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Fufeng Group tax breaks sail through early Grand Forks committee review

Wednesday’s meeting was hosted at City Hall by the Local Government Advisory Committee, which includes select members from all four of Grand Forks’ property-taxing groups.

Grand Forks City Hall
Grand Forks City Hall

A group of city, school and county leaders gave an early, procedural and unanimous nod on Wednesday evening to big tax breaks for Fufeng Group, the Chinese agribusiness looking to bring hundreds of jobs to Grand Forks with its first American facility.

Those tax breaks would eliminate the majority of its early property tax bill, deeply discounting costs on the plant for the first 20 years of its existence. City Hall leaders have argued those incentives are critical for wooing Fufeng Group to the community — and based on their warm reception before community leaders Wednesday, those tax breaks appear likely to succeed.

The meeting also saw the first public comments from Fufeng Group USA Chief Operating Officer Eric Chutorash, who briefly thanked local leaders for the opportunity to do business in Grand Forks.

“It’s really exciting to see discussions that started in the fall of 2020 go through the process and finally come to a conclusion with us choosing Grand Forks as our new North American home,” he said. “I really do appreciate all the effort from the city team … and the hard work and multiple phone calls seeing this through and welcoming us through multiple visits to see us to this point.”

Wednesday’s meeting was hosted at City Hall by the Local Government Advisory Committee, which includes select members from all four of Grand Forks’ property-taxing groups — the school district, the county, the park district and the city. The group’s purpose is to give each a chance to review large property tax discounts in a group setting prior to separate, individual approvals.

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RELATED: Proposed tax discounts for Fufeng Group head to Grand Forks committee Wednesday, Jan. 12

Near the end of presentations on Fufeng Group, City Council President Dana Sande summed up the mood as a “warm, fuzzy feeling.” County Commissioner David Engen said he’d work to convince the County Board to support it.

Most of the discussion and presentation on Wednesday evening came from local officials — especially city and economic development staff. They briefly faced questions about the company’s ownership and whether there’s enough available corn supply to support its planned facility’s likely appetite of 25 million bushels per year.

To these questions, Mayor Brandon Bochenski said the consumption of the new plant appears to be about 1.4% of the corn grown in North Dakota and Minnesota, and that he’s not aware of any government ownership of Fufeng Group, which is publicly traded on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

Chutorash, speaking from the gallery, confirmed Bochenski’s understanding of the company’s ownership.

After the meeting, Chutorash briefly answered questions from a Herald reporter at the meeting. He said the plant will primarily make amino acids, which are an additive in animal feed. It’ll also produce a “wide range” of other food ingredients. The plant’s byproducts will mostly be those that come from corn, Chutorash told the Herald, such as corn protein and cattle feed.

He declined to say in what quantities the plant would make any of those products, or how much the company planned to spend to build it — though city documents have estimated the value of the new construction on the land at about $350 million.

RELATED: Company chooses Grand Forks as site for ‘historic’ agribusiness project

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Fufeng Group’s interest in a new Grand Forks facility was announced late last year by top City Hall leaders, who trumpeted it as the largest private investment in the community’s history. If secured, it will bring 233 plant jobs to the facility, plus hundreds more indirectly created jobs in the local economy.

The most anticipated next phase of the Fufeng deal is the release of documents outlining the city’s negotiated relationship with the company. City leaders have said those documents will regulate — pending City Council approval — a long list of important items, from expected city spending to plant odors to financial guarantees for the city, should Fufeng back out of the deal.

Those documents, city leaders have said, could become available as soon as next week.

The Herald’s Joe Bowen contributed to this report. 

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