The four city council members who attended a Tuesday, July 23, Pine River City Council planning meeting felt a business owner's expansion request was favorable to both the city and the business.

Micah Eveland, of Blackline Conversions; Gary Suckow, of Voyager Industries of Brandon, Minnesota; and Mike Paulus, with the Cass County Economic Development Corp., brought the project to the council's attention. In May, the interested parties circulated an exploratory survey in the Pine River area via Facebook to measure interest and a potential available work force.

At the July 23 meeting, Eveland showed preliminary plans to the Pine River City Council for a facility designed for assembly line style finishing or manufacture of travel trailers. The group attended the meeting to ask the council to consider a tax abatement. Paulus gave the city an example of an abatement where the new facility would pay no taxes its first and second year, 50% of its taxes the third and fourth year, 75% of its taxes the fifth year and then the full amount from the sixth year on.

The abatement would only apply to the new facility, not to the current Blackline Conversions property. That was important to Mayor Tamara Hansen.

“We're pretty firm in our budgeting,” Hansen said. “To take this away or even half of it away, we would have to make up for it in our budget.”

“I think the request is as favorable as possible to the business entity in the early years,” Paulus said. “The primary benefits are going to come in the early years.”

Paulus said the first two years are the hardest for most businesses. Council member Troy Gregory said he liked the idea of giving the company the most benefit the first two years and then increasing from there. The company could provide high paying jobs with benefits so the city could still benefit right away with a larger work force.

“You aren't bringing in employees?” Gregory asked. “You're looking at hiring employees?”

Eveland confirmed that the business would hire up to 18 new employees locally.

“It's a great opportunity to bring people back,” Paulus said, referring to employees who might currently be traveling to Brainerd to work.

“We want good people and I believe we'll find them,” Sucko said.

Council member Patty Melby asked if Blackline Conversions has an agreement with Featherlite Horse and Livestock Trailers, a goal Eveland has made public in discussion with the council and others in the past.

“If we do land it, that one is not big enough,” Eveland said, referring to the plans for the new facility. “That right there is banking on Yeti or Voyager to be able to take care of their needs.”

The council was unable to take any action or set meetings because this was only a planning meeting; however, Hansen said they would work to find out everything the council would need to move forward so they can be ready to discuss abatement, and possibly begin the process during the Aug. 13 regular meeting.

“Whatever is proper for the city in the most expeditious fashion,” Paulus said.

The group will also be speaking to Cass County and the Pine River-Backus School Board about possible abatement of their taxes. Eveland said they would like to have everything organized so that construction can begin this year.

Tax abatement is a process in which a taxing unit of government grants an applicant a period of time in which they will pay no taxes or a lower rate of taxes, allowing the applicant to use those funds for other purposes, in this case allowing Eveland to put that money toward growing his business.