Publisher, L’Argus Calédonien
A survey recently assessed Caledonia’s current business environment, in which it identified positive characteristics, future business needs and wants, and areas for improvement within the city limits.
City Clerk/Administrator Adam Swann and Assistant Michelle Ellingson said the survey provided mostly positive feedback about Caledonia’s business environment. The survey was conducted by the Caledonia Economic Development Authority (EDA).
“The intent was to identify growth opportunities, learn about business needs, provide a vehicle for the business community to share ideas and perspectives,” Ellingson said.
Swann added that they were happy that 95% of respondents said they were satisfied or very satisfied with their current location in Caledonia. No one said they were unhappy, he noted.
There are more encouraging responses, such as nearly half of respondents saying they are expanding or planning improvement projects.
The survey asked businesses within the city limits several different questions about their current business, location, planned improvements, and current needs.
Most businesses are in Caledonia because the owners grew up there or because of its geographical location. Businesses like to be downtown on Main Street and Kingston Street or near Quillin’s and Subway. Several indicated that they were planning expansions or considering improvement projects.
Community events like Founders Day and sporting events attract more visitors and increase sales volume. Businesses would also like to see other types of businesses set up in Caledonia, such as more restaurants, a clothing store, a youth center, a meat market and a gift shop to name a few. -ones.
Challenges facing businesses today include staffing, lack of supplies, work-life balance, and the inability to update a rented building.
Many companies have used or plan to use the assistance of the Houston County EDA or the City EDA. Others have a tax abatement, some may use a US Department of Agriculture grant, municipal loans, or covid-19 relief money.
Businesses would like to see more information or assistance from the city on incentives and funding, communication about local events, existing buildings for sale, supporting and encouraging businesses to advertise, help the community/town to attract more businesses and in turn owners and families to stay involved, providing scholarships for students to learn in a professional field, more downtown events, use of parks and a more welcoming environment for new families.
Caledonia’s attributes that make it a great place to live and work include a variety of businesses, a small town atmosphere, a safe and friendly community.
“Every time we hear about a potential business, we reach out to them. It’s something we put more effort into. We do everything we can,” Swann said. we wanted them to come to town, often they don’t see that personal touch.
He added that the city is doing everything it can to find a location, whether it’s vacant space or an existing building to rent, and promote the city’s strengths. Ellingson added that they are educating potential companies on available funding. This information is continuously updated.
Caledonia has a lot to offer, he said, such as affordable housing, lower per capita taxes, an excellent school district, excellent health care options and proximity to hospitals in La Crosse, in the Wisconsin.
Ellingson added that Caledonia is a very safe community with a proactive police department. She noted the town’s walkability and recent quality of life improvements like the pool update, new pickleball and tennis courts, and planned upgrades to the town’s auditorium. These plans include new windows, a new boiler and an HVAC system. The City encourages citizens to install sidewalks or improve existing sidewalks.
“All those quality of life things where people would be happy and live,” she said. “We have a terrific squad. The school district does an excellent job of preparing students, whether they stay in Caledonia or not. Caledonia students are excellent.
She also noted that the district’s recent partnerships with Bluff Country Collaborative and CEDA (Community and Economic Development Associates) have provided opportunities for career exploration.
Concerns Caledonia needs to address include the lack of road companies, filling vacant buildings downtown, and the need for larger employers, among other suggestions.
Among the two most notable results of the survey, the main need was to fill vacant buildings downtown. This feat would require improving the appearance of buildings and making them commercially viable, Swann said. A combination of this, along with a low-interest loan from the city, could be attractive for a new business.
The city received a grant from the State of Minnesota’s Small Town Development Program in June 2018 for $824,698, though the money didn’t become available until late 2018/early 2019, Swann said. Additionally, covid-19 has caused delays and challenges in 2020 and 2021.
The results of this grant can be seen at The Caledonia Bakery, Klug Insurance, Mell Chiropractic, Thrivent Financial and Buckboard.
The city and EDA can also work with businesses to create low-interest loan programs that are also forgivable. What has helped the EDA the most is the creation of its own special income fund. EDA now has the ability to retain and build its own funding. This is a position on the tax levy and allows a source dedicated to economic development. The goal is for the EDA to save money and take on bigger projects in the future, Swann said.
“It’s an important goal for us, to improve the appearance, to repair our buildings,” Swann said. He added that the street construction project on South Marshall and East Grove streets will improve this area of the city. He hopes the city will add decorative lighting to make the area more welcoming.
The second challenge is finding bigger employers like Miken Sports to move into the city. At present, Miken still plans to move production to Missouri and China. After the news broke, Swann said the city received a “good number” of phone calls inside and outside Minnesota from businesses considering moving to the space.
A third challenge facing Caledonia is space, as there isn’t a lot of land available in the city at a price some of these companies are looking for, Swann said.
“To find the available space, you still need to have enough manpower to support this business,” he said. “Even if the city were to attract another company of 100 to 200 people, we need enough people to work there. I don’t know if it exists.
However, the city also responded to housing needs. The Doering Estates development by Caledonia High School with lots available. A few owners also have the option of subdividing their land and increasing the density of the property. Once that development is complete, the city will likely push harder for a subdivision, Swann said.
A challenge faced by many businesses across the country is the shortage of staff and supplies, during and after covid-19.
Caledonia has not imposed mandates on what companies must or must not do during the lockdown period. They gave a lot of the CARES Act funds to businesses and tried to support businesses in their choices and gave temporary relief on 2020 liquor licenses, Swann summed up.
“Covid has caused a lot of challenges for businesses. They have all suffered because of lost cases and changing mandates,” he said. “It was a struggle for them, even though the business environment hasn’t changed. For businesses that had renovation plans, the pandemic put those plans on hold.
Despite the chaos of 2020 and part of 2021, the good news is that most of these pending projects are moving forward again. The city was not immune to delays, as it was supposed to have completed the Small Town Development Program last year. The state has extended the deadline for this program.
And things are still moving forward, especially if the city aims to be proactive, open-minded and as flexible as possible.
The Twin Cities Cycling Club contacted the city to organize an omnium, or “a track cycling competition consisting of a number of competitions of different types”. Swann said other cities in southeast Minnesota turned them down, but Caledonia agreed and the event is scheduled for April 30-May 1.
“The fact that the city and the council were very supportive of it. It’s an openness on our part to try and experiment with new events and projects to promote the city and tourism,” said Swann.
Other events like the Common Film Festival and Founders Day and committees like Community Spirit Caledonia also bring the community together.