Business Action Teams report on their activities, issues

NEW ULM–The New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce hosted the monthly meeting of its four Business Action Teams (BAT) Friday.

Updates were given for the Riverside Development Advisory Group, Workforce Development and Downtown Action Team.

The Downtown Action Team had the most projects and programs in the works. Retail Service Specialist Cara Knauf said the Downtown Action Team’s recent focus has been on the downtown garlands. The city has been seeking opinions on the holiday garland display.

A one year agreement allowed the garlands to be place this last season, but a new arrangement will be needed for 2019.

“If we don’t do the traditional garland, what are we going to do? Who is going to pay for it and who is going to lead the charge?” Knauf said. No official decision has been reached as community input is still needed.

Other goals of the downtown team is to give Minnesota Street a new look through bench plaques and signage.

The team will be applying for a New Ulm Area Foundation grant for parking signs. Knauf said it would help residents and guests find the public parking, which is not clearly marked.

The plan is to coordinate the new signs with new city banners. A committee is preparing to meet in regards to new city banners. The size and cost of the new banners remains under discussion and will be coordinated along with the new signs.

A possible building facade program is being discussed. The program is an incentive for building owners to at least maintain the front of their building to a good standard.

Knauf said a retail challenge is being considered. This contest is conducted through Minnesota Main Street and encourages entrepreneurs to open businesses downtown.

In other cities where these contests were held, the winner of the contest could receive a large incentive to start the business, such as free rent, free electrical services, remodeling services or donations from other New Ulm entities.

Recently, pop-up stores were suggested as a method of filing empty store fronts.

Knauf said “we have 10 empty buildings downtown and we would love to get something in there at least temporarily.”

In addition, a downtown assessment will be conducted in the fall. It will focus on survey and focus groups to determine what people want to be in the community.

Riverside Park

New Ulm School Superintendent Jeff Bertrang gave a brief update on the Riverside Park Development efforts. He said the top priority for Riverside Park is get the handicap assessable observation deck in place on the historic Franklin Schoolhouse. A concept design needs to come before multiple agencies before approval, including the Historical Preservation Committee.

Most of the focus on Riverside Park has revolved around the Franklin building at this time. Some interior work is being conducted during the winter months.

Riverside Park has strong ties to New Ulm’s history and the Riverside Development committee is planning to erect a display of the “Otter” riverboat that once traveled up and down the Minnesota River. The city still has the boiler from the Otter and it could be included in the park.

One of the longterm goals of the team is to add Riverside Park to the Minnesota River trail system. The idea is to link the trails in Minnecon Park to the trails at the former Putting Green facility.

Other goals of the committee is to create a picnic shelter with restroom facilities in the park.

Workforce Development

For the Workforce Development, Chamber President Audra Shaneman said the Business Education Network (BEN) is holding its meeting Feb. 12. This group would coordinate efforts for reaching out to students about area careers.

Bertrang said there are numerous components to BEN and it is actually the combination of multiple initiatives. The idea is to get the local businesses involved to help promote local career options.

Shaneman said there was a plan to hold multiple Hot Topic events in March about the four Business Action teams. In addition to Downtown, Riverside and Workforce teams there is a Housing Initiative Team.

It was suggested the Downtown Action Team could support its own Hot Topic. The topic of the downtown garlands alone could generate plenty of discussion as many in New Ulm had passionate opinions on the holiday display.

The Business Action Teams were formed following New Ulm’s 2020 Visioning conference of 2016. In the two years since, certain committees created at the Visioning Conference folded, while other combined efforts and continued.

“I think these are the four best opportunity or the four most pivotal,” Shaneman said. The purpose of this meeting was to communicate what the groups are doing. Each of the teams continues to look for new members.

The Business Action Teams meet at noon the on the first Friday of the month. The four groups are all looking for new people to assist with the program.