by Eric Hagen
Members of the East Bethel community got together for an hour-and-a-half the morning of Feb. 1 to discuss what would attract businesses to East Bethel, and what may keep them away.
The Ady Voltedge consulting firm out of Madison, Wis., is beginning the process of formulating the city’s brand and marketing package that will be shared with prospective developers who could choose to move to East Bethel’s developing sewer and water district.
The 41 people at the meeting included a couple of councilmembers; the city administrator; city planner; representatives from several businesses such as the Muller Family Theater, Edina Realty and Georges Repair Center; Metropolitan Councilmember Edward Reynoso; Karen Skepper, Anoka County’s director of community and economic development; the Bethel mayor, representatives from East Bethel’s parks, planning and roads commissions; and many more.
East Bethel is seeking as many voices as possible to help answer questions such as what are the biggest opportunities for growth in the East Bethel region and what are the biggest challenges. The city’s website (www.ci.east-bethel.mn.us) includes a link on the main page to the survey. The deadline to participate in the survey is Feb. 29.
Gathering this local input is a critical component of developing a branding and marketing package, according to Ady Voltedge President Janet Ady. Her company can come in with a process to gather input, but ultimately, “It’s the locals that have the secret ingredient,” she said.
“We’re not making you something you’re not. We’re identifying those things you that are going to be of most interest to some of the audiences we’re going to try to talk to about East Bethel.”
Branding and marketing a community is not like hawking a bottle of shampoo where brand recognition is extremely important. Ady said people investing millions of dollars to locate to a community are going to want to know a lot of information such as how many rooftops are in a certain mile radius, the median household income, what are the competing or complimenting businesses, what is a property zoned, what major roads are nearby and much more.
“It’s not enough to say East Bethel is a great place to live work and play,” Ady said. “We need to get beyond that. The decision-makers that we are going to be trying to reach are going to want to have the facts behind that.”
Part of Ady Voltedge’s task for East Bethel will be to collect this information with a lot of research. Beyond the numbers, Ady Voltedge wanted to talk with the residents and business owners in East Bethel to hear more about the community from the people who live or work in it.
A peaceful community with people who value privacy. A city that is semi-rural with open space, but has potential for growth. These were the thoughts about East Bethel that some stakeholders shared at the Feb. 1 meeting. One person added that it would be important to note that there is land zoned for commercial and industrial uses.
East Bethel is right in line with the rest of Anoka County, the metropolitan area and Minnesota with regards to residents having a high school, two-year or four-year college diploma, according to statistics Ady Voltedge gathered. The stakeholders said this educated workforce presents an opportunity to businesses moving to or expanding in East Bethel.
On the flip side, low-density residential development means people have to drive farther to get to the businesses along Highway 65, some stakeholders pointed out when asked about challenges East Bethel faces in attracting developers.
Highway 65 is an asset because thousands of people drive down this corridor every day, stakeholders said. According to City Administrator Jack Davis, the corridor in 2006 had an average daily traffic count of 32,500 vehicles at the intersection of Highway 65 and Viking Boulevard.
“Highway 65 will be one of your main assets,” Ady said. “Not every community has a Highway 65 going through it.”
Highway 65 also presents challenges, some stakeholders said, because certain intersections such as Viking Boulevard need to be improved. The city needs to find ways to entice people to stop in the community rather than just drive through, one person said.
There is currently no downtown city center. There is only a plan on paper, so stakeholders said there is an opportunity for new developers to be a part of shaping this new development.
Summarizing a point a business owner made during the stakeholder meeting, Ady said if the community brings in businesses, that brings in employees and those employees will want places to shop and live.
“It’s all very connected,” Ady said with regards to the development cycle.
The economic recession is a big challenge, of course, but property owner Tom Kurak, who owns Thomas Wood Real Estate, said the current state of the economy is bringing low interest rates. These low interest rates are attractive to investors and manufacturers looking to make large moves.
The site selectors Ady talked to were hurting in 2008 and 2009 because companies were pulling back on investments. In 2010, there was activity, but mostly due to consolidation of locations. This past year there was some increase in activity in businesses looking for new sites, but it was slow growth.
“What will help this investment happen right now is low interest rates, branding, the community being OK with (development). If you have these things working together with low interest rates, a lot can happen in East Bethel in a short time,” Kurak said.
Eric Hagen is at email@example.com