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Economic Development

As has become recent tradition for the CGMC, we will be holding an end-of-session lobby day and ice cream social to make a final push for our top priorities in the waning days of the legislative session. The event, which will be held in St. Paul on Wednesday, May 9, will give Greater Minnesota city officials and other community leaders a chance to meet with legislators and demand that they pass bills that address CGMC priorities such as LGA, wastewater infrastructure and child care.

The tentative schedule for the day is as follows:

  • 10:30 a.m. – Legislative update and messaging (Room 500 North in the State Office Building, located across the street from the State Capitol)
  • Afternoon – Meetings with legislators (attendees should make appointments with their own legislators; we may also ask some attendees to participate in additional meetings with key legislators)
  • 2-3 p.m. – Ice cream social with legislators and legislative staff (L’etoile du Nord Vault Room in the Basement of the State Capitol)

Lobby Day is FREE to attend, but we ask that you register at greatermncities.org/IceCream2018 by Monday, May 7 so that we can coordinate meetings. Free parking is available at the Flaherty & Hood office located at 525 Park St. in St. Paul, just one block from the State Capitol, as long as you print off this parking pass (which is good only for May 9) and put it on your dashboard.

We hope to get as many city officials to attend as possible! Please share this Lobby Day Flyer and encourage other city officials and staff to join us. If you have any questions, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1917.

For immediate release
Feb. 15, 2018
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com
PDF version

Legislature needs to build on progress for Greater Minnesota
LGA, infrastructure, child care among issues that demand attention this session

ST. PAUL—As the Minnesota Legislature prepares to head into session next week, Greater Minnesota city leaders are urging lawmakers to put aside the growing partisan divide and focus on the “bread and butter” issues that keep communities across the state healthy.

“The Legislature has a strong opportunity to address key issues like Local Government Aid funding, infrastructure repairs and the child care shortage. The greatest danger this session is that legislators will squander this moment of economic strength in our state,” said Bradley Peterson, executive director of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC), during a pre-session conference call with statewide media this morning.

“Legislators have a prime opportunity to build on progress made over the last couple of sessions. They can’t let partisanship or the distraction of the upcoming elections stand in the way of getting work done,” he said.

David Smiglewski, mayor of Granite Falls and president of the CGMC, added, “As city leaders and as Minnesotans, we have to demand that they stay focused, buckle down and do their jobs.”

Tax bill talks must include LGA

Leading into the session, legislators have been vocal about the need for tax bill to address issues that have sprung up due to the recent federal tax overhaul. Peterson said this focus on taxes creates an opportunity for the Legislature to address Greater Minnesota cities’ needs by passing an increase in Local Government Aid (LGA). The CGMC is seeking a permanent $30.5 million increase, the amount needed to bring LGA back to its 2002 high-water mark.

“If legislators are serious about passing a tax bill, it must include LGA,” Peterson said.

Ron Johnson has served for 18 years on the city council of Bemidji, a growing community for which LGA is particularly important because nearly half of property in the city is tax-exempt. He has seen LGA funding ebb and flow through the years and says it has a direct impact on the health of his community.

“Our city is prudent — we squeeze extra mileage out of our vehicles and try to be mindful about the amount our residents pay in fees and taxes — but we have necessary expenses. Nothing costs the same as it did in 2002 when there was more LGA to go around,” Johnson said.

The 2017 Legislature passed a modest $15 million LGA increase, which Bemidji used to hold down its property tax levy. Other communities used the extra funds on needs like fire equipment or park improvements, while numerous cities found that higher employee health insurance costs more than ate up any LGA increase.

If the Legislature passes the desired $30.5 million increase, Johnson said his city has discussed hiring a community development director — a position eliminated due to LGA cuts in the mid-2000s — to help take advantage of opportunities for economic growth. For Granite Falls, Smiglewski said an LGA increase would likely be used to replace outdated equipment.

“We have a list of needs a mile long — and we’re not talking about $100,000 waterfalls here,” Smiglewski said.

Costly water infrastructure upgrades can’t wait

Due to aging infrastructure and new water quality regulations, hundreds of cities in Greater Minnesota are currently faced with having to invest millions in expensive upgrades to their wastewater and drinking water facilities. The CGMC is requesting $167 million in bonding for state grant and loan programs that help cities meet these astronomical costs.

Little Falls is among the cities relying on a bonding bill to pass this year. The city needs to renovate its wastewater treatment plant, a project estimated to cost more than $17 million. It is currently on the list to receive a $7 million grant through the state’s Point Source Implementation Grant Program, but that money will only come into fruition if the program is funded in the bonding bill.

