A Natural Resource for Business

Chisago County, MN
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

Chisago County is home to a population of over 53,000 highly skilled workers, seventy-eight percent of whom travel outside of the county each day for employment. With an abundance of natural assets and a growing economic base in Chisago County, the goal is to bring some of those quality jobs into the county, saving the commute.
Chisago County is known as a day trip destination as it is a short drive north of the Twin Cities: Minneapolis–Saint Paul. The county is situated amongst beautiful lakes and rivers, including the picturesque St. Croix River and offers a quiet alternative to the fast-paced, nearby metropolis.

The Chisago County Housing and Redevelopment Authority-Economic Development Authority (HRA-EDA) is celebrating twenty-five years this year. It has been working hard to market the county’s assets: rich natural resources, abundant recreational opportunities, good school systems and an overall great quality of life. The HRA-EDA is capitalizing on opportunities to bring balanced development and prosperity to the county.

The mission of the Chisago County HRA-EDA is to improve the commercial tax base and it has been doing this by aiding existing businesses while attracting new development. It offers the space, resources and support systems necessary to facilitate development and has been experiencing results from those efforts.

Serving as a Small Business Development Center (SBDC) for the county, the authority makes business growth and retention in Chisago County a priority. The Chisago County HRA-EDA provides financial and technical assistance to existing and potential businesses, matching them with the local workforce and available real estate.

Chisago County has a vision for redevelopment that preserves the county’s rich history in the downtown areas, while maintaining the presence of agricultural land in homage to the economic foundation of the county. It feels that it is critical to develop carefully to preserve the quality of life in the county.

“We certainly have to pay attention to the agricultural base and where we came from because that is the history of this county,” says Jim Stein, chair of the HRA-EDA. “But, you know, future development and jobs will come from bringing in industry.” The various communities in the county are working hard to establish that balance.

“They are working hard to preserve their main streets and the heritage and what was here before. Certainly the industrial parks are outside the downtown area, so we believe we have a pretty good balance of maintaining the history and where we come from and attracting business and jobs that are here.”

“There is a nice mix of maintaining the heritage and history as well as redevelopment,” reiterated Nancy Hoffman, the HRA-EDA’s executive director. Hoffman works closely with municipal economic development organizations, and she facilitates the Chisago County Summit to decide how to execute a strategic economic vision for the county.

“Our best asset is the balance we have in this county between industry and agriculture, tourism and recreation. We have a lot of possibilities here,” Stein explained. There are seven industrial sites throughout the county. The Interstate Business Park of North Branch has over two hundred acres of industrial land, containing large parcels with great access and connectivity to both customers and suppliers via I-35 and short line rail, making it an ideal location for manufacturing.

Major employers located in Chisago County include the research and development facility for Polaris Industries, injection molded component manufacturer Plastech Corporation, marine manufacturer Premier Pontoons, emergency response vehicle manufacturer Rosenbauer America and the Minnesota Department of Corrections-Rush City. Chisago County is also home to an extensive supply chain which supports existing manufacturers and serves as an additional incentive for potential companies interested in relocating to the county.

Health care is a dominant sector of the county’s economy. The largest health employer in Chisago County is Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation which has been a mainstay in the community for decades and a national leader in addiction recovery. Fairview Clinics is located in the county as are over eighty other healthcare facilities and additional growth is expected moving forward.

Solar energy is a growing interest in Chisago County. The county is investing in a solar garden to be installed at an existing industrial park. This investment is being made with the intention of using the resulting power to support the construction and operation of a planned jail to be constructed nearby.

“There’s Xcel Energy, one of the utility companies, who has put out [requests for proposal] for large scale solar farm projects,” said Hoffman. “We have some good land for that, which isn’t necessarily good land for farming because it’s very sandy.” One solar garden will be located on an eight-hundred-acre site that is prime land for solar energy production.

“We are looking at more of a targeted marketing approach to attracting businesses, and that varies around the county to some extent based on the type of land that’s available or what makes sense for that area,” she said. Chisago County is more heavily populated in the south, with recreational areas and natural beauty to the east and the I-35 corridor to the west.

“We do encourage growth along the I-35 corridor for those businesses with transportation needs,” explained Stein. “We certainly want some economic development on the eastern portion where you have to pay a lot of attention to the natural settings that are there, and, of course, in the south. There is a much better base of employable people to the north.”

To further support the county’s growth, Chisago County has become part of the Blandin Broadband Communities program. This effort aims to bolster rural internet access via sustainable broadband adoption to improve digital literacy skills and enable individuals and communities to thrive in the highly connected global marketplace.

“We’ve been undeveloped up until this point, so the availability of the resources and a population ready to work is here,” Stein stated. The quality of life and picturesque setting in Chisago County is definitely a reason to live in and visit the area, but the consolidated efforts of county and municipal officials, with the support of state initiatives, makes it a great place to work and invest in as well.

With four seasons of fun, Chisago County has something to offer for everyone, especially in the fall when the changing leaves act as the perfect backdrop along the St. Croix River. Local parks provide public access to sixteen miles of hard surfaced trail, perfect for hiking, biking or skating enthusiasts and a variety of family-friendly spaces.

Whether out on the lakes or rivers or exploring the county, Chisago County makes for a great outdoor recreation destination. Residents and visitors alike have access to golfing, skiing, camping, water parks, historical tours, festivals and celebrations of local arts and culture. There are also amenities such as wineries, retail options and a wealth of culinary offerings.

Chisago Lakes Areas, made up of five cities in Chisago County is in the running for America’s Best Communities after being short-listed as one of fifty finalists. This competition, a joint effort by Frontier Communications and Dish Network, offers $10 million to “stimulate growth and revitalization in small cities and rural towns across twenty-seven states served by Frontier. The initiative challenges communities nationwide to showcase a sense of place, commitment to economic vitality and entrepreneurial spirit.

Being on the short list means that Chisago is receiving a $35,000 grant and a corporate sponsor that will provide a $15,000 grant match, as well as technical assistance and expertise for the second round of the contest, and Chisago County is ready for round two. The eight semi-finalists receive a $100,000 grant and moving onto the finals.

The first, second, and third place winners will be selected on an ability to achieve tangible economic impacts, winning $3, $2 and $1 million respectively to further successful development initiatives. Being selected in the top fifty is an achievement in itself, recognizing Chisago County’s potential and leaving it even more optimistic for what is to come.

Competing at this level is a testament to the leadership and initiatives being undertaken in Chisago County and recognizes its ability to engage community stakeholders in executing its vision for the future.



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