By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE The City of Lester Prairie took a step toward its goal of becoming a more business-friendly community in 2017 with the formation of a new economic development authority (EDA).
This was a continuation of an initiative that began in 2015 with the creation of a new staff position community development coordinator.
Adam Birkholz was hired as the city’s first community development coordinator, and he has worked closely with the new EDA. He recently presented a report on the progress made during the EDA’s first year.
In January, the council approved the members of the five-member EDA board of commissioners. Members serve six-year terms, and are appointed by the mayor with approval from the city council.
The members, followed by the expiration of their initial terms (staggered to provide continuity), are:
• Councilor Ron Foust, 2018;
• Gordon Birkholz Jr., vice president, 2019;
• Councilor Tim Dahl, secretary, 2020;
• Paul Christensen, treasurer 2021; and
• Dean Perry, president, 2022.
The group met for the first time Jan. 24.
“The primary objective of the EDA is to create a more diverse tax base with increased commercial properties, as well as spur job creation in our community,” Birkholz stated. “This will be accomplished through supporting current local businesses, downtown redevelopment, commercial real estate development, business recruitment, and financial and technical assistance.”
The year in review
According to Birkholz, the EDA’s first year was focused on strategic planning and project research.
Birkholz noted specific projects for 2017 included:
• Response to one business relocation or expansion request for proposal through the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED). The project is still pending.
• Facility expansion for DS Smith/Worldwide Dispensers.
• Established a request for proposals for the city-owned property at 100 Maple Street South.
• Worked to attract new ownership for three vacant downtown buildings. All three are now under new ownership, with various levels of redevelopment proposed for 2018.
• A proposal to review a housing subdivision/utility partnership (remains pending).
• Business retention and expansion visits involving regular visits with businesses in, or adjacent to the City of Lester Prairie, to communicate the city’s appreciation, learn about the business operations, communicate any potential issues between the business and the city, and identify opportunities for business expansion or relocation within the city.
The EDA has started to build up financial assets to support future goals.
Birkholz stated the EDA expected to end the year with a cash balance of $141,231.
The 2018 city budget includes an additional $50,000 toward future economic development projects.
The EDA offers tax incentives and additional financial assistance for businesses through its business subsidy policy and revolving loan fund, which has a balance of $123,983.
During November and December, the EDA spent some time conducting a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis to help with establishing plans and goals for 2018, Birkholz said.
Based on these discussions, as well as the city’s recently-approved comprehensive plan, the EDA established recommended project priorities for 2018 in five categories.
The first of these is commercial real estate development, which includes establishment of a business park.
This is broken down into steps including securing a first right to purchase contract for land acquisition, completing a preliminary site layout for a business park, recruiting an anchor tenant for the business park, and establishing a funding mechanism for the business park, including grant opportunities.
The second broad category involves housing. The EDA hopes to work toward attracting an independent senior living housing project, as well as attracting a new single-family housing subdivision.
Downtown development along Juniper Street and Central Avenue is the next category.
Birkholz noted this might include assisting in the redevelopment of recently-sold properties to create a more attractive location; assisting in the attraction of a new grocery store owner as the anchor downtown business; and working with the McLeod County Rail Authority to help create redevelopment opportunities along Central Avenue, which runs parallel to the Dakota Rail Regional Trail corridor.
The next category is marketing and public relations.
The group hopes to create a new EDA website as the primary information provider of economic development opportunities in the City of Lester Prairie.
It also includes developing strategic partnerships with statewide economic development organizations and corporate site selectors.
The EDA will investigate regional economic development marketing opportunities.
At the same time, the EDA will continue to support the efforts of the Lester Prairie Business Association, and accept speaking engagements at local clubs and service organizations if invited.
The final general category involves continuing to conduct business retention/expansion visits to show support to current local businesses.
Business owners who have questions about opportuities in the city or want to know more about the EDA may contact Birkholz at (320) 613-6054 or firstname.lastname@example.org.