By Ross Markman
A home delivery supplier of more than 300 frozen food, snack and dessert products may be moving its Hi-Line distribution warehouse from Blaine County to Hill County.
Havre Mayor Bob Rice, who has been working on bringing Schwan's distribution center to the Havre area since January, said today the 50-year-old corporation may build a warehouse on a parcel behind the U.S. Department of Agriculture building on the west end of Havre.
Rice was uncertain whether the lot is within Havre city limits. Hill County Commissioner Doug Kaercher said it's outside Havre's boundaries.
"It's a good boost to our economy either way. This is substantial for our economy," Rice said.
The one-plus-acre tract is owned by Havre-based Tom Patrick Construction. The land deal is for about $25,000, Rice said.
Tom Patrick declined comment on the potential transaction, saying Schwan's has yet to commit to the acquisition.
Representatives of Schwan's were unavailable for comment.
Rice said the deal will likely occur.
"I would say it's pretty sure. They sent documents to Patrick so he wouldn't sell the lot. That tells me they're pretty sure," he said.
In recent months, Rice met with representatives of Schwan's and several area contractors to discuss the move.
"I told Schwan's Havre wanted them. They seemed enthusiastic, and they knew I was sincere," Rice said. "We've even talked about a tax reduction."
With the reduction, Schwan's would be taxed minimally during its first four years of operation.
"It gives them a break on starting up," Rice said.
The move, he added, would benefit the people and economy of Havre.
"Anything we get helps, and Schwan's is very involved in the community," Rice said. "Plus, the employees would be moving here."
Debbie Vandeberg, executive director of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce, agreed.
"It goes without saying that any business that comes to our community is a wonderful asset," Vandeberg said.
But what about the community Schwan's is potentially leaving? Chinook Mayor Bill Oehmcke said it could be a detriment.
"Anytime you lose a business, you lose a little bit," he said. "Schwan's is important to our community. We would hate to see them leave, of course."
Today was the first he heard of Schwan's hunting for new digs, Oehmcke said. He was unsure whether the warehouse employees would move if the center relocated to Hill County.
"Who's to say they would be moving?" Oehmcke said. "But even if they do, I'm sure they'll still service us."
If Schwan's moves to Hill County, it could mean a shot in the arm to the county tax base, said Yvette Lavalley, property evaluation specialist for the state Department of Revenue.
"It's all according to how big the building they build is," Lavalley said. "But when you're talking about a few hundred thousand dollars, it's not going to make that much of a difference. Sure it will help; any tax base we can get will help."
Rice is confident the proposed facility would enhance Havre and Hill County's economies.
"They're going to build a nice, new warehouse," he said. "That in itself is going to bring money in."