NEW ULM — The Economic Development Authority (EDA) board discussed priorities and strategies in 2020 and what would be prioritized in 2021 and beyond.
The EDA has made an effort to get out of housing and in 2020. The board sold the remaining eight lots in the Milford Heights 1st Addition.
Under business attraction, the limited loan program was expanded. For business retention, the board increased the maximum commercial rehab loans and developed multiple COVID relief programs.
Federal grant applications were submitted for the Independent School District 88 Career and Technical Education (CTE) Center. The EDA approved $100,000 for the CTE Center.
Going forward in 2021 the board identified several priorities. The availability of daycare and childcare training was an immediate need.
Board president Daniel Braam said having childcare training classes was a small thing but could have a large impact on the community. He suggested getting some first aid and CPR training locally.
The EDA listed the acquisition and rehab of a building to lease to childcare providers as an immediate goal.
Councilor and EDA board member Les Schultz suggested identifying the current childcare needs. He said new daycare providers start every year and some retire every year and he wanted to know the current statistics.
Schultz said daycare shortages were a problem a few years ago.
Board member Sue Fix said the COVID pandemic was keeping more parents at home, which might have reduced the need for daycare over the last year.
Braam asked if a daycare study had previously been conducted.
Schultz said a few years ago a committee was formed to study the daycare crisis and Brown County provided information to the city.
Braam supported an assessment of daycare.
City Councilor and EDA board member Andrea Boettger said the daycare crisis was still an issue even if people have stopped talking about it as much. Boettger believed that many of the EDA’s other priorities like increasing family housing and business attraction would increase the need for daycare.
Schultz said four years the group studying the daycare issue attended a meeting in Owatonna on how to increase daycare in a local community. One of the suggestions was looking at church basements. Churches often have extra space with foodservice and bathroom facilities. Other options were adding on to current facilities.
Housing was a priority the board wanted to keep an eye on. Schultz said when the New Ulm Chamber of Commerce surveyed the local high school students on where they want to live in New Ulm, almost all said downtown. Many want to live above the downtown businesses. However, the apartment spaces above some of the downtown businesses need repairs. Schultz asked if it was possible to help with rehabilitation.
City Manager Chris Dalton agreed the apartment spaces above the downtown businesses were in rough shape and was not certain of the EDA had the necessary funding to rehabilitate these spaces. He said it might be possible to bring in a consultant to show downtown business owners what could be done with their apartment space. He believed the rehabilitation of one apartment could spur other development.
The list of EDA priorities is a living document that the board will adjust as needed.
The board approved a $100,000 transfer from the Garden Terrace Fund to the EDA fund. In November the EDA approved a $100,000 contribution to Independent School District 88 for a CTC Center. This transfer will replenish the amount paid to the district.
The board also allocated $50,000 for the Small Business Incentive Grant Program in 2021. The program is designed to support new small businesses in New Ulm with their start-up expenses during their first year of operation. The grant reimburses owners for eligible expenses up to $10,000 per business. All five grants were funded during 2020. This $50,000 allocation will replenish the fund for this year.
Schultz asked if the 2020 funds were spent quickly and inquired if the demand for this grant was high.
Dalton said the last grant was given at the end year. Part of the requirements for the grant is the business must be open for a least three months. The program has only been in place since 2019. The money allocated to the program has met demand and has been distributed to a variety of new businesses including a daycare.
Schultz made the motion to approve the $50,000 allocation but asked to bring this issue back if demand for the grant rose. Schultz was willing to add more funds to the program if it encourages the growth of new businesses.
Braam agreed that this grant program might have more interest this year with continuing economic issues.