JOBZ benefits helped Cambridge company expand

by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter

Gordon and Gerri Slabaugh bought out the titles of Adventure Publications from a previous owner and for a time ran the publishing business on their property outside of Cambridge.

In 2001, the Slabaughs built a 10,000-square-foot building on Cleveland Street in Cambridge. In time, the business, which publishes an array of field guides, children’s books, cookbooks and biographies — its Fall 2012 catalogue is almost 50 pages in length — began feeling cramped.

“We were full. It was definitely the right decision to make,” Gerri Slabaugh said of adding an additional 10,000 square feet to the building.

Gerri Slabaugh of Adventure Publications among the book stacks in the company’s 20,000 square foot facility in Cambridge. (Photo by T.W. Budig)

Although Slabaugh no longer remembers whether she heard about the Job Opportunity Building Zones (JOBZ) program through the contractor or from a Cambridge City official, Slabaugh indicated the benefits offered by the program were important.

“There were definitely financial benefits. Is it enormous? No. It’s not mind boggling by any means,” Slabaugh said.

“But, at the time, when you’re a small company, and you have fewer than 20 employees, and you need more space and you think it’s the right decision, and you don’t really know what’s around the corner with the economy — all those kind of things — it’s one more reason to go ahead with it,” she said.

“I would say it was a close decision and that tipped it,” she said.

Whether they would have gone ahead with the expansion without JOBZ in time, Slabaugh said she isn’t sure.

As part of the agreement, the company committed to hiring a certain number of new employees and paying a set minimum wage.

Slabaugh views JOBZ as straightforward.

She has heard some business people complain about excessive paperwork, but she thinks the complaint is baseless.

“I think if you can’t fill out some forms twice a year, you shouldn’t do it,” Slabaugh said.

“In a year, totally, I probably spend 45 minutes,” she said.

The company accountant spends some time on the paperwork.

Cambridge Economic Development Director Stan Gustafson said the city has been successful with JOBZ, seeing four manufacturing companies making use of the program.

If JOBZ is done away with, something else needs to take its place, he said.

“There’s not a lot of (economic development) tools out there,” Gustafson said.

“We in Minnesota have to compete against the 49 other states,” he said.

Good economic development programs have to have longevity — at least five, six years, Gustafson explained.

Time enough for local government officials and business people to “sink their teeth into them,” he said.

Morrison County Community Development official Carol Anderson said the benefit JOBZ can offer business depends on where the company is in its development and how its structured.

“It’s of more value to a company that is more established,” Anderson said.

“JOBZ is about not paying taxes, so you have to have income or own property to have some benefit,” Anderson said in an email.

There’s definitely a role for the state to play in economic development, Slabaugh believes.

“I can’t categorically say that,” she said of having additional programs like JOBZ.

She would have to study the program’s benefits and the pressures on state budget, she explained.

“I think it was right for the time,” Slabaugh said of JOBZ.

“Is it right going forward, I don’t know.”