Fairmont, Minnesota – Martin County

April 22, 2024

Fairmont, Minnesota

A Quiet Economic Powerhouse


Woven through a chain of five lakes, this Minnesota town is an agricultural and manufacturing hub with a growing population.

Life is simple and sweet in Fairmont, Minnesota.

Located in the center of Martin County off Highway I-90, many may pass by this town of around 10,500 as a throughway to nearby destinations like Sioux Falls, Minneapolis, or St. Paul. A quick left turn off the highway however, reveals an easygoing community with such treasured historical roots, that you may never want to leave.

Agriculture is the town’s economic anchor, where the county dominates the state of Minnesota’s production of hogs, corn, soybeans, and cattle. Tourism adds a boost, too, as it is impossible to mention Fairmont without noting the chain of five lakes – Lake George, Sisseton Lake, Budd Lake, Hall Lake, and Amber Lake – around which the town is built.

Each body of water offers a well of peace – mini sanctuaries woven throughout the quiet core of the Fairmont community. Whether it’s a round of disc golf with friends or a sunny afternoon fishing off the dock for perch, the natural surroundings add serenity to everyday life in Fairmont and provide an escape from the rumble of nearby highways or the roar of the local airport.

“We’ve got a lot to offer from a quality of life and lifestyle standpoint, as well as the economic assets,” says Ned Koppen, Coordinator at Fairmont Economic Development Authority.

Fairmont isn’t a bedroom community; this place has more to offer. Curiosity and economic opportunity drift through the country air. And, right now, this small but mighty town’s outlook is more promising than ever before.


An Agricultural Powerhouse

Like many other regions in Southern Minnesota, Martin County’s low rolling hills and dotted lakes and ponds make the area perfect for agriculture.

Pork is Fairmont’s main export. Martin County produces more pork than any other municipality in the state of Minnesota and the third-most in the entire United States. With over 150 hog farms, the area has been labeled the “Bacon Capital of the USA,” a memorable title for a primed-and-polished agriculture setup that heavily stimulates the local economy.

Thanks to pork production, there are thousands of jobs and millions of pounds of bacon coming out of Martin County, but that’s not all.

“Because there’s a lot of pork production, we’re always in the top five of state corn production as well,” explains Koppen. “That’s how those pigs get fed. So, we’re a really big agricultural economy.”

The average pig consumes about three to five pounds of corn-based feed per day, so you can imagine the quantities of crops Martin County farmers are dealing with.

On top of stable corn production, Fairmont is a stalwart in the soybean industry. The town successfully recruited a major soybean processing plant to set up shop off Highway I-90. That plant has expanded over the last few years, Koppen says. Fairmont has also attracted other agriculture-adjacent industries, from ethanol plants and agricultural chemical companies to industrial manufacturers like 3M, which has set up a plant that’s brought jobs to Fairmont.

For many reasons, Fairmont sits atop the local agricultural pedestal. And with such status, Martin County puts on an elaborate annual county fair. At this event, folks can celebrate the area’s rich agricultural history with musical entertainment, races, midways, livestock shows, cook-offs, and all kinds of rural ruckus.

“[The fair] draws people from all over,” says Koppen. “It’s just widely attended. It’s a really big deal in our community every summer from early- to mid-August.”

When it comes to Fairmont’s tourism sector, the county fair is only part of a much larger picture.

A Peaceful Tourist Destination

As Koppen points out, Fairmont’s proximity to the interstate provides a steady churn of intentional tourists and non-intentional tourists that just happen upon some of the town’s attractions.

Fairmont’s green space is breathtaking. There are 27 public parks conveniently placed around the sprawling chain of lakes, which is the real draw come summertime.

“If you looked at us on the map and zoomed in a little bit, you would really get a feel for what a nice amenity having the chain of five lakes right in our town is,” says Koppen. “That’s a big draw. And when you have something like that – boating, fishing, lakeside dining – all of those things are great.”

There’s a spike in local excitement once the weather warms. Zip by the waterfront and you’ll see it: humming pontoon boats filled with friends and family or the rhythm of a group of kayakers making their way through the lake. Hall Lake is well-known among fishing experts as an excellent spot for perch, crappies, northern pike, and catfish. On special occasions, bright orange fireworks light up the sky over Lake Sisseton.