“If we don’t receive grant funding, our rates will nearly triple,” said City Administrator Jon Radermacher. “We have no choice but to upgrade our plant, so this funding is absolutely critical. There is no question Little Falls and other cities in our position need the Legislature to pass a bonding bill with substantial funding for water infrastructure.”

Budget constraints force cities to take a slow path on street repairs

Another infrastructure concern that has dogged cities for years is the struggle to keep up with street repairs and maintenance. The CGMC is seeking $50 million for city streets, divided equally between cities with populations greater than 5,000 and those under 5,000.

The city of Granite Falls has identified at least 27 city blocks that need be rebuilt or overlayed, a list that grows each year. Due to budget constraints, the city plans to fix only six blocks in 2018, which is estimated to cost $927,000. In contrast, the city received only $24,635 in city-street funding through the Small Cities Assistance Program, which the 2017 Legislature funded at $8 million over two years.

“Our ‘to-do list’ is long and what can actually afford to do is surprisingly short,” Smiglewski said. “We can only do a block or two here, a block or two there. It’s not very efficient.”

Cities with populations over 5,000 receive some funding through the Municipal State Aid Street (MSAS) system, but Johnson says larger cities — particularly regional centers like Bemidji, whose daytime population nearly doubles — need more resources.

“At our rate, we aren’t keeping up,” Johnson said, noting that his city is able to budget for about one mile of street repairs a year. “We try to repair the worst, but we should be doing much more.”

Child care shortage needs attention

In addition to advocating for funding for LGA and infrastructure, the CGMC also wants legislators to pay closer attention to the growing child care shortage in Greater Minnesota. For many communities, the lack of child care has become a serious barrier to economic growth.

As a father of a 3-year-old with another child on the way, Radermacher has first-hand knowledge of the problem. When he was offered the city administrator job a couple years ago, he said the “very first question” he asked was if there child care was available in Little Falls. Ultimately, he had to live away from his wife and child for three months until they were able to obtain child care in the city.

According to a needs assessment performed by First Children’s Finance, Little Falls currently has a need for 144 more child care spots, a number that jumps to 475 when counting the adjoining zip codes. Other cities in Greater Minnesota have reported similar deficits.

“We are on the cusp of a real critical issue here,” Radermacher said. “I know people who won’t take a job because they can’t find child care. Businesses want to come here or expand, but it’s hard to do that when the workforce has child care needs.”

The CGMC is supporting legislation that provides funding to the state’s initiative foundations to encourage more in-home child care providers. It also hopes the Legislature will further explore the causes of the shortage and review whether there are any onerous or unnecessary regulations that may be preventing people from entering into the child care businesses.

“The child care shortage is a complex issue and it’s not going to be solved in one session,” Peterson said. “Legislators need to know that this is not just a family issue, it’s also an economic development issue.”

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The Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization representing 96 cities outside of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. The Coalition educates legislators about issues important to Greater Minnesota. Visit the CGMC online at greatermncities.org and follow us on Twitter @greatermncities.

 

Thank you to everyone who attended the CGMC Fall Conference last week at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center. More than 100 city leaders representing 50 cities attended the conference — a record attendance!

The conference kicked off Thursday afternoon with a presentation by Marnie Werner, acting director of the Center for Rural Policy, on their study titled “A Quiet Crisis: Minnesota’s Child Care Shortage.” You can watch video of her presentation here and read her Power Point presentation here.

After Werner’s presentation, we delved further into the issues surrounding Greater Minnesota’s child care shortage with a panel discussion featuring Nancy Jost, early childhood coordinator for West Central Initiative; Tim Penny, president and CEO of the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation; Jessica Beyer, business development specialist for First Children’s Finance; and Amanda Benda, director of Little Huskies Daycare Center & Preschool in Jackson, Minn. The discussion was moderated by Dan Dorman, executive director of the Greater Minnesota Partnership. Each panelist provided a unique perspective on the issue and offered suggestions on ways city leaders can be more involved in developing solutions. You can watch the panel discussion here.

Broadband was also an important topic at the conference. Bill Coleman, president of Community Technology Advisors and a consultant for the Blandin Foundation, informed attendees about where broadband access stands in Greater Minnesota and outlined the economic impact of world-class broadband infrastructure. You can watch Coleman’s presentation here and read his Power Point Presentation here.
After Coleman’s presentation, CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson moderated a legislative panel discussion featuring Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), Rep. Ben Lien (DFL-Moorhead) and Rep. Jeff Howe (R-Rockville). The panelists discussed the impact of the 2017 legislative session and plans for 2018. The conversation touched on issues such as transportation, bonding and the ongoing lawsuit between the Legislature and Gov. Dayton.

