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Economic development: Farmington works to keep businesses in town

Since word of mouth is often one of the best advertising tools, the city of Farmington wants to make sure current business owners have lots of good things to say.

The Farmington Economic Development Authority spent much of 2012, and now all of 2013, working on a plan to bring new commercial and industrial businesses to the community. And while developing those plans has been important, city planner Lee Smick and the EDA know that maintaining good relationships with those businesses already in town is crucial to Farmington's future.

"Existing businesses are a good bet when it comes to economic development. They're established here. They know what works well here. They're more committed to the community because they've been here," Smick said. "As far as the overall discussion on economic development, those businesses are where the discussions have to start."

In 2012, the Farmington EDA and city council started making bi-weekly visits to businesses around the community. Smick set up the business visit calendar so they were able to meet with three or four business owners in an afternoon. The business visits are at the heart of the city's Business Retention and Expansion Program.

The purpose of the visits was simple -- to introduce the business owners to the EDA and council, and to help city representatives learn a little bit about the businesses that are already in Farmington. At the same time, the city's group was able to provide some information about programs or services available to the businesses, and to find out if there were any concerns or issues business owners were facing.

That's how the EDA found out one business in the industrial park was considering relocating, Smick said. But because the city of Farmington took an interest in the business -- and tried to help them find solutions to make it worth staying in the community -- the business owner decided to not only stay in Farmington, but to expand his current facility.

"A big part of the Business Retention and Expansion Program is the determination of red flags. Are they looking to move out of town? Are they going to close their location? We want to get a jump on those red flags to see if we can do anything for them," Smick said.

As part of its economic development initiative, the EDA has spent considerable time working up a new business subsidy program to offer financial incentives to businesses. While the business incentives proposed would help bring new business to the community, the other goal for them, Smick said, is to offer existing businesses some assistance to help them expand in the community.

"Those incentives are to attract new business, but they're also to assist with the existing businesses, if they have a remodeling project, or want to expand or relocate to a larger site in the community. That's where we'd like to give some of that money," Smick said.

In all, the EDA and council members completed 48 business visits in 2012. On Monday, the EDA approved the schedule for this year's visits.

The EDA is also considering incorporating a survey tool into the business visits, Smick said. The terms of the survey are still up for discussion. One part could focus on demographics for the company, Another section may address some of the challenges the company faces.

But one thing is for sure -- owners of Farmington's businesses are the spokespersons for the community, and many of them partner with the city on projects like the Farmington Business Association or GROW Farmington. That's why Smick and the EDA want to make sure those businesses stay in the community.

"The businesses are really doing great job of creating a sense of place here. When we talk about small-town charm, a lot of that has to do with our businesses," Smick said.

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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