Plainview sells itself
The Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
PLAINVIEW — It's a city that boasts award-winning theater productions, summer festivals and traditional Christmases, and if Judith Jordan has her way, this city of 3,400 will no longer be content with being the "best-kept secret" in southeastern Minnesota.
As Plainview's top economic development assistance official, Jordan is giving more thought these days to how the city can market itself to a wider audience.
The reason? Even as the city continues to grow, it is graying and growing older, like many other communities. Increasingly, Plainview leaders are recognizing that the status quo won't cut it. To keep its schools strong and community rejuvenated, it hopes to convince more couples and young families to make Plainview their home.
"If Plainview doesn't get the story out, then we risk having our population, our growth slow," Jordan said recently.
The development of the city's marketing strategy is still in its early stages, but Plainview has begun stepping up its efforts. It recently produced a new, four-color brochure highlighting the city's amenities and cultural institutions. It is advertising more and recently attended a home show "to get our name out there."
Problem is, Plainview isn't alone in thinking of ways to make itself more attractive to outsiders. From Wabasha to St. Charles to Spring Grove to Spring Valley, cities across southeastern Minnesota have been hatching incentives to stimulate residential growth, from cash rebates for first-time home buyers to waiving the hook-up costs to utilities.
St. Charles, for instance, recently suspended access fees for sewer and water and is considering a number of other ideas, said Mayor Bill Spitzer.
"We are looking at ways to encourage people to call St. Charles their home rather than another place," he said.
St. Charles' priorities are also different. Last year, the city's biggest employer, North Star Foods, burned to the ground. The city has been focusing its energies on developing a business park to revitalize its economy. So while drawing newcomers to St. Charles is regarded as a high priority, it is not the highest item on city's agenda, Spitzer said.
Spitzer also emphasized that cities need to have a national focus when recruiting young people and families to their communities. If not, the danger is that cities will simply pick each others' pockets and not grow the state population pie in general.
"We want to make sure that the youth want to stay in Minnesota and that people out of state want to move here," he said.
Focus on residences
Plainview, on the other hand, has had more of a residential focus to its budding growth strategy. With Red Wing, Winona, Rochester and Mayo Clinic situated nearby, an estimated 50 percent of the city's working-age population commutes to work outside of Plainview.
Although the loss of 30 jobs at Lakeside Foods, one of its biggest employers, sent tremors of uncertainty through the community, the trend lines have generally been positive. It is an agricultural hub. It has grown through the past decade, from a population of 3,100 to 3,400. Its housing developments, such as Orchard Hills, continue to draw residents at a steady clip. There is also talk of economic expansion and more jobs.
The city has also been squeezed by cuts in state aid to cities called local government aid. Over the decades, Plainview, like other small towns, has seen clothing, shoe and other stores shutter its downtown as more people do their shopping in bigger cities such as Rochester.
It is also steadily getting older. Over the next decade, the city's retirement community is projected to soar — those between the ages of 60 and 64 will leap 73 percent, for example — as baby boomers start retiring in droves, even as working-age groups grow more modestly.
"What we see looking at the statistics is that the growth rate for working age adults is slowing or they're actually some negative numbers," Jordan said.
Thus, marketing has begun to leap to the front-burner as among city's top priorities.
"We obviously want to see more businesses locate here. But we also want people to realize that this is a good community. If you're working in Rochester and want to live in a smaller community and commute," then Plainview is prepared to roll out the welcome mat.