FILLMORE COUNTY — A city that has made itself a dining and drinking hub. Growth thanks to a cemetery and trout.
There were plenty of unique solutions on the 2019 CEDA Regional Development Tour bus ride. And what attendees took home are as varied as the economic development success stories along the way.
"I'm always interested to see what development means to these communities when they're working together," said Laura Elwood of Chamberlain Concierge & Lifestyle Management.
Elwood, a veteran of the annual CEDA bus trip, said her main reason for taking the tour is to see the destinations in towns near Rochester in order to develop travel packages for her company's customers.
"I really like the veterans memorial," she said, referring to the Minnesota State Veterans Cemetery in Preston.
The veterans cemetery was just one highlight on the tour in Preston.
Cathy Enerson, a community and business development specialist for CEDA, focused on everything from housing solutions (something all three towns on the tour – Preston, Harmony, and Cresco, Iowa) need, to trout-related activities, including Preston's nine-hole trout fishing course.
Enerson pointed to the need to bring back young professionals looking to start businesses and help build small town communities. To that end, she said, one goal is to highlight a community's livability in areas such as housing costs, recreational options and child care availability.
"We know the brain gain is important here," Enerson said.
Billing itself as "America's Trout Capital," and home to the National Trout Center, Preston relies on the Root River as a draw for residents, visitors and business, she said.
Ryan Grobe, who works for Bremer Bank in St. Charles, said one of the benefits of the tour is seeing what works in other communities.
"You get to see exactly what's sparking other people's interest," he said.
That includes the new Harmony Spirits distillery in Harmony and an indoor public pool in Cresco. It's not just the end product that is inspiring, Grobe said, but how those projects were funded and shepherded through to completion by their communities.
He pointed to the distillery as a great example of a holistic project. Not only is it a stand-alone business, but the grains used to make the liquors come from local farms, and used grains go back to a local farm to feed cattle.
Erik Topness of F&M Community Bank in Preston, said the tour allows him to see how other communities tackle their problems, like housing, child care and the need for a trained workforce.
"We understand the towns in this area are all in this together," Topness said. That means making sure investors and potential residents know these small towns are looking for businesses they can support.
Of course, it's also about businesses giving back to the community. That was the message from Steve Cremer, owner of Harmony Enterprises in Harmony.
The manufacturing company saw a need for child care among its employees, Cremer said, so it started its own daycare center across the parking lot from the manufacturing facility.
But when it became obvious the whole community, not just Harmony Enterprises employees, needed the service, Cremer and his company opened the daycare to everyone.
The result is a new business with 17 employees and nearly 100 slots available for child care.
Cremer said the daycare is a great recruitment and retention tool for his main business. He added, "I think, because we have a daycare, people are having more babies."
Cremer also has developed a housing subdivision in town, hoping to ease some of the housing burden. The result is a small subdivision with 15 lots platted and a tax-abatement deal that can help buyers to the tune of $12,000 apiece for buying the land on which to build.
"I saw the land for sale and thought Harmony needs a new subdivision with family-friendly homes," he said.