The afternoon was capped by another panel discussion, this one on the role of elected officials in labor and employee relations. Brandon Fitzsimmons, an attorney with Flaherty & Hood, moderated a discussion featuring Waite Park City Administrator Shaunna Johnson, Alexandria City Administrator Marty Schultz and Moorhead City Manager Chris Volkers in which they talked about the “productive” and “unproductive” involvement of elected officials in dealing with unions and personnel issues.

In the evening, attendees enjoyed a cocktail reception and dinner followed by an entertaining and informative quiz show led by the award-winning Theater of Public Policy. During the show, three teams squared off against each other in a battle to see who knew the most about random Greater Minnesota trivia, the history of LGA and other various topics. To the audience’s surprise, Team Lobbyist (Flaherty & Hood lobbyists Tim Flaherty and Marty Seifert) ultimately bested Team Mayor (Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski and Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson) and Team Administrator (Slayton City Administrator Josh Malchow and Virginia City Administration Britt See-Benes) to take the quiz show crown.

In addition to speakers and presentations, the conference also included a membership meeting on Friday morning during which members discussed and adopted the CGMC’s 2018 legislative policy positions. To review the adopted positions, click on the following subject areas: Annexation & Land Use, Economic Development, Environment & Energy, LGA & Property Taxes and Transportation. You can also read more about the top priorities for the upcoming legislative in this CGMC Press Release that was sent to the media at the conclusion of the conference.

Thanks again to everyone who attended our 2017 Fall Conference! Please check out the photo gallery on our Facebook page to see pictures from the conference.

For Immediate Release
Nov. 17, 2017
Contact: Julie Liew, jlliew@flaherty-hood.com 

A PDF version of this press release is available here.                                                                            

Greater Minnesota city leaders to state lawmakers: Now is not the time to press the pause button

ALEXANDRIA, MINN.— As the legal fight over funding for the Legislature drags on and the 2018 governor’s race heats up, Greater Minnesota city leaders are urging lawmakers to keep their focus on the upcoming legislative session and not fall prey to distractions. 

More than 100 other city officials from throughout Greater Minnesota convened in Alexandria this week for the CGMC’s annual two-day fall conference. At the event, CGMC members adopted the organization’s policy positions and discussed legislative priorities for the 2018 legislative session. While a bonding bill, local government aid (LGA) and city streets were among the top issues, city leaders also stressed the importance of making sure legislators stay on task.

“Now is not the time to press the pause button,” said Granite Falls Mayor Dave Smiglewski, who serves as president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (CGMC). “Greater Minnesota still has a lot of unaddressed needs. We are counting on our legislators to stay focused on their jobs and their commitment to strengthening our communities.”

Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson voiced concern that with an election looming, legislators may be more interested in touting accomplishments from last session than passing new legislation in 2018.

“The Legislature may have passed tax, transportation and bonding bills last year, but that doesn’t mean their job is done for the biennium,” said Bemidji City Councilor Ron Johnson. “Truth is, the progress made in 2017 only scratches the surface when it comes to meeting all of the ongoing and growing needs in our city and others in Greater Minnesota.”

City officials who attended the conference agreed that a bonding bill likely poses the best hope for passing a piece of major legislation in 2018, noting that many legislators have voiced a desire for a large public works bill to make key investments in the state’s infrastructure. While each city has its own individual needs, a recurring theme throughout Greater Minnesota is the need for additional state bonding dollars to help repair or replace aging waste water treatment facilities.

In addition to bonding, the CGMC plans to advocate for an LGA increase to help cities make up for inflation and increasing costs, as well as funding to assist with much-needed repairs to city streets. There are also a number of issues on the horizon that the CGMC hopes the Legislature will keep on its radar, including the impact a national tax overhaul could have on local communities and the growing child care shortage in Greater Minnesota.

“Legislators and the Governor will have plenty of work to cram into a few short weeks,” Smiglewski said. “Residents of Greater Minnesota expect our state leaders to set their squabbles aside, buckle down and pass legislation that will invest in the future of our communities.”

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Each fall, CGMC members work together to shape the Coalition’s policy positions for the upcoming legislative session. Policy committees will be convening by conference call in October and early November to draft recommendations which will be discussed and voted on by the full membership at the Fall Conference Nov. 16-17. Serving on a policy committee is a great way to contribute to the work of the CGMC. Please contact the appropriate staff member listed below if you are interested in serving on one or more of the committees. The exact meeting dates and times will be determined soon.

