Article by: Chris Giesen
It hasn’t been any secret that there has been a lot of development excitement in southeast Minnesota the past few years. In 2017, the State of Minnesota appropriated $275,000 to CEDA to study the effects of the growth potential that is projected throughout the region.
More specifically the study would analyze the: (1) current and projected economic, fiscal, and demographic effects and issues; (2) direct and indirect costs and benefits; (3) positive and negative effects, including effects upon workforce, taxation, and transportation; and (4) economic challenges and opportunities for economic growth or diversification. Because SEMLM, administratively, is a small organization with limited resources to dedicate to such a project, they brought on CEDA to help manage the project and act as the fiscal agent. CEO/President Ron Zeigler and Vice President Chris Giesen have been assisting SEMLM Executive Director Brenda Johnson with this unique and important project.
After a search that drew interest from local, national, and international firms, CEDA and SEMLM hired the consulting group HR&A Advisors, Inc. to be the lead consultants on the project in December 2017. Officially, the project kicked-off in January 2018 and is projected to conclude in the fall of 2018. A final report is due to the Minnesota Legislature in February 2019.
On August 15, 2018 about 75 representatives from cities, counties, regional and community-focused organizations gathered at the Chatfield Center for the Arts Historic Potter Auditorium in Chatfield, Minnesota to listen and provide input on the draft report. Attendees reviewed high level findings of existing economic forecasts which are thought to be too conservative and do not include new project initiatives in the region such as Destination Medical Center (DMC) or the sharp growth in our region’s tourism industry and the study’s preliminary, updated economic forecasts.
Ultimately the project is creating an updated forecast model focused specifically on the eight county region by utilizing existing data and conservative forecasts as well as information gathered from 26 participating cities and all eight of the region’s counties during a series of focus groups, phone, and email interviews. Additional focus groups and interviews were held with representatives from regional organizations such as CEDA, Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation, Southeast Minnesota Together, Journey to Growth, Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc., and development organizations from the La Crosse, Wisconsin area. This updated model will generate detailed economic data at a county level which can then be translated to the local municipal level to estimate growth, population, jobs, housing, and much more.
In addition, participants reviewed the results of several specific initiatives that were tested using this new forecast model which looked at “what-if” scenarios. The specific initiatives included housing, migration/immigration, child care, transportation, tourism, manufacturing, and agriculture. Participants reviewed what could be possible “if” different goals were set or unmet and “what” the opportunities or consequences might be.
In the afternoon a smaller group of participants listened to representatives from the software company that is providing the forecasting model for this project and discussed potential uses of this software and model moving into the future locally, after the study is complete. There are some 6,000 potential variables that can be tapped to study our region and how it works together or how different initiatives can multiply and have a ripple effect across southeastern Minnesota.
The final report and data sets will be available free of charge to all cities to utilize once the final project is complete.