Zumbrota, Minnesota

June 27, 2024

Zumbrota, Minnesota

The Story of a Flourishing Minnesota Town


Dynamic growth and community-focused initiatives shape a prosperous future path ahead

Zumbrota, MN, positioned advantageously close to Rochester and just a stone’s throw from the bustling Twin Cities, boasts a charm that transcends its geographical benefits. The city, a harmonious blend of historic pleasantness and contemporary conveniences, thrives along key corridors such as Highways 52, 58, and 60. It is perhaps best known for housing the last remaining historic covered bridge in Minnesota—a magnet for visitors and a centerpiece in the picturesque Covered Bridge Park, complete with a campground and seasonal ice rink.

Mayor Todd Hammel begins by emphasizing Zumbrota’s unique position, not just in terms of location but also in its offerings. “Our city’s got a great placement,” he explains. We’re close to major cities but maintain a quaint, closely-knit community atmosphere. We have a thriving downtown area filled with boutiques, restaurants, and a newly built 57-unit apartment complex that allows residents to fully immerse themselves in what downtown offers.”

Unpacking the character of the downtown businesses, the mayor notes the diversity in retail offerings that cater primarily to a female demographic but are inclusive of all. “You’ve got Luya’s Shoes which is unlike any big brand store; it’s very unique. Then there’s The Dwell Local, which even offers something as distinct as Bloody Mary mixes alongside its other unique items,” he says, painting a picture of a downtown that prizes individuality and local charm.

On the practical side of urban planning, Mayor Hammel shares that the city dramatically emphasizes walkability, ensuring that visitors can easily explore downtown on foot once they park. “We’ve addressed parking issues by implementing a two-hour parking limit near Main Street and continuously work on enhancing pedestrian safety and accessibility,” he elaborates. This focus on accessibility supports local businesses and enhances the overall visitor experience, encouraging longer stays and more frequent returns.

Strategic Growth and Community Collaboration in Zumbrota

In Zumbrota, the focus is as much on enhancing daily life for its residents as it is on broadening its appeal to potential businesses and visitors. City Council member Sara Durhman highlights the unique collaborative spirit among local business owners, particularly in the downtown area, which is predominantly composed of women-owned businesses.

“What makes our downtown different is the cooperation among business owners. We work together seamlessly,” she shares. She exemplifies this community spirit, “If a fellow store owner finds something that would suit my shop better, they’d pass it along rather than compete for it.”

As the city eyes economic expansion, the focus extends beyond retail. Kim Simonson, Finance Human Resource Director, points out a gap in the local market that presents an opportunity for growth. “One of our main focuses is enhancing our nightlife by attracting restaurateurs to open more evening dining options downtown,” she explains. The current lack of nighttime dining options is seen as a shortfall and a potential catalyst for downtown’s evening economy.

City Administrator Brian Grudem elaborates on the broader infrastructural developments that have made Zumbrota more attractive for industrial growth. “We received a $100,000 state grant to install rapid flashing beacons to improve pedestrian safety downtown,” says Grudem, indicating immediate steps being taken to enhance livability. More long-term plans are also being worked on. “We’re working on infrastructure that will hopefully attract an industrial park north of town, facilitated by a water looping project that increases our water and sewer capacities,” he adds.

Continuing on infrastructure, Grudem details significant investments in local connectivity and transport. “We’re constantly upgrading our roads and have just completed a major project with state aid. Moreover, our telecommunications infrastructure is robust, with ongoing expansions to provide high-speed internet across Zumbrota,” he says. This connectivity is crucial for current residents and attracting remote workers, especially those connected with the nearby Mayo Clinic.


Addressing Workforce Challenges

As businesses nationwide grapple with workforce shortages, Zumbrota faces similar challenges, particularly intensified by demographic shifts and economic pressures. Finance Human Resource Director Simonson illuminates Zumbrota’s labor shortage, emphasizing its impact on local retail and service sectors.

“Like every other place in Minnesota, we’ve felt the pinch, particularly as our baby boomers retired en masse,” she begins. “This was exacerbated by the pandemic, which not only accelerated retirements but also disrupted the entry of younger workers into the job market.”

For example, the city has struggled to find enough lifeguards for community pools—a seemingly minor issue highlighting more considerable systemic challenges. “When we tried to return lifeguards, we realized our wage offerings were not competitive. Thankfully, we’ve adjusted those wages now,” Simonson explains. This adjustment is part of a broader strategy to make city positions more attractive to potential employees.

Beyond immediate staffing needs, Simonson discusses broader initiatives aimed at bolstering the local workforce. “We’ve utilized our facilities for recruitment events and leveraged our social media platforms to aid local businesses in their hiring efforts,” she states. The recent opening of a new housing development in Zumbrota plays a crucial role in this strategy. Simonson says, “Before this development, we didn’t have a large apartment complex. We’re attracting new residents like teachers and professionals from the metro area who find our market rate rents more affordable.”

This influx of new residents is critical for filling jobs and contributing to the community’s vibrancy and economic stability. “Our location, being central to several other towns and having a high volume of daily traffic, makes us a strategic spot for regional development,” she adds. Collaborative efforts with surrounding areas and creative funding strategies are essential as Zumbrota navigates the complexities of non-metropolitan development.

