What’s Going On: When opportunities emerge from bad news

What's Going On

For the last several weeks, New Ulm has had its fair share of, well, bad news.

There’s no other way of saying it. Can’t put lipstick on a pig. Well, you can. But it’s a whole lot of work and at the end of the day, you still have a pig.

It snows. Elkay closes. It keeps snowing. Herberger’s closes. More snow. A cat dies and the Humane Society is embroiled in controversy. More snow. Snow finally stops, and then road construction begins. Snow starts again.

I get it. Lots of bad news out there. Lots of reasons to be negative about New Ulm in general, short and long term, as a lot of people are losing their jobs and downtown has a new retail crater.

With all that gaining attention, it’s easy to lose sight of something very important: New Ulm is great.

I’m not kidding. We lose sight of the quality of life New Ulm boasts. It’s easy to do; some would call it human nature. We are simply inclined to take for granted what we don’t have to fight for every day. It could be a spouse, freedoms, or quality of life in a community like New Ulm; we simply forget how lucky we have it, especially when bad news surfaces.

Sure, Elkay means 100 fewer people working in town, or does it?

Remember, Kraft just completed a $100 million expansion that makes this town the Velveeta Capital of the Universe (could we get that on a t-shirt?). That’s bound to create additional job opportunities, and I can speak from experience how difficult it is to hire full-time employees in the current market.

We have a full-time, entry-level manager position open here at the Journal that includes a decent salary, full benefits, and paid time off yet we can’t get an application for it. Why? Because there are more jobs open than people needing them.

All of which is to say Elkay closing creates a whole new world of opportunities, and the same can be said of Herberger’s announcement.

First, it’s important to remember Herberger’s closing has nothing to do with New Ulm and is in no way a reflection or indication of a struggling local economy.

If you want an indicator of how New Ulm’s economy, and specifically, downtown is doing, you don’t need to look much farther than the list of businesses that have opened or relocated there in the last couple years.

It’s a big list. Bigger than you’d expect. Including Sozial, the new restaurant scheduled to open Friday night, it numbers 24 new businesses or offices opening and that’s just downtown in the last couple years. And there’s more coming.

And when you take a look at the types of businesses opening, a trend emerges. Bailey Creek Boutique. Inspired. Let’s Sparkle Premier Designs Jewelry. Lakes on 1st. Mona Lena Kitchen and Bar. New Ulm Community Market and Co-Op. No. 213. Retz 227. The Wellness Collective.

These aren’t your typical brick and mortar retail stores, or run-of-the-mill greasy diner (which by the way, I love). Either by design, or happenstance, New Ulm’s downtown is transforming itself right before our eyes into an arts-driven, cosmopolitan-type boutique shopping and dining destination.

With New Ulm’s unique cultural makeup, along with a strong retail base and infrastructure, there is real potential to develop downtown into a bustling retail destination.

And Herberger’s closing simply creates another opportunity to contribute to that transformation.

Maybe it’s an artist studio, a Schell’s Brewery tasting room/gift shop, a winery co-op, or something completely different that emerges. But there’s no denying a new opportunity exists.

And New Ulm is uniquely positioned to take advantage of that opportunity. There is good leadership and infrastructure, and people want to come to town. They want to tour the brewery and attend the buffet of festivals.

They also want to spend their money here.

With that big building, surely we can figure out a way to accommodate that.

Maybe I’m being náive, or foolishly optimistic, but I’m confident someone or some group of someones in this community will figure out a way to do that.

This might look like a dark day in the history of New Ulm, but I disagree. It’s the first day of something new and I’m betting that something new will be something great.

I wouldn’t expect anything less from New Ulm.


Gregory Orear is the publisher of The Journal. His award-winning weekly column, “What’s Going On,” has been published in four newspapers in three states for more than 20 years. He can be contacted at gorear@nujournal.com.