Fairmont also features an impressive waterpark just a stone’s throw away from Budd Lake. The aquatic park does well and is an important cornerstone in attracting families with young children to the area, Koppen says. For non-aquatic adventures, Fairmont features two 18-hole golf courses that’ve hosted state events, plus three disc golf courses, too.

Beyond its outdoor offerings, Fairmont has strong roots in the arts and entertainment industry. The Fairmont Opera House, a gorgeous old building east of Lake Sisseton, has operated in the area for nearly 150 years. The opera house is a cultural staple in the community, boosting residents’ spirits and shaping their perspective with local and professional plays, plus live music.

With so much rural space separating counties, Fairmont offers a surprisingly abundant array of quality shopping centers. The Five Lakes Center, located off Highway 15, is the biggest draw in the area.

“Throughout northern Iowa and southern Minnesota, in smaller communities, we sit in the middle and have a real nice draw for people to come and shop and take advantage of our retailers,” says Koppen. “And we have great hospitality as well. Whether that’s hotels or restaurants, those organizations in our town do a really nice job.”

Challenges and Solutions

Like many communities in the Upper Midwest, Fairmont faces challenges in creating housing and attracting new jobs, though the wheels are in motion to address both elements, Koppen says. On the workforce front, local government has been strong and supportive, and Koppen’s organization, the Economic Development Authority, is fighting hard, too.

Koppen’s organization offers a revolving loan fund to attract new businesses and prop up the existing small businesses in Fairmont. These everyday efforts range from providing financial tools that are otherwise inaccessible to Fairmont business owners to establishing funding for façade repairs on certain storefronts.

There are big plans for housing, too. Koppen says the city has teamed up with the Fairmont School District to convert acres of school-owned property into a new 20-lot housing development called “Whitetail Ridge.” Koppen notes the project is nearly complete and that developers are exploring plans to build a few more twin homes.


Growth on the Horizon in 2024

Three or four years ago, Fairmont’s downtown had several vacancies, Koppen says, but there’s been a resurgence of late. Local business owners have independently fixed up their buildings or engaged with the Economic Development Authority for funding. And as the area has brightened up, new businesses have moved in, like a chain reaction.

“You’re hard pressed to find a vacancy downtown right now, which is a great and fun thing to see,” beams Koppen.

Right now, Koppen’s organization is emphasizing the support of existing business pillars, like agriculture and manufacturing, for example. There’s an expectation that the revamped downtown core, combined with efforts to improve housing and community amenities, will mesh into one fine sales pitch for out-of-town companies looking to bring their business to Fairmont.

A YMCA Community Center is also in the works for 2024. Funded by various non-profits, the project is working through some delays with the goal of starting construction in the spring or summer of this year. Once that’s complete, likely in 2025, Fairmont residents will get state-of-the-art exercise facilities, indoor swimming pools, and, generally, just a new hub to bring people together.

And while the Minnesota area at large faces some uncertainty, Fairmont remains a beating heart of progress where the local economy and quality of life are the top priorities.

“My best guess for Fairmont is that we’re going to see incremental growth,” says Koppen. “The projection for Southwest Minnesota over the next 10 to 20 years is that we’ll see some decrease in population. I think Fairmont has the potential to go the other way. I would like to see some incremental growth that allows our businesses to keep expanding, and that makes for a healthy community.”


Fairmont, Minnesota

What: An efficient agricultural town focused on housing development, attracting new businesses, and drawing tourists with its chain of lakes and parks.

Where: Martin County, Minnesota

Website: https://fairmont.org/


United Hospital District – www.UHD.ORG

United Hospital District (www.uhd.org), based in Blue Earth, MN, is an independent system of care comprised of a 25-bed acute care hospital, comprehensive outpatient services, ambulance service and a home health/hospice care program, all supported by a 25-plus multi-specialty provider group with three clinic locations across two counties. UHD was recognized as a 2024 Top 100 Critical Access Hospital, a 2023 Best Small Hospital Under 25 Beds, and a 2022 Top 200 Workplace in Minnesota.

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