Getting the pulse on a community
Something that I learned early on in my journalistic career dating back to the early 1990s is that if you ever want to get a pulse on the community and find out what’s going on, stop in and talk to the local chamber directors.
Chambers have a vast amount of knowledge about what’s happening in the community, especially with local business. This is certainly the case in Steele County where Brad Meier runs the Owatonna Area Chamber and Becky Noble the Blooming Prairie Chamber. I love to talk to both of them because they are always so full of energy and enthusiasm about their respective communities.
Last week I ventured into Meier’s office unexpectedly and boy did I get an earful, all in a positive way, of course. Earlier in the day, the Owatonna Chamber found out that the city was named No. 24 in the list of best cities to raise a family in Minnesota. Chaska, Woodbury and New Ulm were tops on the list.
“That’s a good one for us,” Meier pointed out about Owatonna’s selection. He was quick to add Owatonna beat out Rochester, Faribault, Red Wing and Mankato.
Meier is quite certain that Owatonna’s “small town feel” and “quality of life” are two big factors in pushing the community high on the list of the best. He said such a ranking adds one more credibility piece to the chamber’s statement that “this is a good place to come back and raise a family.” He hopes to reach out to alumni from Owatonna with that particular message.
What Meier finds that sets Owatonna apart from other communities is the support of businesses. “Our businesses support the community,” he says. “They are involved with their people.”
Meier also shared another ranking that just recently came out in which Owatonna cracked the top 10 of having the most affordable housing. The only other area community to make the list was Kasson, which ranked No. 4. Hibbing came out on top followed by Montevideo and New Ulm.
“That one kind of surprised us a little bit,” Meier admitted. Last year, Owatonna ranked 29th on the same list. It’s interesting to note that Owatonna has the largest population (25,656) of any city on the top 10 list. The next largest is Hibbing at 16,106 residents.
The two most important things to think about when it comes to being able to afford if you can live comes down to: how much money do I make and how much do I have to spend to live there. The median home price in Owatonna is $154,000 and the median income is just under $61,000.
Meier didn’t stop with those two rankings in touting what’s going on around Owatonna. In addition to the manufacturing expansions taking place in the city’s industrial park, there are several other projects in the works. Some of them are Kwik Trip opening its sixth location in town along Hoffman Drive, Dollar General going into the old Family Video store, Starbucks replacing Hometown Credit in the Hy-Vee Store and Caribou Coffee building a new drive through along Bridge Street.
Owatonna typically experiences growth of about 1% or 250 residents each year. Meier would like to double that to 2% or 500 residents. “We are hoping we will continue to draw people in,” Meier said.
And with a strong selection of jobs, amenities, schools, housing and healthcare, things should be looking bright for Owatonna’s future. Meier expects the new high school will also be a big help to the community.
Business has been blooming around Owatonna, and now city officials are going in hot pursuit of reaping the benefits.