Cottage Grove, Minnesota
Continuity and Community
Business View interviews representatives of Cottage Grove, Minnesota for our focus on Growth & Economic Development in U.S. Cities
The people of Cottage Grove, Minnesota are a resilient lot and don’t let a little hardship get them down. “Cottage Grove is what I would categorize as a very family-oriented community and the best example of that was what we did during the COVID situation,” says Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey. “The number of people that were reaching out to help others was, by far, one of the most amazing things that I’ve seen in my time being Mayor and on council for the City of Cottage Grove.”
Rather than allow themselves to be beaten down by the COVID-19 pandemic, the city of 38,000 southeast of St. Paul took it as an opportunity to come together – even if they had to be apart. “We actually did make the COVID experience a really positive one for our community,” says Scott Seroka, Communications Manager for the city. “It’s something I think the Mayor and the City Administrator are quite proud of.”
During stay-at-home orders, police officers and firefighters offered wellness visits for families who needed help checking in on loved ones. They also helped residents celebrate birthdays and milestones by putting their police squads, fire rigs, and plow trucks to good use for drive-by parades. And the city’s Public Works Department got together to hang 35 banners throughout the city to celebrate the high school seniors who couldn’t take part in their graduation ceremonies.
The police department even made a viral video to help shine a spotlight on those businesses that were forced to close. “When hair salons and barber shops were closed, they did a great job of making a funny video lamenting the challenges of meeting the PD haircut protocols during closure,” says City Administrator Jennifer Levitt. “It was a great time for them to highlight those small businesses in our community. We just found ways that we could get through this together.”
The city helped support small businesses by providing more than $180,000 in grant funding for businesses to meet payroll and rent needs. They refunded portions of liquor licenses for 2020 and didn’t require them to be paid for 2021, and offered a handy list to residents filled with names and phone numbers of restaurants offering take-out options. Even the community got in on the action. Local florist Rustic Floral created and donated flower bouquets to seniors centers, and more than 1,700 masks were donated by city residents to those in need. “We’ve really built on that sense of family and caring for one another in our community, and that’s been very positive,” says Levitt.
When the pandemic threatened to put a damper on the holiday season, the city sponsored a few happenings to bolster enthusiasm and a feeling of community spirit. They set out boxes for letters to Santa at City Hall, hosted a Santa Chair featuring decorated trees where people could take Christmas selfies and held a drive-thru holiday light tour. “I’ll let you in on a little secret,” Levitt confesses. “The Mayor is affectionately known as ‘Mayor Christmas’ around here, so we couldn’t let the holiday cheer not be spread last year.”
And the spirit building didn’t stop with the holidays. During warmer months, they held a park scavenger hunt, where they hid a medallion in one of their many parks and had people search for it. “It was a great way to discover Cottage Grove and discover our parks,” Bailey says. “Even though we did this as part of COVID, I think we are going to continue doing something like that because I’ve heard from our community that they didn’t realize how awesome and intertwined or parks and trail systems are. It got people out of being stuck in their homes, got them out on the trails and experiencing our parks and trail system, which is really amazing.”
Cottage Grove prides itself on its 33 parks and both paved and natural trail system. With access to the Mississippi River, the community is a great place for kayaking, exploring water trails, and fishing. The city is also home to a golf course, ice rinks, sports fields and a splash pad. In November (2021), residents will vote on a proposed $39-million community center that would include a sports dome, gathering spaces with opportunities for art, theater, and music, an indoor playground, walking track, and an accessible outdoor waterpark for people of all ages and abilities.
“We have been discussing this for many years and have had a lot of community input and I believe we have come up with an amazing plan,” Bailey says. “One of the big goals and objectives of this council is to get the center to become all-inclusive for everyone that wants to utilize this facility.”
In addition to their vast natural and recreation opportunities, Cottage Grove is home to a thriving business community with a vibrant business park. The 600-acre park is home to many manufacturing and warehouse businesses including 3M, Renewal by Andersen, Up North Plastics, and Warner Electric. There is also plenty of room to grow. “As a suburb of the Twin Cities metro area, we can really take advantage of basically anybody who is looking for a larger site,” says Christine Costello, Cottage Grove Economic Development Director. “We can have a site as small as two acres up to 100 acres. So that really allows us to diversify the businesses that we can have here in the community.”
Part of the reason Cottage Grove has been successful in attracting business is due to the relationships they form with each company. Costello notes, “A lot of these businesses doubled in size in the last few years in our business park because they tell us we are amazing to work with. We understand business and don’t look at issues as unresolvable, but at how we can fix problems that may arise. We hear a lot of positive things about our community as it relates to relationships and how our employees and our team at City Hall will work hand-in-hand with businesses and developers.”
Cottage Grove’s sense of community, business opportunities, and recreational amenities have made it an ideal city for people to want set down roots. The city has seen unprecedented growth over the past few years and it’s not looking like it will settle down any time soon. “Our growth is literally going off the charts right now,” Bailey exclaims. “We are now one of the fastest growing communities, literally, in the State of Minnesota. We expect to grow pretty significantly in the next 10 years. We have so many interested buyers. Land owners are willing to sell and developers want to come be a part of Cottage Grove.”
Cottage Grove City Council Members have set a strategic goal to diversify the city’s housing stock, which has also contributed to its desirability. “Now you’re seeing a lot of different products being brought to the market – from apartment buildings, to townhomes, to different price-points for single family homes,” Levitt says. “So, those things are really making our area very attractive. We have a housing stock that meets everyone’s needs. It helps create that sense of community that people really want to stay here.”
To prepare for the influx of residents they predict over the next decade, the city has been investing in infrastructure projects, which include sanitary sewer and water extension to the business park. They are also extending their utilities and water supply system to growing residential areas. Bailey reports, “We are seeing probably some of our largest infrastructure investment from the past couple of years and into the future with an eye to ensuring that our infrastructure that we currently have is in great condition, and looking to those areas that we can expand.”
The future is looking bright for this progressive Minnesota city, and they hope to continue to grow and foster a sense of community with residents and businesses alike. “We really want to continue those partnerships that we have,” Costello says. “It’s very important. We want to work with businesses and we want to work with developers. I pride myself on having great relationships with them and it’s great to see that they have a great experience here.”
AT A GLANCE
Cottage Grove, Minnesota
What: A proud, progressive city; population 38,000
Where: Five miles southeast of St. Paul, Minnesota