The Arlington Industrial Park is home to Global Polymer Industries, a manufacturer of high-tech plastic parts ranging from snowmobile skis to artificial knees. But the company is considering a move to another community because the Arlington City Council has turned thumbs down on its expansion. Photo courtesy Mills Construction
• Global Polymer not allowed to expand in Arlington; citizen wants mayor recalled
“Seeking new home: Well-established, high-tech plastics manufacturer with 125-person workforce seeking new headquarters location. No longer have room to expand. Will entertain offers. Call 983-5244.”
BROOKINGS – A business ad like that would get the attention of every economic development executive in the Upper Midwest. But that’s exactly the situation Arlington faces this week.
The community, which straddles the Kingsbury-Brookings county line 20 miles west of Brookings, is in very real danger of losing its premier employer, Global Polymer Industries.
And the problem seems to lie squarely with the leadership of the city – its mayor and council – which has denied the manufacturer’s request to rezone property it owns, changing it from residential to industrial use.
The council’s failure to back a key community industry is the reason a former president of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce has announced that she will begin circulating petitions for the recall of Mayor Amiel Redfish. Coleen Liebsch says the recall drive will begin Monday. (See accompanying story.)
Global Polymer wants to expand – a 21,000-square-foot addition housing more machines and more employees – and the property it acquired a year ago is its only outlet.
The company’s co-owners, Todd Huntimer and Dan Palli, are frustrated enough – angry enough – about the situation that they’re seriously considering pulling up stakes and moving the company elsewhere.
Under active consideration are Brookings and Madison. Palli, who serves as vice president of the corporation as well as its technical director, said Wednesday that he and Huntimer had also considered Wichita, Kan., as a possible location, but that’s been essentially ruled out.
The two brought Global Polymer to Arlington in November of 1993, incorporating in 1995, and since then the business has grown to 125 employees. The plastics manufacturing plant operates in a 60,000-square-foot facility in the Arlington Industrial Park.
The business has played a key role in the development of the industrial area.
“We’ve undergone expansion several times,” Palli explained. “We even helped the city win the grant that created the industrial park, and we helped bring in streets and sewer and water.”
Thought they had agreement
Planning for continued growth, a year ago Global bought an acre of land to the west of its current property in the industrial park. Palli says that at the time of the purchase, the company discussed rezoning the property from residential to commercial/industrial with city officials, and they thought they had an agreement.
“We tore an old house down and cleaned up the property – even ran electrical conduit to the property,” Palli recalls.
But when the company formally asked the city council for a rezoning last month, “the board listened to five complainers and turned us down,” Palli said.
He said the opponents – owners of adjoining property – feared that the commercial operation might devalue their land, and they were worried about noise and runoff from the building.
“They compared us to a hog confinement building,” Palli said. “They’d never been in our building, never talked to us. They hardly knew anything about us.”
He said there are no runoff issues – no water used in manufacturing ever enters the storm sewer system – and the building expansion itself would have been screened by a stand of evergreen trees.
“You would hardly even know we were there.”
Others in Arlington know the importance of Global to the community of 915, and some 65 citizens packed council chambers earlier this month to show support for the plastics company. They presented the mayor and council with petitions bearing 167 signatures supporting Global’s operations.
Liebsch, who now says she’ll begin a recall effort, spoke on behalf of the community’s businesses, and she urged the council to get behind the manufacturer and take a pro-business stance.
According to Arlington’s Sun newspaper:
“… that approach ran afoul of both Mayor Amiel Redfish and City Attorney Todd Wilkinson, who argued that the city council, as an elected, governmental body, should not be taking an advocacy position for any particular group or any particular business.”
Wilkinson suggested the Arlington Community Development Corporation should present a specific proposal to the council if it wanted the Global Polymer matter reconsidered.
While the council did not reopen the rezoning issue, it did agree to draft a resolution in support of Global Polymer and endorsed its long-term growth in the Arlington.
Brought back to council?
Randy Jencks, president of the city’s economic development group, said Wednesday it’s his feeling that the rezoning matter would be brought back to the council next month, and that the city fathers would reconsider their decision. He indicated he remains hopeful about the outcome.
“The letter of support the council directed the mayor to draft said that the members look forward to continued dialogue with Global,” Jencks said, “and that they support the expansion of Global over the next six to eight months and over the next 10 to 20 years.
“There is a definite feeling among the council that Global is a huge – in my words, a flagship employer in Arlington, and it’s vital to the community.”
Jencks noted that there are “some private initiatives at work” that might solve the Arlington problem.
Simply repeating the rezoning request and asking for a new vote might not work. Unless there are changes in the proposal, Mayor Redfish said today, the matter cannot be brought back to council for six months. If the rezoning application is modified, however, it can be considered by council at its next meeting.
In Brookings, Al Heuton, executive director of the Brookings Economic Development Council (BEDC), confirmed that his organization has had discussions with Global Polymer “within the past month-and-a-half to two months.”
But Heuton doesn’t necessarily want to see the manufacturer move its operation.
“We work with Arlington – Volga, too. Both are members of BEDC,” Heuton said. “We work with them directly on industry retention and recruitment.”
Nevertheless, he said, “we have had talks with Global. But our motivation is not to try and take the company away from Arlington. We offered to do whatever we could to help solve the problems there.”
Wanted in Brookings County
Heuton noted that if Global were to relocate to Brookings, it wouldn’t put much of a strain on the community’s facilities.
“Twenty-five of their employees already live in Brookings,” the BEDC chief said. “About 40 live in Arlington, and the others commute in.
“They could choose to stay in Arlington and grow, or grow in Madison or grow in Brookings, and it would be beneficial for the area. We all operate in overlapping territories – there is no huge difference in the labor pool.”
“This is a good industry,” Heuton continued. “If it chooses not to stay in Arlington, we’d certainly like to keep it in Brookings County.”
While it seems clear that most Arlington business leaders would like to see Global stay – and they’re still working toward that end – current efforts might not be enough.
There are other issues that factor into Global’s ultimate decision, Palli said. The company is finding it more difficult to get skilled workers in the Arlington area, and he called the electrical rates the manufacturer pays there exorbitant.
“There is the employee issue,” he noted. “It’s getting harder and harder to find machinists here, and the electrical rate we pay is twice what it would be in Brookings or Madison. We do have concerns, and on a lot of different issues.”
Furthermore, Palli says the company can’t wait for the city leaders to decide what they want to do.
“We need this expansion now, and we need to hire new employees now – not six months from now,” he said.
The businessman said that despite the local efforts to accommodate Global, he was surprised by a comment by the mayor made when he stopped by the plant recently.
“He said, ‘You’ve probably outgrown our city,’” Palli stated. “What does that tell you?”
Contact Ken Curley at firstname.lastname@example.org.