Wadena, Minnesota

May 30, 2024

Wadena, Minnesota

On the Path to Resilience and Prosperity

 

Transforming challenges into opportunities while fostering a vibrant community and a thriving local economy.

Wadena, Minnesota, a quaint yet vibrant city, has seen a remarkable transformation over the past six to eight years. This transformation was significantly catalyzed by the community’s resilience in the wake of a devastating tornado. No lives were lost, but the reconstruction efforts that followed created a stronger sense of community and unity. Today, Wadena boasts a fully occupied Main Street, evidencing its economic revival and the entrepreneurial spirit that animates its residents. However, challenges such as workforce, daycare, and housing shortages persist, alongside a thriving job market that underscores the city’s ongoing development and attractiveness to residents and businesses alike.

Mayor George M. Deiss, reflecting on the city’s journey and its unique community spirit, highlights the extraordinary resilience Wadena demonstrated, particularly in the face of global adversity during the pandemic. “We were fortunate,” he begins, “as a community, we navigated the pandemic better than many, with local businesses not only surviving but, in some cases, opening during those uncertain times.” This period was marked by an inspiring display of local solidarity, where residents prioritized supporting local enterprises. A notable example was the adaptation of the local movie theater, which, unable to screen movies, transformed its concession stand into a local snack hub, contributing to a broader movement of businesses collaborating on promotions to sustain each other.

Central to this narrative of community support and innovation was the introduction of the ‘Wadena Strong’ initiative, spearheaded by Mayor Deiss in response to the pandemic’s onset. The initiative, embodied in weekly virtual gatherings and the symbolic creation of a ‘Wadena Strong’ beer by Drastic Measures brewery, aimed at rallying the community and providing financial support to struggling businesses. This effort galvanized community spirit and earned recognition and an award from a United States representative.

Kim Schroeder, the city’s administrator, further elaborates on the diverse and rich cultural offerings that make Wadena a unique destination. “Our culinary scene is exceptionally diverse, ranging from seafood to American, Mexican, and even an exquisite German restaurant,” she shares, underscoring the variety that attracts diners not just from Wadena but from cities as far as 45 miles away. This gastronomic diversity, alongside attractions such as a distinguished local golf course, a Mexican bakery undergoing renovation, and a ‘Taste of Colombia’ grocery store, enriches Wadena’s cultural fabric and contributes to its identity as a culinary and cultural exploration destination.

 

Growth and Innovation

In the heart of Wadena, a deliberate and strategic approach toward urban development and business support illustrates a broader vision for the future. The Wadena Development Authority (WDA) plays a pivotal role in envisioning and actively engineering the city’s economic landscape. Mayor Deiss elucidates the WDA’s instrumental role in shaping the city’s economic trajectory.

“Our director has been with the WDA for many years, providing a wealth of experience to our team,” he notes, emphasizing the stability and expertise at the helm. The availability of a revolving loan fund is a cornerstone of Wadena’s strategy to support budding entrepreneurs and ensure the vibrancy of its commercial districts. “We are always looking to aid businesses, whether through loans or other means,” he adds, hinting at the city’s proactive stance in economic development.

The conversation shifts towards the city’s efforts in commercial growth and the mechanisms in place to attract new businesses. Mayor Deiss highlights the dual existence of a business park and an industrial park, both critical to Wadena’s economic infrastructure. “We’re contemplating expanding our industrial park due to its current capacity,” he mentions, revealing an active pursuit of growth and expansion. This ambition is further evidenced by the incentives offered to businesses considering making a home in Wadena, demonstrating a clear, strategic intent to diversify and strengthen the city’s economic base.

On the occupancy and availability of space within these parks, Mayor Deiss clarifies, “There are still opportunities within the business park, and even our industrial park has a few lots left,” indicating the city’s readiness to welcome new ventures and support their integration into the community.

Moreover, Mayor Deiss touches on the essence of Wadena’s appeal to businesses: the blend of well-established cornerstone businesses and the burgeoning presence of new enterprises. “Our utility rates in Wadena are very reasonable,” he points out, attributing the city’s competitive advantage to its economic strategies and lower cost of living. This aspect has already attracted businesses to open branches in Wadena, signifying the city’s emergence as a conducive business expansion and relocation environment.

The Utilities of Wadena

In Wadena, the blueprint for future development transcends mere aspirations, manifesting through strategic investments in infrastructure and utility services. This approach, spearheaded by the efforts of the city’s utilities department, is laying a robust foundation for both residential and commercial growth. David Evans, the Utilities Superintendent, outlines the comprehensive steps taken to ensure that Wadena’s infrastructure meets the needs of its growing business and residential communities.

“We’ve installed all necessary water, sewer, and street infrastructure for the business park,” Evans explains, highlighting the city’s proactive measures to facilitate development. This initiative, which began around four to five years ago, has already attracted four businesses, with another poised for expansion.

Expanding on the city’s innovative financing methods, Evans describes a novel approach to funding residential development. Through tax abatement, the city facilitates the financing of utility infrastructure, allowing homeowners to contribute to the costs indirectly. “This unique method enables us to develop residential areas without placing undue financial burden on property owners,” he says, emphasizing the city’s commitment to growth while maintaining fiscal responsibility.

Addressing the city-owned electric utility, Evans takes pride in providing services without charging for the extension of utilities in residential developments, a policy that underlines Wadena’s efforts to ensure affordability and sustainability. “For commercial sites, we only charge for material costs, making it economically viable for businesses to establish and expand,” he adds.