There are only a few weeks left in the legislative session, but lawmakers are still far from reaching agreements on top issues like LGA, bonding, transportation, workforce housing and environmental regulatory reform. It’s apparent that we need to make an extra push in these remaining days of session to demand that legislators take action to address the needs and concerns of Greater Minnesota communities. To relay this message, we are asking all Greater Minnesota city officials and community leaders to join us for a special CGMC Lobby Day and Ice cream on Thursday, May 11.

The tentative schedule for the day is as follows:

  • 10 a.m. – Legislative status update and messaging (Room 500 South in the State Office Building, located across the street from the State Capitol)
  • 11 a.m. – Press Conference on Greater Minnesota issues (State Capitol Press Conference Room B971)
  • Afternoon – Meetings with legislators (attendees should make appointments with their own legislators; we may also ask some attendees to participate in additional meetings with key legislators)
  • 2-3 p.m. – Ice cream social with legislators and legislative staff (tentatively scheduled to be held in the basement of the State Capitol)

Lobby Day is FREE to attend, but we ask that you RSVP to RSVP@flaherty-hood.com by Tuesday, May 9. Free parking is available at the Flaherty & Hood office located at 525 Park St. in St. Paul, just one block from the State Capitol.

We hope to get as many city officials to attend as possible! Please share this Lobby Day Flyer and encourage other city officials and staff to join us.

If you have any questions, please contact Julie Liew at jlliew@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1917.

The Legislature’s Easter/Passover break begins this weekend and lasts until April 18. Since many legislators head back to their home districts during the break, it is an ideal time to touch in with them and make your voices heard!

As the House and Senate prepare for conference committees and negotiations during the final seven weeks of the legislative session, it is critical that Greater Minnesota city leaders continue to speak up. Let your legislators know that CGMC priorities are important to your community and that you expect them to fight for these priorities to be included in the final deals.

Please take the following actions as soon as you can:

1. Pass a resolution urging the Legislature and Governor to return LGA to its 2002 level. See this sample resolution that you can customize to your own city’s circumstances. In addition to the decision-makers named at the bottom of the resolution, also send a copy to CGMC staff member Shane Zahrt at sazahrt@flaherty-hood.com. We will keep a running list of cities that pass a resolution.

2. Meet with your legislators. Call your senator’s and representative’s office this week to set up a meeting with them during the legislative break. If you are unable to meet in person, schedule a phone meeting instead. You can find contact info for your legislators here.  Please address the following topics during the meeting:

  • The Legislature and Governor must pass a tax bill this year that includes an LGA increase of $45.5 million. Despite significant growth in the state’s budget since 2002, LGA still lags behind. LGA plays an important role in restraining property taxes and helping cities provide important services to residents and businesses.
  • The Legislature and Governor must agree on a bonding bill that funds critical infrastructure across the state. With the failure to agree on a bonding bill last year, work on critical infrastructure has been stalled. The CGMC strongly supports $167 million for clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs, as well as $15 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program that helps pay for the public infrastructure needed for private business growth.
  • Fund city streets. The CGMC strongly supports $50 million in funding for city streets, with $25 million for cities with populations under 5,000 and $25 million for cities with populations over 5,000.
  • Pass at least $200 million a year in funding for the Corridors of Commerce program with cash as well as bond proceeds. Corridors of Commerce helps fund expansion of critical interregional corridors whose bottlenecks inhibit the flow of goods and services important to the economy of the whole state.

If you have any questions about these action items, CGMC priorities or the legislative session, please contact CGMC Executive Director Bradley Peterson at bmpeterson@flaherty-hood.com or 651-259-1911. 

Below is statement from CGMC President and Alexandria Mayor Sara Carlson regarding Gov. Dayton’s $1.5 billion bonding proposal, which was unveiled this morning. A PDF version of Carlson’s statement is available here.

“We absolutely agree with the Governor that there should be a robust bonding bill this session. Our cities cannot wait until 2018 to make these critical investments.

“We are particularly glad that the Governor’s bonding proposal includes $167 million for grant and loan programs that help cities pay for necessary repairs and upgrades to their water treatment facilities. Clean water is an essential part of a healthy community and we are pleased the Governor recognizes that cities need more financial assistance from the state to ensure that all Minnesotans continue to have access to this fundamental need.

“Another positive inclusion in the Governor’s bonding plan is $21 million for the Greater Minnesota Business Development Public Infrastructure (BDPI) Grant Program. With the help of BDPI grants, more than 100 cities in Greater Minnesota have been able to welcome new businesses and see others expand, all while adding new jobs and increasing the tax base.

“The clean water infrastructure grant and loan programs and the BDPI program have received strong bipartisan support in the past and were included in last year’s final bonding bills. We hope this support continues and that the Legislature makes passing a bonding bill this year a top priority.”

