Discussion on Pretium closing sparks another call for full-time Hermann economic development director

By Buck Collier, Special Correspondent
Posted 6/15/22

HERMANN — What began a routine report last week on Hermann city government activity turned into a pointed exchange on what some see as a need for a full-time economic development director in …

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Discussion on Pretium closing sparks another call for full-time Hermann economic development director

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HERMANN — What began a routine report last week on Hermann city government activity turned into a pointed exchange on what some see as a need for a full-time economic development director in the county seat community.

As Hermann City Administrator Patricia Heaney was wrapping up her report to the members of the Hermann Regional Economic Development Corporation (HRED), member Ron Kraettli noted that the update did not include mention of the recently announced closing of Pretrium, one of the city’s larger employers. Specifically, Kraettli said, was the effect of the closing on the city’s utility revenue and the future electricity rates for Hermann’s residents.

Heaney said City Hall reached out to Pretium quickly after receiving word that the injection molding company planned to shutter its operation.

“As soon as I heard, I called Gary Watts,” Heaney said, referring to the manager of the manufacturing facility. “For years, we’ve been scared this would happen.”

A major user of the electricity that’s sold by the city, possibly as much as 30 percent, the revenue that will be lost to Pretium’s closing will have to be made up somehow, Kraettli said. He asked Heaney if the rates on residential use will be boosted to offset the loss.

“That hasn’t been determined,” Heaney said.

Kraettli used the Pretium closing — and the upcoming effort to market the large manufacturing facility — to renew his call for a full-time economic development director. Now, that role is held by Hermann Tourism Director Tammy Bruckerhoff, who was not at last week’s meeting of the HRED board. Heaney was delivering Bruckerhoff’s monthly report in her absence.

Kraettli has regularly called for more involvement in economic development — beyond efforts to increase tourism. Kraettli praised Bruckerhoff for her work to increase tourism activity, but as for her work on the economic development side, the HRED member said she “hasn’t done a damn thing.”

“The city of Hermann needs to be proactive,” Kraettli said. “I’m going to keep standing on this bandwagon. It’s not a part-time job; it’s a full-time job.”

Kraettli said Bruckerhoff should be meeting with all the manufacturing companies in Hermann to find out what, if anything, the city can do to help them.

Heaney said City Hall has reached out to the Meramec Regional Planning Commission to help market the Pretium structure through the Gasconade Valley Enterprize Zone.

“They will really help us market that,” the city administrator said.

The upcoming closing of Pretium reaches beyond the city’s sale of electricity. It’s an issue that also reaches into the planning process in the Gasconade County R-1 School District. R-1 Superintendent Geoff Neill, also a member of HRED, said that the closing could affect about a dozen families of school-age children. “Yeah, it’s a concern,” Neill said.

As for Kraettli’s continued call for a full-time economic development director, Heaney suggested he attend a Board of Aldermen meeting and voice his concerns. She noted that the BOA is split on the issue of having a full-time economic development director.

The Hermann aldermen also appear divided on another issue that divides the HRED board — the funding of a feasibility study sought by Cobblestone Hotel, a company looking at Hermann, and other area communities, for investors to develop a hotel. HRED is reluctant to allocate a portion of its funds to help pay for a study to determine the viability of a Cobbleston Hotel here. Some board members feel the company should fund the study, rather than have outside agencies foot the bill.

But it appears Hermann Mayor Bruce Cox prefers moving ahead with the city commissioning a study, rather than taking the time to assemble funding from various organizations to hire a company to conduct a study. Indeed, Heaney told the HRED directors that the matter was scheduled to be taken up, possibly for a vote, at Monday night’s session of the BOA.

But Alderman Jim Schumer, who attended the HRED meeting, said he was opposed to using tax dollars to fund the study and was against taking formal action until more information is available. 

“If there are questions out there, we need to get answers” before the BOA votes to commit tax dollars on a study.

HRED Treasurer Chris Thiessen, who at last month’s session noted the agency was being asked to allocate about one-fifth of its operating funds as a share of the feasibility study cost, about $2,500. Heeding his caution, the HRED board at that time opted to wait until more-definite information on a study was available before making a decision.

At last week’s meeting, Thiessen voiced his personal belief on the study issue.

“If a business wants to go into a community, I think that business should pay” for a feasibility study.

With the meeting approaching the hour-long mark, HRED President Bart Toedtmann brought the discussion to a close.

“It’s very divisive, I understand,” he said. “I’m sure you guys will figure it out,” he said to Heaney.

With the next regularly scheduled HRED session set the day after Independence Day, the board agreed to reset the meeting for Tuesday, July 12, at 12:30 p.m. HRED meets in the R-1 school district’s board room.

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