A total of 45 business owners and managers gathered the morning of May 23 to listen to city officials talk about the sewer and water project and to begin the process of formulating a local business group.
While it seemed there was no interest in an official chamber of commerce for the city of East Bethel, there was interest in having a more informal group of business people who could meet once every three months to share concerns and ideas with city leaders.
City Administrator Jack Davis said multiple times that it was important for the city and businesses to work together in order for the community to thrive.
“You are our economic base,” Davis said. “We want to work with you in every way possible to help your business prosper and help the city prosper.”
The city mailed out notices to business owners to invite them to the breakfast meeting at Route 65 Pub and Grub on a Wednesday morning (May 23). Davis said the city receptionist called those who did not respond to remind them about the meeting.
Davis encouraged everyone to fill out a contact sheet before they left so the city could keep them updated about the business group and the sewer and water project.
Kim Westman, a manager at Route 65 Pub and Grub, said it would be helpful if the city had a comprehensive list of businesses in the area, including those that operate out of their homes.
According to Davis, the city collects business names where they get permits or licenses and there are currently 311 businesses in East Bethel. The city is compiling the list and plans to post the directory on the city website as soon as possible.
“The best way to grow is to promote from within,” Westman said.
Westman would like to be able to quickly find out who the local auto mechanics or septic system people are, for example and she said she also knows of many people who have businesses out of their home in East Bethel.
For those business owners who have their own buildings, the city’s sign ordinance was an issue some raised.
American Tool Grinding’s store front faces west away from Highway 65, according to business owner Gini Stewart. She would like to get a sign on the back of her building facing toward Highway 65 so people driving by could see what is there and so her customers can easily find her.
Rockie Ramacher, who used to own Gymnastics Galaxy, likes the idea of a business group because it will give business owners an opportunity to network and discuss marketing strategies to help other businesses.
Jason Hemp, who runs an online salvage auction for recreational vehicles at www.crashtoys.com, said the philosophical change at the city council level that happened when the new people were elected has meant the most to him.
Rather than the council saying why something would not work, the new council is looking at how it can make things work for businesses, he said.
If there is an anti-business climate at city hall, it makes it tough to attract and retain businesses, Hemp said.
“It’s as much about attitude as anything else,” he said.
Mayor Richard Lawrence and Councilmembers Robert DeRoche Jr. and Heidi Moegerle were at the breakfast meeting and all encouraged the businesses to contact them or city staff if they have any concerns or questions.
Moegerle said one key point brought up by the city’s marketing and branding consultant Ady Voltedge of Madison, Wis., is the need for East Bethel to have an identity it can share with businesses considering a move to the city.
The city needs to hear from the businesses about this and she suggested a business expo at the East Bethel Ice Arena would be a successful event.
“We’re here as council people to help you,” Moegerle said. “Let us help you.”
Sewer and water
At the beginning of the meeting, Davis gave an update and answered a couple of questions about the sewer and water project. He acknowledged that it has been a controversial issue, but stressed the importance of everyone working together to make this project work.
“As far as sewer and water goes, we’re all in this together whether we like it or not,” Davis said. “We all need to be going in the same direction.”
Davis touched on a big decision the council made in March to decommission the Castle Towers wastewater treatment plant. Savings from the council choosing a less expensive water treatment plant than approved by the previous council will enable the city to construct a force main that will service the Castle Towers mobile home park, the Whispering Aspen housing development and anyone else that can assemble enough commercial or industrial development along the west side of Highway 65 to justify a lift station. Individual developments could not hook onto the force main pipe.
The water service should be available before December and the sewer service should be available by next summer, Davis said.
Dale Haider, director of operations for the East Bethel Muller Family Theater, believes that the city pushing for the sewer and water project was a good thing and it will bring other businesses once construction is done.
Curt Vetsch, owner of Central Truck Service Inc., said industrial development that brings jobs to East Bethel is what the city should be focusing on. Although there are about 32,000 vehicles driving on Highway 65 near Viking Boulevard every day, many of those people are going to and from work in Minneapolis, he said.
Without the jobs, the daytime traffic will not be high enough to draw restaurant development, Vetsch said. The restaurants he goes to in the area are usually not very busy at lunch, so these establishments have to rely on the evening crowds.
Andover Community Development Director David Carlberg has noted in multiple reports to the Andover Economic Development Authority that there are two issues facing the community in attracting sit-down restaurants. The first is not enough daytime traffic. The second issue is the lack of square footage of retail space to support a restaurant.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org