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Thank you to everyone who attended the CGMC Fall Conference last week at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center! Due to the forecast predicting a blizzard for much of the state, the CGMC Board made a last-minute decision to condense the two-day conference into one action-packed day on Thursday, Nov. 17. Despite the threatening weather, more than 85 city leaders representing 44 cities attended the conference. We appreciate everyone’s flexibility and patience as we juggled agenda items around to fit almost everything into less than eight hours!

Minnesota Department of Transportation Commissioner Charles Zelle kicked off the conference Thursday afternoon with a presentation on the transportation needs facing our state and the ways city leaders can work together to help convince the Legislature to invest more money into transportation. You can watch video of his speech here and read his Power Point presentation here.

After Zelle’s presentation, CGMC lobbyist Bradley Peterson provided an in-depth analysis of the 2016 election and what it could mean for Greater Minnesota issues this legislative session. Peterson then moderated a panel discussion on the topic of legislative reform featuring legislators Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), Sen. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), Rep. Tim O’Driscoll (R-Sartell) and Rep. Mike Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park). Later that afternoon, University of Minnesota educator Ryan Pesch gave a presentation on “Rewriting the Rural Narrative” and led small-group discussions on ways communities can welcome and attract newcomers.

In the evening, attendees were treated to an entertaining and informative presentation by Washington Post reporter Chris Ingraham. Ingraham is the reporter who got Minnesotans riled up last year when he wrote an article that named Red Lake County “America’s Worst Place to Live” (based on data from the “national amenities index”) and then further raised eyebrows when he decided to move to Red Lake Falls in May of this year. Ingraham talked about his transition from living in an urban area near Washington D.C. to small-town Minnesota and the challenges and opportunities it has afforded him and his family. He also shared ideas about how communities can attract more residents by promoting benefits such as short commutes, job openings, telecommuting options and low home prices. You can read more about Ingraham’s presentation in this article from the Alexandria Echo Press.

In addition to speakers and presentations, the conference also included a membership meeting in which members discussed and voted on the 2017 legislative policy positions. To review the adopted positions, click on the following subject areas: Annexation & Land Use, Economic Development, Environment & Energy, LGA & Property Taxes and Transportation. You can also read more about the top priorities for the upcoming legislative in this CGMC press release that was sent to the media at the conclusion of the conference.

Thanks again to everyone who attended the conference – it was a great event despite the shortened time! Please check out the photo gallery on our Facebook page to see pictures from the conference.

A lot of things are going well for Greater Minnesota right now — unemployment is low and many communities are experiencing business and population growth. However, concerns remain. Cities are feeling the financial squeeze caused by years of stagnant LGA funding, projects are at a standstill due to the lack of a bonding bill, and the state still has no real plan to address the millions of dollars in transportation needs in Greater Minnesota.

We will explore these and many other topics at the CGMC Fall Conference, which will be held Thursday, Nov. 17-Friday, Nov. 18 at Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center in Alexandria. To register, fill out this registration form and email, mail or fax it to the listed contact. Please register by Nov. 9.

A few of the agenda highlights include:

  • Washington Post reporter Chris Ingraham will provide the keynote address. Ingraham ignited a firestorm in Minnesota last year when he wrote an article that named Red Lake Falls “America’s Worst Place to Live” — then he made the surprising decision to move there! He will share his observations and experiences as an “outsider” who moved to a small town in Greater Minnesota, and also share ideas on how communities can be more welcoming to newcomers and draw in more residents and visitors.
  • MnDOT Commissioner Charles Zelle will discuss the state’s transportation needs and provide insight on how the state can move forward on a long-term comprehensive funding plan.
  • U of M Extension Educator Ryan Pesch will discuss research that shows many rural cities are actually experiencing a “brain gain” — an increase in adults ages 30-49 who move to Greater Minnesota to raise their families — and other positive trends for rural Minnesota that are occurring under the radar.
  • CGMC senior lobbyist Bradley Peterson will provide analysis of the Nov. 8 election and how the results could impact Greater Minnesota.
  • CGMC staff will provide information on ways city leaders can work together to promote and protect LGA in the upcoming year.
  • CGMC members will adopt the CGMC’s legislative policy positions and priorities for the 2017 legislative session.

Note that attendees are responsible for booking their own hotel rooms. A block of rooms is reserved for the CGMC at a rate of $94 a night. Call Arrowwood at 320-762-1124 to make a reservation.

If you have any questions about the conference, please contact Julie Liew at 651-259-1917 or jlliew@flaherty-hood.com. We hope to see you there!