Expanding Residential Options

Amidst a nationwide discussion on housing affordability and stock shortages, Zumbrota is actively exploring ways to enrich its residential landscape. The city’s response to these challenges is multi-faceted, blending strategic planning with community engagement to encourage growth that benefits current and potential residents.

Addressing the concerns around housing, Simonson outlines the city’s proactive approach to residential development. “Two to three years ago, we conducted a housing study in Goodhue County and found a significant shortfall in rental units,” she explains. This study has set the groundwork for ongoing efforts to increase housing availability, a critical factor in supporting Zumbrota’s economic and demographic growth.

Despite facing challenges such as high interest rates that momentarily disrupt market activities, Simonson is optimistic about the housing trajectory in Zumbrota. “We’re experiencing growth in our building lots, and while there’s a need to open more lots, we’re managing well under the current circumstances,” she states. This controlled expansion reflects the city’s careful balancing between growth and financial responsibility. “We’re keen on developing new housing within our financial parameters to avoid overburdening our taxpayers,” she adds.

Communication is a pivotal element in Zumbrota’s strategy for keeping residents informed and marketing the city to outsiders. “We’ve introduced a community-wide broadcasting app that provides real-time updates directly to residents’ phones—everything from snow emergencies to road closures and special events,” Simonson says.  This initiative is part of a broader effort to ensure residents and visitors are well-informed about ongoing developments and opportunities in Zumbrota.


A Thriving Outdoor and Community Hub

Zumbrota’s efforts to nurture a vibrant community lifestyle extend to its meticulous planning and maintenance of outdoor spaces and recreational facilities. Mayor Hammel takes pride in outlining the expansive network of trails and parks catering to various outdoor activities.

“Our Covered Bridge Park is not just a scenic spot but a hub for our community’s outdoor life,” says the mayor. “It connects to the Goodhue Pioneer State Trail, stretching about 8 to 10 miles through diverse landscapes, and is frequented by both walkers and bikers.”

Besides natural trails and parks, Zumbrota is also enhancing its urban infrastructure to improve accessibility and connectivity. “We have committees focused on upgrading our sidewalks to ensure safe and convenient access from residential areas to downtown,” the mayor adds, highlighting ongoing investments in the city’s walkability.

In discussing the community’s engagement with outdoor spaces, Mayor Hammel notes the high priority residents place on access to outdoor activities. “From soccer fields to playgrounds and volleyball courts, our park board has been exceptional in expanding and enhancing our recreational offerings,” he states. The addition of new amenities like pickleball courts and improved ice rinks further exemplifies Zumbrota’s focus on creating inclusive and diverse recreational opportunities.

Alongside these efforts are other local business developments contributing to Zumbrota’s economic vitality. “We’ve seen significant growth not just in small businesses but also in major corporate expansions, like the DFA and Concast facilities,” says Mayor Hammel, pointing out the critical role these developments play in sustaining the local economy.

The community’s dedication to supporting local needs is evident in the ongoing enhancements to local services, including a significant expansion of the local grocery store. “Nilssen’s recent expansion of our grocery store, which now includes a Caribou Coffee and a larger freezer section, indicates our city’s growth and the increasing demand for local services,” Simonson adds, emphasizing the importance of these developments in meeting residents’ daily needs.

Envisioning Zumbrota’s Future

As Zumbrota continues to flourish as a community and economic hub, the city’s leaders focus on various initiatives and local associations that play pivotal roles in shaping its future. Mayor Hammel appreciates local organizations that significantly contribute to the community’s vibrancy.

“We have a very active VFW, and recently, they built a new memorial, which is a fantastic addition to our town,” he shares, highlighting the contributions of veterans’ groups. Moreover, cultural initiatives like the State Theater renovation emphasize Zumbrota’s commitment to the arts. “The State Theater is undergoing renovations to enhance the experience, drawing visitors from beyond our borders and enriching our local culture,” Mayor Hammel adds.

Looking ahead, Mayor Hammel outlines the city’s priorities, which include infrastructural development, community safety, and economic growth. “Our immediate focus is the North Zumbro Sanitary Sewer District project, which involves collaboration with neighboring communities. This is crucial for supporting our residential and commercial expansion plans,” he specifies.

The mayor also addresses the challenges of maintaining fiscal health while providing community services and amenities. “Keeping our taxes affordable while ensuring the provision of quality amenities and infrastructure is a balancing act, especially in the post-COVID economic climate,” Mayor Hammel states. This ongoing effort involves meticulous budgeting and fiscal management to support the community’s diverse needs, from the elderly to young families.

As Zumbrota looks forward, the blend of maintaining robust community facilities, supporting local businesses, and ensuring a sustainable fiscal policy demonstrates a comprehensive strategy to nurture a thriving, cohesive community that values its heritage and its future development.


City of Zumbrota

What: A small, vibrant community close to Rochester, known for its historic charm and active civic life.

Where: Minnesota, US

Website: https://www.ci.zumbrota.mn.us/


Frandsen Bank & Trust – frandsenbank.com

Dairy Farmers of America – https://dfamilk.com/

Mosaic Chrysler Zumbrota – Zumbrotacdjr.com

Mosaic Chevrolet – mosaicchevrolet.com

Zumbrota Ford – www.ZumbrotaFord.com

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