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Business growth in Farmington a priority in 2013

Current EDA members are, from left, Doug Bonar, Jeri Jolley, Steve Wilson, Todd Larson and Kirk Zeaman.

Economic development is a phrase everyone says, everyone hears and everyone wants. But there's been little consensus in Farmington about how to make economic development a reality.

That may well be changing, though. The city and its economic development authority are launching several new programs aimed at bringing new business to town and providing support to existing businesses that want to move or expand.

At the helm of this movement is Farmington city planner Lee Smick, who first came to the community in 1997. In her time here, Smick has talked economic development with the Farmington city council, planning commission and EDA.

Most recently, Smick and the EDA have developed overall plan that could bring new commercial and industrial businesses to the community. Another section of the plan lays out a financial incentive program for those new businesses, and a third component addresses business expansion and retention for those already in the community.

"It's a whole new attitude," Smick said. "We want to reiterate the importance of business in Farmington and go back and say, we want to do better. We want to go further than we have as a city when it comes to economic development."

Much of the work on these new plans was done last year, under the former EDA membership. That group included all five members of the city council, as well as two ex-officio members, Jeri Jolley and Doug Bonar. This year, the EDA is a five-member board. Bonar was elected to the city council in November, so he and mayor Todd Larson represent the city council. The three at-large, appointed members are Jolley, former city council member Steve Wilson and Kirk Zeaman, co-owner of Dunn Bros. in Farmington.

Larson is excited to get Farmington's economic future started. The previous EDA started much of the planning in 2012, when members and Smick worked through a list of priorities and goals for economic development in Farmington. Now that those have been established, Larson sees Farmington's chances of attracting new businesses increasing.

"Now that we've done all this hard work, it's time to get our plans out on the street and start putting them to work," Larson said. "I'm really anxious to see that part."

Now in his second term, Larson knows residents want more commercial options in Farmington. He's well aware that new businesses mean new jobs, and he hopes some of the new initiatives being introduced this month will help entice a few businesses.

But Larson also cautions Farmington residents to be patient.

"The city can try to attract them, and have a place for them, but the city doesn't bring them into the community. That's what we're trying to do with these programs - we're trying to entice the investor to take a look at Farmington.

"Government works incredibly slow. I feel we've done the work, we've put the plans in place. Now it's time to put those plans on the street. Let's get them into the community and see if they work. The big push for economic development is now," he said.

Over the next few months, Smick is going to work with the EDA, the planning commission and council members to develop a new resolution that will affirm the city's commitment to economic development. The resolution will be bigger than just words on paper - it will ensure every decision made at every council meeting, planning commission and EDA meeting will be made with a consideration as to what the impact will be on Farmington's economic growth.

"We want to reemphasize the importance of economic development," Smick said. "Every action the city council and planning commission make needs to have an economic development element. We want them to pay attention to economic development when they approve something or deny something. They need to commit to economic development absolutely."

The Farmington Independent will break down the city's new economic development plan over the course of February. In next week's issue, we'll introduce a new program being offered to business owners and people who would like to own their own business, called Open to Business. We'll also talk through some of the high points of the EDA's new business attraction plan.

Michelle Leonard

Michelle Leonard joined the Woodbury Bulletin staff in November, 2014, after 14 years covering news for the Bulletin's sister publication, the Farmington Rosemount Independent Town Pages.  Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Mass Communications: News-Editorial from Mankato State University in 1991. She is an active member of the American Legion Auxiliary Clifford Larson Unit 189 of Farmington, and served as the 2014-15 Third District President to the American Legion Auxiliary Department of Minnesota. Michelle is also the volunteer coordinator for the Minnesota Newspaper Museum which is open annually during the Minnesota State Fair. She has earned Minnesota Newspaper Association awards in Investigative Reporting, Local News Coverage, Feature Photography and Column Writing. 

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