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Moochers at the gate: Land O'Lakes wants huge welfare package in Arden Hills

According to the company's own numbers, Land 'O Lakes' annual profits over the last three years have been especially flush.

According to the company's own numbers, Land 'O Lakes' annual profits over the last three years have been especially flush.

According to the warm butter of corporate PR, food giant Land O'Lakes does business as "A different kind of company." But brush aside the fact that the 10,000-employee-strong Arden Hills firm co-ops with farmers to bring its butter and sour cream to grocery stores, and it's obvious that when it comes to avarice, the song remains the same.  

Case in point: It wants you, the humble public, to pick up part of the tab for its planned expansion.

The company, which had $308 million in profits last year, wants to build a 145,000-square-foot addition to its Arden Hills hub just north of I-694, where it's been headquartered since the 1980s.  

The problem: It also doesn't want to pay property taxes on the new space for the next 15 years.

This means that Arden Hills, Ramsey County, and the Mounds View school district will be robbed of about $2.2 million. Because being a giant conglomerate means never having to pay your own way. 

Past budget problems in the Mounds View school district forced it to close two elementary schools.

Land O'Lakes has pledged 200 new jobs in exchange for the welfare. Spokeswoman Rebecca Lentz refused to answer direct questions, and instead sent a statement saying the "proposed expansion" is "contingent on a number of factors."

But Ramsey County Board Chairwoman Victoria Reinhardt sat in on a meeting last week when the project was mentioned. Reinhardt wanted to know how important the tax abatement piece plays in the deal. Land O'Lakes CEO and President Christopher Policinski provided the answer.

"He said absolutely they won't expand here without it," Reinhardt says. "He mentioned one of their facilities in Iowa where they could build it instead."

It's an uncomfortable position being a politician when a company leverages its economic muscle to score welfare, she admits: "But what I do is weigh what we wouldn't be getting against what we will: a guarantee of 200 good-paying jobs and the taxes we'll collect when the land [adjacent] the expansion gets developed."

The construction would take place on the company's existing site. Nearby sits 427 fallow acres.

"We need a project to kick-start development," says Reinhardt. "Land O'Lakes' plan will allow us to that and leverage our position to bring in taxes from future development. This land will generate property taxes in the future. But right now, it appears as if this is what we must give up."     

Corporate welfare seems like business as usual for the "different kind of company." Sure-Tech, a division of Land O'Lakes Inc. that studies feed ingredients, soil, water and plant tissues, asked for $1.3 million in abatements last summer to relocate its Indianapolis operations into a $12 million research and development facility.

Back in the Northland, there's still time for Joe Public to weigh in on the Arden Hills issue. A public hearing is scheduled for April 5.