Jerry Mullins, president and CEO of Enstrom Helicopter Corp., addresses the Menominee City Council Monday night. He also attended the Menominee County Board meeting Monday morning. The city granted an extension to Enstrom’s Industrial Development District status which may enable it to qualify for a tax exemption.EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
Jerry Mullins, president and CEO of Enstrom Helicopter Corp., addresses the Menominee City Council Monday night. He also attended the Menominee County Board meeting Monday morning. The city granted an extension to Enstrom’s Industrial Development District status which may enable it to qualify for a tax exemption.
EagleHerald/Mike Desotell
MENOMINEE - A public hearing during the Menominee City Council meeting Monday night to establish an Industrial Development District (IDD) by the Twin County Airport Commission went much smoother than the Menominee County Board's meeting to possibly squash the plan.

Enstrom Helicopter Corp. is located on airport property, but the physical building comes under the taxing authority of the city of Menominee. The burgeoning helicopter manufacturer is already part of an IDD, however the district does not extend far enough to cover the entire expansion area. Inclusion into the IDD of the new section is one means the city has to entice the company to stay put and not be pulled away by other communities.

"It was our interest of course to make sure that they (Enstrom) had the ability to expand as much as they needed to in that Industrial Development District," explained Menominee City Manager Michael Cramer. "It's definitely an economic development generator, an important feature to it. Does it at this point help Enstrom? Guaranteed it does. Can it help in the future at other places and other activities going on at the airport? Yes."

Enstrom President and CEO Jerry Mullins was the first to speak at the public hearing and he encouraged the council to show its support for the company and the future of those who work there.

"We are creating a lot of jobs for this area and we will continue to create jobs," he said. "I think it's important some tax incentives be provided, as many other states do, to not only allow us to continue but to allow other businesses to come to the area and join the Industrial Park. I think it means a lot for jobs and a lot of opportunities for this area if you approve this."

Support for the IDD also came from Robin Quigley, the manager/owner of Great Lakes Exploration.

"We at Great Lakes Exploration would like to support the resolution establishing the Industrial Development District at the Twin County Airport," said Quigley. "We see the establishment of this Industrial Development District as a sign that Menominee is looking to the future to encourage new businesses."

Great Lakes Exploration is in the business of conducting geographical surveys and field support for mineral exploration industry. The company also owns an Enstrom Helicopter and a hangar at the airport.

Later in the meeting the council voted unanimously in support of extending the IDD and also agreed to adopt a resolution to schedule a public hearing to provide Enstrom an industrial facilities and personal property tax exemption.
EagleHerald news/online editor

MENOMINEE -It probably took longer this weekend to set up a special meeting of the Menominee County Board of Commissioners than it did to actually hold the meeting.

That's because the Monday morning meeting, called in an attempt to stop the City of Menominee from establishing a new Industrial Development District at the airport, was virtually over after public comment ended.

During public comment, Nancy Douglas, executive director of the Menominee Business Development Corp.; Jill Schwanz, Menominee City Assessor; and Jason Lauzer, chairman of the Twin County Airport Commission, all advised commissioners not to block the action anticipated to take place at the Menominee City Council meeting Monday night.

But it was what Jerry Mullins, president and CEO of Enstrom Helicopter Corp., which is seeking the IDD status to qualify for a tax exemption, told the commissioners that really hit home.

"I was taken aback when I saw this (meeting notice)," Mullins said, adding that he pushed to keep the expansion in Menominee when the company talked about other options. "I was telling our new ownership that Menominee was friendly to business."

The company visited sites in Alabama and Georgia that continue to offer all kinds of tax exemptions, he said, and he has still recommended staying in Menominee. Recently, while at the Paris Air Show, Mullins said he spoke with the governor of Florida.

"He is actively pursuing our company to move to Florida," Mullins said. "And I'm gonna tell you, I'm ready to go tell him to go ahead, if the (county) is going to start treating our business and businesses in our area like this."

He said the area offers a good workforce, and he sees the local airport has the ability to grow.

Without a development district, that growth will not happen, Mullins said. "I can assure you I'm gonna make a different recommendation to my ownership if this goes through."

Mullins said he was personally upset that he was originally told his company would receive a tax exemption, and is finding out now, during the middle of construction, that the county may stop that from happening.

He said he would be "willing to go back to my ownership, tell them I was wrong, and Menominee is not the place you want to be."