Regarding technological infrastructure, particularly the partnership with Arvig Communications to enhance fiber connectivity in Wadena, Evans says, “Whenever we extend utilities, we coordinate with Arvig to install fiber ductwork simultaneously,” mentioning the collaborative effort that ensures high-speed internet is readily available, enhancing the appeal of Wadena for businesses and residents alike.

Evans also points to Wadena’s electric utility rates, which are among the lowest in the area, and the city’s transition to 100% carbon-free electricity. “This not only benefits our residents but also provides a significant advantage to businesses, especially those marketing their products globally,” he states. The emphasis on carbon-free electricity reflects Wadena’s forward-thinking ethos, which aligns with global sustainability trends and allows businesses to leverage this attribute in their marketing efforts.

Revitalizing Wadena: A Blend of History, Modernity, and Infrastructure

As part of revitalization efforts, Wadena’s downtown core and residential areas are combining into a mosaic, reflecting the city’s rich historical roots and aspirations for modern living. Initiatives aimed at enhancing the city’s walkability and community focus are underway alongside substantial infrastructure projects poised to transform the urban and economic landscape.

Reflecting on her tenure as City Administrator, Kim Schroeder notes a profound shift in the city’s dynamism, partly fueled by the pandemic’s unexpected silver linings. “In the last five years, there’s been a noticeable momentum,” Schroeder observes. This momentum is attributed to a combination of visionary leadership, collaborative efforts with the Chamber of Commerce, and the community’s rally around downtown businesses. “Events are happening nearly every weekend, promoting foot traffic and shopping in our downtown area,” she adds, outlining the strategies that have breathed new life into Wadena’s economic and social scenes.

Schroeder also shares details about the significant infrastructure projects in the pipeline, focusing on the expansion and improvement of major highways that traverse Wadena. With an investment nearing $60 million, these projects, funded without burdening local taxpayers, signify a monumental leap in enhancing connectivity and accessibility. “This influx of investment, coupled with strategic upgrades to our water and sewer infrastructure, positions Wadena for unprecedented growth,” she states.

Evans chimes in, offering the specifics of the utility improvements and emphasizing the timely nature of these upgrades. “With an expenditure of $3.2 million on our part for water and sewer enhancements, we’re ensuring that our infrastructure keeps pace with our city’s growth,” he points out.

The conversation then shifts to healthcare, a critical component of Wadena’s community infrastructure. Schroeder proudly mentions the development of a new hospital campus and plans for a cancer center, projects that underline Wadena’s status as a regional healthcare hub. “Astera, formerly known as Tri-County Healthcare, is expanding its services, reinforcing our city’s healthcare offerings,” she elucidates.

Mayor Deiss highlights the hospital’s integration into a national network, emphasizing the benefits of remaining locally owned while gaining the advantages of broader affiliations. “This balance ensures that our residents receive top-notch care while retaining the community-oriented spirit of our healthcare services,” he says.

 

Wadena’s Infrastructure and Development Horizon

As Wadena approaches a crucial phase of development and modernization, city officials are prioritizing a range of infrastructure projects designed to secure the community’s future. Evans, focusing on utilities, outlines strategies to fortify Wadena’s electric service amidst national grid concerns.

“We’re exploring backup generation options to ensure reliability,” he reveals, emphasizing the proactive steps being taken to mitigate potential grid failures. This approach includes measures to reduce load during peak times and the consideration of substation class generation to maintain essential services during outages. “The challenge of securing materials, such as transformers, has been significant, but we are prepared to support new businesses wanting to establish here,” Evans adds, highlighting the logistical hurdles overcome to ensure Wadena’s readiness for growth.

Schroeder discusses the overarching priorities from her perspective, with a particular focus on the highway projects that promise to reshape Wadena’s access and connectivity. “Ensuring that our businesses remain accessible during these transformations is crucial,” she points out. The effort to support local enterprises, particularly those on Main Street, is part of a broader strategy to navigate the challenges posed by statewide policies and market pressures. Beyond roadway improvements, Schroeder sheds light on efforts to expand the industrial park in collaboration with MnDOT and private property acquisitions.

The creation of a 38-lot residential development is another pillar of Wadena’s strategy to combat the housing shortage. Schroeder is keen to emphasize the attractiveness of these lots, which are offered with zero assessments, making them an appealing option for potential homeowners. “With lots priced between $18,000 to $28,000, we’re providing an incredible opportunity for people to build their homes here,” she asserts, underlining the initiative as a direct response to the critical need for more housing.

Through meticulous planning and strategic investments, Wadena is setting the stage for robust growth and development. The city’s focus on utility reliability, coupled with significant infrastructure projects and housing initiatives, reflects a comprehensive approach to community development. By addressing the foundational needs of the city and its residents, Wadena’s leaders are not just planning for the near future but are laying the groundwork for sustained prosperity and resilience.

AT A GLANCE

City of Wadena

What: A vibrant and resilient community known for its strategic growth, natural beauty, and innovative approach to urban planning.

Where: Wadena, Minnesota.

Website: https://www.wadena.org/

PREFERRED VENDORS

City of Wadena – www.wadena.org & Bolton & Menk, Inc. –www.Bolton-Menk.com

The Wadena Development Authority (WDA) is a Minnesota Port Authority, promoting all types of growth and development In Wadena, MN, including commercial, industrial, and residential.  The WDA specializes in working with new business start-ups and existing business expansions, using creative financing tools such as Tax Increment Financing, Tax Abatement, grants, and maintains a local revolving loan fund.

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