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Forum editorial: Moorhead incentive out of sync

Moorhead city leaders should be cautious about extending special public goodies to new restaurants in the flimsy hope new eateries will set up shop to take advantage of an "employee credit" for new or retained employees up to a maximum of $25,000...

Moorhead city leaders should be cautious about extending special public goodies to new restaurants in the flimsy hope new eateries will set up shop to take advantage of an "employee credit" for new or retained employees up to a maximum of $25,000 per new restaurant.

The rub is "new." The incentive does not apply to established restaurants, some of them in business in Moorhead for years. Owners of a few of the "old" establishments are crying foul. They have it right.

The incentive favored by the City Council and at least one Moorhead business group is allegedly designed to level the playing field between Moorhead and Fargo restaurants. In Fargo, several factors, including salary/tip systems, put the city at an advantage, according to Moorhead officials and Moorhead restaurant operators. Maybe so. But it's more than tips and wages that determine where and why a restaurant will thrive.

Several outstanding and very popular long-established Moorhead restaurants have found ways to manage the cross-river disparity, and thus compete effectively with eateries in Fargo. Some of those owners believe the incentive for new restaurants will do more to tilt the playing field against them in Moorhead by favoring new establishments over old ones, rather than level the Moorhead vs. Fargo field.

Proponents of the new incentive point out other incentives are in place, also designed to attract restaurants. A new incentive is not a precedent, they say. Which raises the questions: How's that been working out? Is it good policy to add another iffy incentive to incentives that have been less than successful?

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It also is galling that the new incentive seems targeted at a yet-to-be-announced chain restaurant, not a locally grown place. And it's no secret to lovers of good food that many of Moorhead's most successful restaurants have been going strong for a long time and are locally owned. They have found the formula - good food, good service, consistency and ambience - to do well in Moorhead. Therefore, it's easy to make the argument that local places that have stuck with Moorhead through bad times and good are getting shortchanged by city policy.

In its apparent desperation to attract a new chain restaurant, Moorhead leaders are not thinking though the potential downside of the new incentive. If even one of the city's marquee restaurants does a calculation and decides the business grass is greener across the river, the net loss - the qualitative loss - will be Moorhead's.

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Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper's Editorial Board.

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