Harmony EDA has productive year with state trail development, business and housing growth

By : 
Melissa Vander Plas
News Leader

During the February Harmony City Council meeting, Chris Giesen from the economic development authority (EDA) updated the council on what the board accomplished during 2018.

Led by Chris Skaalen as board president and Giesen as the EDA director contracted by the city through CEDA, the board also consists of Steve Donney, Deb Swenson, Andy Batstone and Kerry Kingsley.

The EDA meets regularly the first Thursday of each month at 7:30 a.m. at the Harmony Community Center.

Perhaps the biggest accomplishment in 2018 was the result of the EDA’s work with city officials and community members to bring a state trail extension to Harmony. Together they lobbied the state legislature to advance the $1.5 million bonding bill that would acquire and build the state trail extension to the Iowa border with a spur to the Niagara Cave.

In addition to receiving the $1.5 million, an additional $235,000 was received through a state appropriation to acquire the trail corridor land as a part of the 2018 bonding bill, stemming from the grant application to the Legislative-Citizen Council on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR).

To do that, Giesen said there were 24 meetings held with Minnesota legislators in both the House and Senate.

The project was also awarded a $15,000 grant from the Harmony Area Community Foundation to assist with land acquisition for the trail corridor.

“This was a big achievement for all of us,” Giesen said. “It was accomplished with work from a lot of volunteers.”

He anticipates the design work for the trail to take place this year with construction to begin soon after.

Experience Harmony

In 2018, the EDA also hosted several Experience Harmony meetings in which community members highlighted concerns and dreams for the city.

This process included surveying the residents and analyzing those results with the community helping prioritize future goals.

Giesen explained the EDA developed and implemented six strategic community goals, which included telling Harmony’s story, housing, transportation, environmental sustainability, lodging and amenities and technology.

Business development

One of the main functions of the EDA is to support and develop the business community within Harmony.

In 2018, the EDA hosted a groundbreaking ceremony and media event for Harmony Spirits Distillery. Current plans include a spring opening this year.

Promoting the community’s industry, and based on initiatives discussed during Experience Harmony, the EDA initiated discusses between the chamber of commerce and Harmony Enterprises to locate a Smart Pack trash container at the visitors center with the purpose of displaying to tourists the technology and equipment manufactured in Harmony.

Through the revolving loan fund, Giesen said businesses can apply for gap financing to help acquire buildings, build inventory or renovate buildings. He noted the EDA approved a loan of $7,700 for a new business to acquire a building. In the loan portfolio, Giesen noted $55,000 in repayments were made during 2018.

He also noted there are currently 15 loans on the books with a total principal amount of $365,810.47. The average loan amount is $24,387.36. The EDA currently has $90,000 available for lend.

In general business assistance, Giesen said he met with 37 individual current and/or prospective businesses in regards to projects, issues, programs, business planning, financial packaging and other general assistance.

Housing

The EDA’s new home construction rebate program was utilized five times with rebates totally $48,750, creating $1,154,352 in new home value.

Giesen also noted that the incentives created a nation-wide media response, with articles published in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, CNBC, Truilia.com and Realtor.com. “It’s creating a good buzz,” he added. “People are thinking positively about our community.”

Other projects

Other business highlighted in the annual report included assisting Dairyland Power, working on community marketing and working to obtain grants for the community.

Giesen noted the EDA approved an option to purchase contract for property in the industrial park for Dairyland Power in support of a new maintenance building.

The EDA also started the process with local volunteers to locate, build and install the third “Welcome to Harmony” sign at the south entrance to town on Highway 139.

“We would like some volunteers and handymen,” Giesen said.

Working with the chamber of commerce, the EDA is also working on the creation of a new community marketing video and digital marketing campaign.

“We want to do some community development,” Giesen said. “We want to promote a ‘move to, work in’ Harmony message, targeting the younger demographics. We’d talk about the school district and things we offer for quality of life.”

City Administrator Jerome Illg also noted the marketing plan would include YouTube ads, using video and paring it down to small clips to play on social media.

“We’re doing a trial run this year with a limited budget,” Giesen added.

In other grant awards, the EDA was awarded $10,000 from the Small Town Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation to support the Harmony Freenotes Music Park project discussed in Experience Harmony. It also received $10,000 from the Harmony Area Community Foundation to assist the Harmony Park Board in repairing the municipal outdoor basketball courts. Finally, the EDA was awarded a $2,260 grant from the Harmony Area Community Foundation to assist the city to place garbage receptacles in public spaces on Main Street.

The EDA also decertified the industrial park TIF district (Antique Mall and Oak Meadow Meats) adding $695,100 in new taxable value.

Into the new year

Giesen noted the EDA, Harmony City Council and Fillmore Central School Board will be meeting jointly on Tuesday, March 12, to discuss common goals that could result in collaboration between the entities.

A similar meeting was held last year and several issues have been accomplished and organized as a result, including baseball and football field improvements and a new parking lot at the community center to accommodate the relocation of the baseball field.