to keep (the company) here for the next 15 years, the fact that they are going to add … 200 … jobs, build tax capacity … makes this an absolute firm yes decision.”
Commissioner Rafael Ortega spoke to the risks of losing Land O’Lakes if the county chose not to act, pointing to West Publishing’s choice to exit St. Paul when the city declined to help that company expand years ago.
“The reason West isn’t here is because they wanted to do an expansion and add … jobs, and they went to the city for help and the city said no,” Ortega said. “St. Paul has had a rough time ever since. It does send a signal… this doesn’t mean that we are going to give everyone an abatement. It means when it has a good economic impact on our community … we should be able to take the lead and (do it).”
Land O’Lakes seeks to expand its corporate headquarters just north of Interstate 694 by about 145,000 feet and 200 employees.
When first reported, a company spokesman said the deal was contingent on “a number of factors,” including tax breaks from Ramsey County, the Mounds View School District and Arden Hills on its new square footage.
Arden Hills also voted to approve the tax abatement this week.
The company is additionally seeking aid from the Department of Employment and Economic Development Minnesota Investment Fund and Job Creation Fund.
If the plan moves ahead, the expansion is expected to be complete by December 2018.
For Ramsey County, the tax abatement would equal up to $1.4 million over the 15-year window.
Land O’Lakes would continue to pay its existing property taxes uninterrupted.
The company has had its headquarters in Arden Hills since the early 1980s. Employees on the roughly 50-acre site now work out of 285,000 square feet of space split between an office building and a research-and-development facility.
The company also leases two buildings inside Shoreview’s corporate center, across the street from the Arden Hills site.
Between both locations, the company employs about 1,800 people in the area. Should the expansion move ahead, Land O’Lakes plans to hire at least 200 more over the next several years.
The jobs would pay at least $19.30 an hour, according to information provided to the county.
The added square footage would allow the company space to house the new employees while also making room to accommodate those now officed in Shoreview.
“It’s our goal to build on these partnerships and create a workplace that continues to attract and retain top talent in a growth industry,” Land O’Lakes said in a written statement. “We are grateful to the county for its vote this morning and the City of Arden Hills for its vote last evening to support our request to continue that partnership.”