Heather Bregel, Director of economic development

Staff photo by Daniel Olson Bregel sits in the city council chambers, where she would usually sit during an EDA meeting. As the Economic Development Director, Bregel works on and presents several agenda items for meetings.

NEW ULM — For Housing Coordinator and Economic Development Director Heather Bregel, a career in economic development wasn’t always in the cards.

Initially, she wanted to pursue elementary education and got her degree in the field. After deciding not to pursue this line of work, her next step would influence where she is today.

“I ended up working at a couple of assisted living facilities, Ridgeway on German and then Prairie Senior Cottages,” Bregel said. “In those jobs, I got experience in property management and supervision of employees. Then when this job opened up, it was similar to the experience I had in those jobs.”

Bregel started her first position with the city in Dec. 2008. Even though her previous experience helped, Bregel said her first year working with the city was a curveball.

“It was a huge learning curve, learning all of the rules with the HUD programs we administer,” she said. Getting a feel for the job and getting through that first year. I looked at it as learning, listening, and figuring things out. Not coming in and wanting to implement any big changes right away and rock the boat.”

Working as the Economic Development Director has also brought a change in the work Bregel does. On top of her usual work with the apartments and housing New Ulm manages, she now also works to ensure New Ulm businesses have the resources and information they need. She said in her first year, she reached out to over 400 businesses.

As for the biggest challenge in the economic development sphere, Bregel identified running out of funding and not being able to help New Ulm businesses.

“Whether it’s the loan programs or the grant program,” she said, “Having to tell someone who’s applying ‘I’m sorry, we’re out of funding until next year when we get renewal funds, so you’re gonna have to wait.’ That’s never an easy conversation to have.”

On the flip side, Bregel said she has enjoyed seeing the business community grow in New Ulm.

“Post COVID we’ve really seen a boom in entrepreneurship and small businesses opening up rapidly like we haven’t seen in a long time,” she said. “Driving through downtown and seeing the storefronts are filled and there aren’t a lot of empty fronts downtown.”

Working as the housing coordinator, Bregel gets to see the housing situation and everything surrounding it with a microscope. Something she’s learned from seeing New Ulm through this lens is the homeless situation and the people who are affected by it.

“You think of it as big cities where you have someone sitting on a sidewalk with their grocery cart,” Bregel said. “You don’t see homelessness that way in New Ulm. It could be families are couch hopping or they’re able to stay with a friend for a week. We do have people sometimes in tents at Flandreau but then in winter they need to find somewhere for the colder months.”

As New Ulm’s housing situation continues to evolve, Bregel said the future looks bright. In the next six months, the focus is on developing George’s Ballroom, Marktplatz, and Dreamville housing projects. In the next two years, Bregel anticipates these projects will be complete and the city can put their focus on another childcare project in the vein of Westridge.

Having grown up and spent most of her life here, Bregel has a personal stake in ensuring the continued development and success of New Ulm. For where it’s at right now, she said New Ulm is a place she is happy to work for and live in.

“I feel like there is a great quality of life in New Ulm,” she said. “Good school and park system. There are tons of things for kids and adults to do in town. “It’s a safe community. My kids could ride their bike and I didn’t have to worry like [I would] living in a larger city.”


Today's breaking news and more in your inbox

I'm interested in (please check all that apply)
Are you a paying subscriber to the newspaper?

Starting at $4.38/week.

Subscribe Today