Economic development directors become a must-have city position


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More Twin Cities suburbs are adding economic development directors to lure industries, boost growth and shake off their labels as bedroom communities.

The trend isn’t a new one — some larger suburbs have had the post for years — but in the postrecession economy, cities that have gone without are now hiring for the task once relegated to city managers and planners.

“Cities, more and more, are realizing they need to develop their tax base and add jobs,” said Craig Waldron, a public administration professor at Hamline University. “I think it becomes even more critical now as we come out of the recession. What’s happening is there is not going to be a lot of help from the federal government anymore.”

Economic development directors serve as liaisons to businesses in the community. They maintain relationships with existing businesses and help encourage growth by recruiting new ones.

More Minnesota communities are hiring in those roles because city administrators no longer have the time or experience, said Christie Rock Hantge, president of the Economic Development Association of Minnesota, in an e-mail.

Maple Grove’s first economic development manager started on Monday. The City Council met in February to create a plan that would address recruiting, retaining and expanding industry in the city. The city is looking to recruit not just lower-paying retailers, but companies with jobs that will help drive housing development in the city.

“We are home to a significant amount of jobs today,” said Heidi Nelson, Maple Grove city administrator. “We want to make sure those jobs stay here and we grow that sector of our economy here.”

Shakopee first hired an economic development coordinator in 2013. The city recently created a planning and development division that will oversee economic development in the city. Michael Kerski, who has a background in economic development, will take on the position of planning and development director on July 25.

Shakopee looked at economic development as a way to keep commuters from leaving the city for jobs elsewhere.

The city’s economic development coordinator, Samantha DiMaggio, said city officials can no longer sit back and allow themselves to remain bedroom communities.

“People now don’t want to drive an hour to get to work,” she said. “They want to live and work in the same communities.”

If cities want to be competitive, she said, they must offer economic development positions. DiMaggio has helped the city obtain $5 million in grants in the three years she has worked for Shakopee.

South St. Paul was once a job hub for the livestock industry. City officials are now hoping the hiring of an economic development manager for the first time will help bring jobs back to the city. City Administrator Stephen King said the manager will work to attract a new tax base and jobs.

Drawing in new businesses and redeveloping becomes a challenge for South St. Paul when issues like soil contamination pop up.

“What’s different is when you get into the newer communities, they have a lot of raw undeveloped land, so a lot of their economic development efforts are aimed at attracting new subdivisions or housing,” King said. “We are basically built out, our job is to redevelop with some challenging soils.”

Washington County took its case for economic development to the Legislature. The county needed special legislation to allow its Housing Redevelopment Authority to become an economic development authority as well. The city’s economic development director began his position in June. Kevin Corbid, deputy administrator for the county, said the economic development director will serve as a resource of support for cities wanting to create growth.

“This was a logical next step in trying to grow jobs and a tax base in Washington County and the east metro,” Corbid said.