The special meeting was called by Commissioners John Nelson and Chris Plutchak, along with County Board Chairman Charlie Meintz. Meintz and Plutchak are also members of the Twin County Airport Commission, which unanimously requested the IDD from the city.

Douglas explained how the IDD is set up.

"We've used PA198 Tax Exemption for over 40 years within the city and the county of Menominee. We've never had one turned down.

"It's the one tool we have in this county to support business and industry," she said. She explained the process starts with the taxing unit of government, who in this case is the city of Menominee. Once approved locally, it goes to the state Department of Treasury, "and they have never turned one down that we have approved.

"In working with Enstrom, this is the one thing we've been able to put on table to say to them 'We appreciate your investment in our community, we appreciate the job creation and we are willing to work with you.'"

Enstrom already was in an IDD, and most of the new construction is still within that district, she said, but the new IDD will cover more construction planned in the next phase.

"I will also tell you that this summer, we will be visited by three companies we are working with Explorer Solutions on coming to the airport to possibly locate here. One of the things we would like to say with a straight face is, 'We will work with you, we can provide you with a tax exemptions, we can do certain other things with the state of Michigan.' But I can't say that if you take this action this morning. So I urge you to rethink this and to know there's not much else you can do to support a company."

Schwanz clarified what she believed to be the question at hand - whether the city had jurisdiction on county-owned property.

She told commissioners that the TCA itself is tax exempt, so the only things taxed are those buildings and personal property which exist on leased airport land, which are then taxed by either the city or Menominee Township. The taxing entity then collects all the taxes, and pays them out to the appropriate parties, such as the county, 911, road patrol and ISD.

Those paying the taxes at the airport are assessed as if they were a separate entity and "you get what you would get no matter where it is located," Schwanz said.

Lauzer said that he was concerned that stopping the IDD would not only hurt Enstrom, but would make it difficult to bring other businesses to the area.

After hearing all this, Meintz said the concern was "the legality that the city even is owning the property that they claim that they do." He said "We aren't looking to slow anything down out there, or the tax exemptions." He said he was speaking for himself when he asked, "Who really owns the property out there?"

Commissioner James Furlong, who previously sat on the airport commission, said who owns what isn't even an issue. "Twin County Airport owns the property. The City of Menominee and Menominee Township are the taxing authorities. The county doesn't even tax. There shouldn't be a question of who owns the property - the Twin County Airport owns the property."

Using documents he was handed by Peggy Schroud, county Equalization Director, Plutchak said "what were finding here, Twin County Airport does own the property, but does the city have the right to determine if this is an Industrial Development District?" He said he believed it should be the county's decision.

"If it's our own property that we own, but the city of Menominee decides it, could it be a wrong decision?" Meintz said.

Nelson said no one was opposed to the business, but the main question was whether the city had the right to decide.

Furlong said other IDDs were created at the airport, and it wasn't illegal or a problem. Now, with Enstrom in the middle of expansion and three potential companies coming to view what's available, he saw no need to block the new IDD.

"This is really a big waste of time for everybody involved here," Furlong said and suggested the board let the city move forward with the district and if it wanted to fight the issue, take it up in a proper legal venue at a later date.

"I don't necessarily disagree with you," Nelson said to Furlong.

"Then why are we here, John?" Furlong asked.

Nelson said the board needed to have the questions answered.

Furlong said that there are Enstrom employees that he was sure lived outside the city of Menominee as well as the company itself that were all watching what the board was doing.

"This shows a blatant disrespect to our current tenant as well as any future companies," he said.

Meintz tried to shut him down, saying it was necessary to discuss the issue at an open meeting with all the commissioners.

Furlong asked Meintz if he and Plutchak voted to request the IDD. "Yes, we did," Meintz asked. "Wouldn't it have been proper to ask the question then?" Furlong asked, "to say, 'I'm not really sure you have the authority to do this? And maybe I should withhold my vote until we get some further information?'"

Plutchak answered that they called the meeting because he received information late Friday that was new, and he wanted to make sure it was being done right.

Commissioner Larry Schei said the worst thing the county could do is alienate Enstrom or other companies, and that he did not see a problem with the IDD.

As the discussion wore down, commissioners were torn between rescinding the motion that was on the table, or voting on it and, it appeared, voting it down.

County Administrator Brian Bousley suggested voting it down for the record.

A roll call vote shot down the motion 9-0, with even the commissioners calling the meeting voting against it.