Zimmerman candidates spar over economic development

by Nathan Warner
Contributing writer

Zimmerman City Council candidates and candidates for Zimmerman mayor met at City Hall Tuesday evening to participate in a candidate forum sponsored by the Zimmerman Chamber of Commerce.

The forum lasted for over two hours with questions primarily focused on business development in Zimmerman and the city’s role in the community.

Joy Nadeau, president of the Zimmerman Chamber of Commerce and Bill Potrament, president of the Zimmerman Civic Club, moderated the event, asking six primary questions before opening the forum up to written questions from the audience. City Council incumbent Ron Mathison and Mayor Dave Earenfight participated in the forum along with mayoral candidate Greg Laney, and candidates for City Council, Beth Merwin, Tadd Lumm, Kevin Tice, John Kastner, Gary Clough, and Joe Rockstroh.

Encouraging existing businesses and courting new businesses to come to Zimmerman to create local jobs for the community was a chief priority of the Republican nominated candidates, which included Laney, Lumm and Tice.  Clough and Rockstroh also came in strongly for actively encouraging business growth in the community while Earenfight, Mathison, Merwin, and Kastner felt that the city should be focused on the services that it provides and not in the role of advertising or pursuing businesses, which they felt was more the chamber’s responsibility.

There was ample opportunity for humor during the forum as Lumm and Tice, more frequently than others, found themselves competing against deafening fireworks set off unpredictably over the football field behind City Hall, marking touchdowns for Zimmerman Thunder in their game against Big Lake. There were also some vigorous exchanges between Earenfight and candidate for council, Gary Clough.

Throughout the forum, Laney repeated his campaign message to promote businesses in Zimmerman by looking at ways to reduce “excessive” fees for new businesses, which he said discourage companies from considering Zimmerman as a home.

“It’s outrageous that new businesses coming here have to pay $100,000 to the city upfront in many cases,” he said.  “Just think how many $2 hamburgers you’d have to sell to recover that loss.”

Laney also reiterated his desire to open dialogues with other cities to see how they draw new businesses, including manufacturing jobs, while keeping the ones they have thriving. “Our local government needs to get out of the way and allow the free market to do what it does best during these hard economic times,” he said, “without hampering it in every direction with fees, taxes, and strict zoning laws.  I will make Zimmerman an attractive destination for companies that will offer local jobs to the community.”

Earenfight said the city has always lived within its means in the 16 years he’s been mayor and has always worked within the city’s budget with businesses if they need help.  He vowed to continue doing so. “I’ve received lots of positive feedback from businesses in our community about how they are treated by the city,” he said, reading a thank-you letter from a new restaurant that had moved into the area.

Earenfight reminded people that the city’s policies can’t be seen as the source of problems Zimmerman is experiencing now.

“We have to remember to keep our discussion in perspective,” he said, “because it isn’t just our city’s economy that is hurting, it’s the whole country and there is no magic bullet right now that’s going to fix that.  We’ve gone through tough times before and we’ll get through this, too.”

All candidates were in agreement that the city’s current services to residents are excellent and should continue.