Henning to retire from EADA

by Tom Coombe

Bill Henning, Ely’s economic developer for nearly a decade, will retire at the end of the month.<BR><BR>The director of the Ely Area Development Association notified the organization’s executive board of his plans last week.<BR><BR>Henning, a 57-year-old native of Brooklyn, N.Y. and a retired Air Force pilot had been with the EADA since 1995.<BR><BR>“There’s a time for everything,” said Henning. “There was a time for me to retire from the Air Force. There was a time for me to move to Ely. My body was telling me that it was time to (retire) now or they were going to carry me out of this office dead. I’m not leaving town, but it’s been going on nine full years that I’ve been at this. The normal (tenure) of an economic developer is three years.”<BR><BR>Henning, who was appointed by Gov. Tim Pawlenty to a seat on the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board and will continue to serve in that capacity, was involved in nearly every major economic development initiative in the area during his tenure.<BR><BR>He helped negotiate the deal that brought SATO Travel (now Navigant Integrated Services) and nearly 100 new jobs to Ely and was behind several other Ely Business Park projects, including the construction of a new facility for the Minnesota Department of Revenue.<BR><BR>On most of those projects, Henning worked closely with representatives from the city of Ely, which is the EADA’s primary funding source and the governing body called on to back initiatives such as business park expansion or incentives to companies such as Navigant.<BR><BR>City council member Paul Kess, who also serves on the EADA, said Henning’s departure will leave a sizable void.<BR><BR>“I’m just astounded (by the announcement),” said Kess. “Bill has done just an amazing job, promoting not only economic development but community development in Ely.”<BR><BR>Henning was the driving force behind efforts that led to a fiber optic connection here, an advancement that allows Ely to compete for jobs that demand high-speed technology.<BR><BR>“Easily fiber optics (was Ely’s biggest advancement),” said Henning. “That’s the future... To me in the future that’s where we’ll get our payback. There are two major economic impacts in the history of Ely. One was the railroad, which allowed us to move (ore) out, and the second was fiber. It’s moving wealth back and forth and giving us a chance to compete.”<BR><BR>It was Henning who also pushed for significant changes in the community’s economic development structure.<BR><BR>Under his watch, the EADA was formed, creating a 30-member full board that included wide community representation and a nine-member executive board that oversees day-to-day operations.<BR><BR>“We needed to create a board that had people coming from different sections of the community and make it permanent,” Henning said.<BR><BR>The other half of the structural change came in late-1996, when Ely, Winton, Morse Township and the Ely School District came together to form a joint powers board for both economic and community development.<BR><BR>The organization contracts with the EADA for economic development services and has been able to land grants for housing and land use surveys and studies.<BR><BR>In the last year, members have expanded their budget to cover community-wide services including recycling and the public library, and they’re exploring other avenues for cooperation such as public safety.<BR><BR>“To me the (Ely Area) Joint Powers is really, really key,” said Henning. “You’ve got to be able to work together as a group.”<BR><BR>There have been disappointments along the way, as well, according to Henning.<BR><BR>The 2001 closing of the LTV mine in Hoyt Lakes sent ripple effects throughout the area, and despite years of effort, the area has been unable to grow or attract enough high-paying jobs to ward off a continued decline in school enrollment.<BR><BR>“I hoped in my time to see the school enrollment stabilize,” said Henning. “But that’s going to change. I think in the next year we’ll see it stabilize and maybe see some growth. Ely is too unique for it not to happen.”<BR><BR>Henning’s position with the EADA was part-time - 18 hours per week. He was compensated $25,896 per year, but the job had no insurance benefits.<BR><BR>The EADA executive board is set to meet today and discuss how to proceed.<BR><BR>“Bill is a pretty special person and it will probably take a while to find someone to fill his shoes,” said executive board member Jeff Sundell. “I’m anticipating that some members of the EADA will pull together and try to help.”<BR><BR>Henning said that assistant director Cindy Fenske can fill much of the slack in the meantime.<BR><BR>“She’s been here since before me,” Henning said of Fenske. “She’s really the one that makes this organization continue to grow.<BR><BR>Henning also said that the current EADA board has taken an active role on many issues, making it easier for him to retire now.<BR><BR>“The EADA is a strong organization,” said Henning. “It has signs of good leadership and people willing to step forward who are willing to do things.”<BR><BR>The last two years, funding for the EADA has been in jeopardy while city officials have battled budget deficits.<BR><BR>Those financial issues could play a role in deciding how the EADA fills the position.<BR><BR>Henning has advised the group to “step back” and look at the funding picture for 2005 and beyond.<BR><BR>Kess, probably the most adamant supporter of economic development funding on the council, said Henning’s work must carry on.<BR><BR>“Economic development is too important for it to be left undone,” said Kess. “(City Clerk) John Tourville has some strengths there and I hope we can use those strengths. We’ve talked about rolling (economic development) into a (city) administrator position, but we just don’t know yet how those things will fit.”<BR><BR>Sundell said he hoped that Henning will continue to assist on special projects, and the retiring director said he has no plans to leave the community.<BR><BR>He and his wife Nancy have a 14-year-old son (Jon) in the Ely school system, and two grown children (Jennifer Arcila and Suzanna Kelley) who live in the Ely area, along with one granddaughter. The Hennings have two other children (Bill Jr., who lives in Japan, and Dallas-based Callie).<BR><BR>Henning said that he’s going to miss the people he worked with most.<BR><BR>“I think of people like (retired city clerk) Lee Tessier for his tough roughness and Paul Kess, someone who is always willing to participate,” said Henning. “People like Nick Wognum, who was there when we started this. It really comes down to those who unselfishly give to their community.”