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Survey finds Farmington makes a good first impression

Visitng planners complimented the quaint neighborhoods of downtown Farmington.

Everyone wants to make a good first impression. Apparently, Farmington has, but now city officials need to figure out how to market it.

Earlier this summer, the city of Farmington's planning staff played host to city planners from Apple Valley, Golden Valley, Burnsville, South St. Paul, and the Metropolitan Council. On a warm June afternoon, just as the Dew Days celebration was about to kick off, the guests took a two-hour tour of Farmington.

They were participating in a First Impressions Survey. The planners were asked to look at the community and give their honest, outside opinion.

"We do tons of self-evaluations," said Farmington city planner Lee Smick. "They gave us an outside evaluation."

Some of the guests had been to town before. Others had merely heard of it. Most of them came to the community with the impression it would be predominantly rural, and were surprised by the amount of single-family homes and the development they encountered.

The First Impression Survey is a free product of the University of Wisconsin's Extensions program. It provides communities with a 25-page questionnaire, and compiles all of the comments into a 50-page document.

Comments locally call Farmington "quaint" when it comes to the quiet, shady streets of downtown neighborhoods to "surprising" and "well-planned" when it comes to the single-family housing on the north and east sides of town.

But they also noted there is definitely room for improvement when it comes to the commercial and industrial development within the city. Though several noted that the downtown business district has the traditional "Main Street feel" that communities like Burnsville or Apple Valley lack, filling the buildings should be a priority, they said.

Several comments were made about the lack of "opportunities for young adults" - or, in simpler terms, the lack of a night life in the community.

"Farmington seems to be a community for young families with school-age children," one planner wrote. "There isn't much of a reason for young professionals to live in the community, and there doesn't seem to be many cultural amenities to get this group to stay."

On the other hand, they were wowed by the extensive and well-planned parks and trail systems in place. The neighborhood business districts also received favorable comments.

Still, they noted a lack of apartment dwellings for the younger generation, and housing options for the older.

"Some of (the comments) backs what we've said all along," Smick said.

The visiting planners had a chance to preview Farmington before coming to town. All of them viewed the city's web site, and many were impressed by the amount of information available to them and residents. That alone provided a favorable impression among the five.

What it means

The nice thing about having these survey results in hand, Smick said, is that the results can help guide the next phase of the city's economic development strategy. It's a strategy at least one of the planners thinks Farmington is ready for.

"My impressions about the city are that it is a great time for Farmington because it is poised for the next growth period following the end of this current recession," the planner wrote. "The city has the opportunity to learn from the last development boom and to prepare and plan for future development."

Until the recession turns around, Smick is taking matters into her own hands. In addition to sharing the First Impressions document with the Farmington Economic Development Authority, she plans to sit down with members of the Farmington Downtown Business Association and the Dakota County Regional Chamber of Commerce to review the findings and get input.

Then, she plans to work up a new marketing tag, something like the "Farmington First!" theme of the late 1990s. Only, this particular plan won't just promote the Farmington business industry - it will promote the entire community, from the quaint neighborhoods of downtown to the new Farmington High School and all the potential that facility brings. To that end, Smick has also shared a copy of the comments with School District 192 officials. She hopes to meet with school officials in the coming months, as well.

"We have to let the metro and other communities know who we are and invite them in," Smick said. "People really don't know who we are, and we have to start letting them know."

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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