What Friends Are For

Andersen Windows had $2 billion in sales last year. And next year, a new Pawlenty administration program will give the company a big tax break.

Like many observers, Rolnick asserts that there are much better, if less glamorous, strategies for promoting long-term job growth, such as investments in vocational tech programs, early childhood development, job retraining programs, and the like.

Unfortunately, in the same session that state lawmakers passed the JOBZ legislation, those very sorts of programs were gutted, says Carrie Thomas, a policy analyst with St. Paul-based advocacy group the Jobs Now Coalition.

"This year, most of the reductions were in the jobs skill partnership program, where there was a 20 percent reduction in funding," says Thomas. But budget cutters also severely curtailed or entirely eliminated funding for a whole host of other labor-friendly programs, including the Health Care and Human Services Training Program, the Displaced Homemakers Program and a number of youth training programs.

Jonathan Stavole

In the past, notes Rolnick, Minnesota's investment in such fundamentals has produced positive results. "If we invest a lot in education, our taxes will be higher and some companies will not locate here because it doesn't mean that much to them to have a high-quality workforce," Rolnick says. "But we've shown in Minnesota for many years that we can be a high-tax state and have a very successful economy. Our economy is successful because we have one of the most educated workforces in the country."

 

In Bayport, where the Andersen Corporation is based, news of the North Branch expansion has been met with considerable skepticism. At first glance, this is surprising. After all, Andersen, which has a total workforce in Minnesota of about 5,000 people, has long enjoyed a reputation as both a good employer and a benign corporate presence. The company's involvement in charitable causes like Habit for Humanity has been well chronicled.

But people in Bayport remember all too well the last time the state made a deal with Andersen, a deal that remains a source of considerable bitterness in the town to this day. It started in 1994, when the company announced that it wished to expand its operations and build a new factory in Bayport. At the time, Andersen said the new plant would one day employ as many as 3,000 people. There was only one problem: The company didn't have suitable land.

As it turned out, that really wasn't much of an impediment. In a dead-of-night legislative deal, lawmakers authorized the sale of a 245-acre plot of state land known as the Bayport Wildlife Management Area to Andersen. The price: $1.3 million, or about $5,300 an acre. "They got an unbelievable deal. At the time, building lots in Bayport were going for $60,000 per lot. It was clearly fishy," recalls Bayport resident William McManus, one of a small group of area citizens who actively opposed the deal.

The planned expansion never materialized. Then, in 2001, Andersen announced that not only was it not building the factory, it was selling the land to the Contractor Property Developers Co. The $7.25 million sale price constituted a tidy little profit for Andersen.

Shortly thereafter, Contractor Property Developers Co. came forward with its proposal for the old wildlife management area. The company wanted to build an 800-home subdivision on the land, a development that would have doubled the population of Bayport virtually overnight.

A furor ensued. Some residents fretted that such a large development would radically alter the nature of Bayport, transforming it from small town into a smaller Woodbury. Others worried about the impact on the town's schools, roads, and water and sewer systems.

At the time, the City Council seemed poised to approve the project. But those officials soon found themselves swept from office by a slate of anti-development candidates, including the current mayor, Rick Schneider.

What will happen to the property remains unclear--and a source of continuing concern and friction. In a survey of Bayport conducted this fall, the prospect of the "Bayport West" development topped the list of issues facing the town, beating taxes by a four-to-one ratio.

For longtime residents like William McManus, the land deal--along with Andersen's successful fight a few years back to have its Bayport property taxes slashed by 75 percent--has radically altered their perceptions of the company. "Most of us grew up with a great admiration for the company and their largesse in the community, but I think that goodwill has been squandered," McManus observes. When he heard about the company's planned expansion in North Branch--and the considerable tax breaks it would likely enjoy there--he was not surprised.

"There is no reason in the world to give a handout to Andersen," McManus says.

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