Goals and strategies established with fresh set of eyes from firm of Stantec Consulting

by Jim Boyle

Editor

The Elk River Economic Development Authority approved on Jan. 19 its 2020 Strategic Plan for Economic Development.

The EDA worked with Stantec Consulting Services to develop the plan. Tom Leighton, the project manager from Stantec, walked the EDA through a draft plan in December and presented the final version on Tuesday.

The plan has been designed to build upon the EDA’s existing plans, including the city’s vision, the Mississippi Connections Plan, the FAST Study and the city’s comprehensive plan, parks and recreation plan and capital improvement plan.

The new plan has four goals. They are to:

1. Support Elk River’s existing businesses through relationship building, programmatic offerings, and high quality city services.

2. Attract new business development to Elk River to build the city’s economic vibrancy, job offerings and tax base.

3. Support impacted businesses and capitalize on opportunities associated with the 169 Redefine project.

4. Support Elk River businesses through the COVID-19 pandemic and take steps to foster a robust economic recovery.

“It was great working with Tom (Leighton) and Stantec, as they brought a new set of eyes and perspective to Elk River,” said Colleen Eddy, an economic development specialist for Elk River. “The four goals set forth will help guide the EDA into the next 5-10 years.”

Forest Lake, Oakdale and Chaska were identified as peer cities during the project. Structured interviews to explore the management of economic development strategies relevant to Elk River were conducted with:

•Dan Undem, Assistant City Administrator, Forest Lake.

•Nate Kabat, Assistant City Administrator, Chaska.

•Bob Streetar, Community Development Director, Oakdale.

Individual interviews were also conducted with people to explore sports tourism, hotel development and strengthening workforce training.

Paul Erickson, a founder and former executive director of the National Sports Center in Blaine, offered his expertise and insights on the potential for sports tourism in Elk River.

Tim Storey, a real estate broker and hotel market specialist with Cushman & Wakefield, provided his thoughts on the potential for hotel development in Elk River.

Amy Lord, Career and Technical Training coordinator for the Elk River Area School District, was interviewed about opportunities for deepening workforce training strategies in Elk River.

Elk River staff were also involved and readily responsive in providing information and serving as a sounding board through the course of this study, Leighton reported.

In the introduction of the report Elk River is described as a city with a strong economic foundation that has benefited from fundamental strengths such as its natural setting along the Mississippi River and its location at the crossroads of two transportation arteries. It has put focus and investment into its walkable downtown, a new multipurpose facility, its renowned parks and other amenities that contribute to quality of life.

And it has fostered a vibrant business sector, the report stated.

The Elk River Economic Development Authority (EDA) is a public corporation empowered to undertake certain types of economic development projects. It is the economic development arm of the Elk River City Council and handles all types of city economic development projects — including project activities such as acquiring, developing, improving, and disposing of property, entering into contracts, and operating and maintaining public affairs. It is staffed by Elk River’s economic development staff.

The EDA Strategic Plan is intended to guide the work of the Elk River EDA and economic development staff for a five-to-ten-year period, encompassing the strategies and tasks that comprise the work plan of the EDA over that period of time.

This strategic plan took form over a period of time starting in April 2020. In addition to economic research, the understanding of economic conditions and potential strategic opportunities were shaped by the following parties and processes.

The EDA offered its perspectives and insights during an introduction meeting and two EDA workshops.

Three focus groups were convened that focused on Manufacturing and Industry, Downtown Elk River, and Real Estate and Development, Leighton said in his report, which highlighted Elk River’s vision statement. It reads: “Elk River is a welcoming community with revolutionary and spirited resourcefulness, exceptional service and community engagement that inspires prosperity.”

Supporting themes that go along with the vision statement include maintain a distinct identity, create and maintain strong neighborhoods, keep Elk River a safe place, preserve and maintain its environment and make Elk River a complete place.

To do that, the following are referenced in a city’s vision and goals document:

•Community and economic development policies will seek to attract employment opportunities and goods and services needed by the community.

•The expansion of local employment creates more opportunities for people to live and work in Elk River.

•Planning and decision making must recognize that the population of Elk River is not a single commodity.D ifference in age, economic status and ethnicity must be considered in planning for future development, facilities and services.

Economic context

Elk River’s economic context was explored through geographic and asset mapping and an inventory of non-location-based assets, opportunities and deterrents to growth.

The city benefits from an abundance of natural amenities, with frontage along the Mississippi River, Elk River, and Orono Lake, and large wooded parks. Its highway infrastructure gives it strong connections in every direction, with further improvements on the horizon when a long stretch of Highway 169 is reconstructed.

The city has retail settings that benefit from the city’s transportation connectedness to surrounding areas. They include the destination retail centers along Highway 169 and the storefront business district in downtown.

The city has attended to the quality of life for its residents through the development of recreational opportunities in its park system, the creation of community space on its downtown riverfront, and its investment in a new community-serving multipurpose facility.

It has a robust existing manufacturing sector and a reliable energy provider. These characteristics provide a strong basis for attracting additional employers and jobs. The deterrents to growth include limitations on land for new industrial development.

A growing population is an economic asset. It implies ongoing demand for new housing. It supports existing stores and service providers, and it provides a basis for new retail development. It bolsters the values of existing property, which provides an incentive for property owners to invest in maintenance and rehabilitation.

A higher proportion of households in Elk River are family households, compared with Minnesota as a whole. Elk River households include an especially high proportion of families with children.

Household incomes in Elk River are around 22% higher than the state average, while individual incomes in Elk River are lower than the state average. That implies the prevalence of households in Elk River with multiple wage earners.

In terms of educational attainment, a similar share of Elk River residents have graduated high school as the state of Minnesota as a whole. But a lower proportion of residents have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Elk River is relatively job-rich for a city that is outside the state’s major metropolitan areas and is not a regional center. There are almost as many people coming to work in Elk River as there are people leaving Elk River to work elsewhere.

Elk River’s roughly 11,700 jobs in 2017 was a 14% increase over a total of around 10,300 jobs from seven years earlier in 2010, reflecting a strengthening business environment. The growth in jobs is greater than the estimated increase in population over that period.

Three-fourths of jobs in Elk River are in just seven industry sectors:

•Manufacturing.

•Retail trade.

•Educational services.

•Public administration.

•Health care and social assistance.

•Construction.

•Accommodation and food services.

The firm said there would be value of continuing to foster the manufacturing sector in Elk River. It indicates the benefit to Elk River of being the location of both Elk River and Sherburne County offices. It suggests there may be value in understanding and fostering the Elk River construction sector more intentionally. It raises the possibility that there may be opportunity to solicit additional health care facilities in Elk River.

Much of Elk River’s development over the past decade has been in the form of housing development. According to an ESRI business analyst, Elk River had 8,542 housing units in 2010, and 9,550 in 2020. Of that 1,000 new housing units, the great majority were single-family homes and townhomes.

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