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Estherville is first

On a special episode of his radio show Capitalism Tonight, in partnership with the Estherville News, Jeff Robinson provides the latest on the federal government project

July 29, 2018
Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer ( , Estherville News

Jeff Robinson, Estherville native and financial advisor from Minnetonka, Minn. with a local office, announced the latest on a deal with the federal government to build a 75,000 square foot manufacturing facility in Estherville.

This will be the first of 150 projects the U.S. Department of Defense has designed with a preference for small towns with populations of about 6,000 or fewer located 20 minutes from a major freeway.

As a financial advisor, Robinson is no stranger to the long game of investing and development.

"This is great for the future of Estherville. Anytime you build a facility where the minimum compensation is $60,000 with benefits, and the top-end compensation is anywhere from $150,000 to $250,000 with benefits, that is great," Robinson said.

Song Lo, the attorney for the project, is a St. Paul, Minn., attorney who represents companies in the areas of energy, corporate contracts, and real estate. She is representing Capital Professional Builders and the investment group on this project.

Lo said, "The next step is that we hope to come to the city with a letter of intent, and work with you on a development agreement to construct the facility on that end, and I think our next step is to make sure we have all our I's dotted and T's crossed, and do all that's necessary from a legal standpoint, but also a timing standpoint so that when we come to the city we definitely will be ready to take that next step and do what we need to do with them."

Robinson said he came by the project by accident with long-time clients.

"The clients came to me and asked that I work on a government project that's sensitive to national security. It targeted small towns like the one I'm from. I said I would work on the project in exchange for the first facility being built in Estherville, Iowa," Robinson said.

Economic Development Director Lyle Hevern provided additional perspective from Estherville's point of view.

"The project is going to involve more land than we have in our industrial park and we've been working on finding land to develop into new industrial parks," Hever said. "In order to do that, you need to have money. Our partnership group is not designed to have that kind of money, and so the city has agreed to provide TIF to help purchase the land. We'll be working with Iowa Lakes Electric Coop and Cornbelt Power Coop to finance the purchase."

TIF, or Tax Increment Financing allows municipalities, like the City of Estherville, to establish urban renewal areas in order to finance public improvements such as streets and sidewalks and similar infrastructure related to residential, commercial or industrial development, or to fund private economic development. It's not a vehicle for additional taxes; it's a reassignment of existing taxes, according to the Iowa Legislature's revenue guide.

The 75,000 square foot building is expected to have as few as 10 and as many as 75 or even 100 jobs, depending upon exactly which product is manufactured, Robinson said.

Lo said, "I think it's a wonderful opportunity for Estherville, and we're just fortunate enough to be able to do it. We don't have specifics yet, and I would hesitate to say one way or the other, but certainly wherever there is a new building or new facility or more money coming in to the city, it's always a good deal, and we appreciate the city and its willingness to get through the process with us. I think it's going to be great, and you'll be the first ones to do it."

Jeff Wallis, developer with Capital Professional Builders, said, "I think the one important feature of this facility is that the lease with the government is a long term lease with a minimum of 25 years."

Wallis said ancillary development is a significant gain he has seen with similar projects.

Wallis added, "As an experienced developer, I've just seen anything from gas stations to restaurants to retail to housing - all of those things come along with jobs. We all know that jobs create an economy that improves and helps spark other things," Wallis said.

While officials couldn't provide a specific timeline, Lo said, "With all the information that we are receiving, everything is moving along as quickly as it can."

Wallis said, "I wish I could answer that question."

Wallis said daily conferences and weekly conference calls with the whole team indicate "on the government side the question is being asked daily of how quickly they can get the contracts, because as everybody can imagine, we could not build a building without a lease, and we believe that would happen within the next month, but we cannot necessarily control that 100 percent."

Wallis said Capital Professional Builders is prepared to go now.

"If the lease came in a week, we would literally be able to implement our plans and start prepping the site as we finalized our development agreements," Wallace said.

Robinson explained his motivation for bringing the project to Estherville.

"It's all about relationships. Ever since I was in high school, I kept in touch with everyone I ever met, from working at my father's drug store to hanging out at Fillenwarth's Beach Resort to college, internships, and just along my career path, I've always been on good terms with everybody and always stayed in touch with everybody whether I do business with them or not. So this deal evolved from a long-time client relationship, and if you had told me I'd be meeting with government officials from the Department of Defense and other three-letter agencies, I'd have told you you were crazy, but that's how it happened," Robinson said.

Robinson said once the leases are signed, the project will move into the property development phase.



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