By Jennifer Kotila
HOWARD LAKE, MN Growing up in St. Peter, Nick Haggenmiller’s passion for local government was awoken following a tornado that devastated the small community in 1998.
Haggenmiller became Howard Lake’s city administrator in August, moving from Montevideo, where he also worked for the city, to Howard Lake with his wife, Victoria (Vickie).
After the tornado in St. Peter, Haggenmiller witnessed a community come together under the common goal of rebuilding, he said.
“In my opinion, while everyone did their part, the individual chiefly responsible for a great deal of the response, recovery, and even growth, was Todd Prafke, the city administrator,” Haggenmiller said. “To this day, I still consider him a mentor.”
Prafke made time to meet with Haggenmiller nearly weekly, even during the most intense times, to answer questions and explain how and why the city was doing what it was doing, Haggenmiller added.
“I guess you could say I quickly became a local government nerd,” Haggenmiller said. “While my friends were playing football, being cast in school plays, and (participating in) other extracurricular activities, I was on the executive board of the Chamber of Commerce and attending city council meetings.”
After graduating from St. Peter High School, Haggenmiller attended Winona State University and received a bachelor of science degree in public administration.
Two years later, he graduated from Minnesota State University - Mankato with a master of arts degree in urban studies.
Before coming to Howard Lake, Haggenmiller was the assistant city manager for community development in Montevideo, and was hired while still attending graduate school.
“While I learned a great deal from my formal education, that was absolutely nothing compared to my time in that position,” Haggenmiller said. “I reported to a great manager, who was willing to teach me all the various aspects of local government.”
Haggenmiller also interned for St. Peter and Winona while attending school.
While in Montevideo, Haggenmiller was able to turn around a failing rural transit service, increasing the ridership nearly 300 percent.
Minnesota Public Radio featured Montevideo’s transit service in an article in April. A link can be found on the Herald Journal homepage.
Haggenmiller has also overseen some substantial industrial development expansions, and executed more than 60 grants for local business owners, he said.
Another accomplishment Haggenmiller is proud of is reducing the impact of flooding through flood mitigation projects.
Haggenmiller’s goals for Howard Lake
Haggenmiller was interested in Howard Lake because it allowed him the opportunity to become a city administrator, as well as move a little closer to both his and his wife’s families.
“I love the fact that Howard Lake is a small, somewhat rural community, yet in 40 minutes, you can find yourself in the heart of the Twin Cities,” Haggenmiller said.
During the interview process, Haggenmiller was impressed by everyone he met, from the council, to the staff and community members.
“We really do have a wonderfully talented council and staff, all of whom strive to make this community a better place,” Haggenmiller said.
Haggenmiller’s short-term goals for Howard Lake revolve around learning how the city operates in order to guarantee plans and programs that were initiated previously are carried forward.
“There are several projects that are at various stages of completion that I hope to see to fruition, including the development of an assisted living facility and completion of several street and utility projects,” Haggenmiller said.
Another project Haggenmiller is excited about for Howard Lake is the Thriving Communities Partnership (TCP).
“Projects of this caliber serve two primary goals,” Haggenmiller said. “First, they excite residents and allow them to take ownership in their community through various projects. Second, they provide the foundation to quality, long term development of a city.”
He hopes to find the right balance between city involvement and citizen volunteers to keep the group focused and moving forward.
“The three task forces created as a result of the TCP all have wonderful short- and long-term goals for the community,” Haggenmiller said.
Improvement of the Highway 12 commercial district is something Haggenmiller is looking forward to, he said.
“I plan to work with business owners, citizen groups, and, of course, the council to encourage investment and improvement along this corridor,” Haggenmiller said.
In the next six to 12 months, Haggenmiller will have the council review new proposals consisting of low-interest loans, grants, and other programs aimed at achieving this goal, he said.
“Admittedly, programs like this take time to create, implement, and especially to see results,” Haggenmiller said.
Together with improving the commercial district, as funds allow, will be improving the visibility of Howard Lake’s natural features, such as the lake, the city parks and trails system, and streetscaping activities.
Haggenmiller noted some of the challenges faced by Howard Lake, such as slowing people down as they drive through town on Highway 12, both for safety reasons and getting people in the doors of local businesses.
He also noted that, like other small communities, Howard Lake has to be mindful of the growing number of commuters and the existing, aging residents.
It is important to recognize that, in many cases, the two groups expect and require different levels of services from their government, Haggenmiller said.
“I think having active citizen groups and a council that is responsive to the needs of their citizens will go a long way in planning for the future of our community,” he added.
Another significant challenge and opportunity is returning the Howard Lake Municipal Liquor Store to profitability, Haggenmiller said.
“This is one of the things I am most excited about with this position,” he added. “I plan on taking a very hands-on role with this. First and foremost, the biggest challenge we have is changing peoples’ mind-set about the muni.”
He noted that people who have not been in the store for a while should stop in and check it out, adding that he thinks they will be pleasantly surprised.
Haggenmiller is impressed with the manager, Myra Laway.
“She’s fun, energetic, and full of incredible marketing ideas, but also runs a tight ship,” he noted. “Myra has been the manager for a little over a year, and reviewing sales history since she’s taken over, sales have only gone up.”
Numerous changes, big and small, will be implemented to attract and retain customers.
“Overall, Howard Lake has many amazing and strong attributes that make it ripe for growth and development, including active residents, a growing industrial base, and a beautiful lakefront,” Haggenmiller said. “I hope to have a strong focus on community and economic development.”
In the coming months, Haggenmiller is planning to ask the council to review concepts to implement a formal economic development plan and develop strategies that encourage existing and new businesses and manufacturing entities to either locate or expand in Howard Lake, he said.
He also noted the city’s reserve of residential parcels, many of which are served with infrastructure, making them ready for development.
“Finding a way of getting Howard Lake and these parcels on the radar of developers and individuals ready to build will be both a challenge and an incredible opportunity,” Haggenmiller said.
“I’m genuinely excited and grateful to be a part of the community. I will work hard to manage services and grow the city, while being mindful of budget considerations,” Haggenmiller said.
Vicki is an infant teacher at Little Kid Kare in Montrose, and she will also be attending Concordia University in the spring, majoring in early childhood education.
The couple hopes to start a family while in Howard Lake, Haggenmiller said.