Energy is needed to help A.L. grow, solve problems

Published 10:21 am Tuesday, November 3, 2015

My Point of View by Brian Hensley

Energy comes from those with a positive view, those willing to take action and those not afraid to fail. There are several projects in the works around Freeborn County that are taking a long-term look at the economy, the county, and the future needs of our citizens.

Brian Hensley

Brian Hensley

There are several different citizen groups that have come together to think about the advantages this area has, how to share those great advantages, how to improve our community and how to attract people to our area.  The Chamber of Commerce, ALEAP and the Convention and Visitors Bureau are constantly recruiting businesses and new citizens to our area.  Other task forces and working groups that I have seen in action in the past six months have included working groups focusing on issues like poverty, workforce shortage problems, agriculture development and environmental sustainability.

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One of the most exciting projects is the redevelopment of the Farmland site, known now as the Blazing Star Landing development area.  The project is being spearheaded by city officials as the city owns the property. They have started the process of soliciting developers, aid from the state and ideas from local residents as to how to utilize this asset. This is a long-term development plan on one of the most unique development sites in southern Minnesota.  With access to amazing vistas of Albert Lea Lake, three minutes from the intersection of two heavily traveled interstates and within 2 1/2 hours of five major US cities, this site holds potential to create a destination site in Albert Lea. Destination sites attract traveling sports teams, families and businesses hosting meetings for employees.

The city of Albert Lea’s Park and Recreation Department, the areas school systems, Albert Lea Family Y, Chamber, Convention and Visitors Bureau, Lake’s Foundation and sport’s recreation leagues need to come together to create a plan that shows how the community will benefit from the plan that is created. The development won’t just include the Farmland site, but could include countywide facilities that have to be top notch to draw a top-notch facility for these business and recreational travelers.  Residents could benefit by increased tax dollars collected from travelers, jobs created to support these facilities and the improved facilities themselves.

These projects all cost big dollars. As a fiscal conservative, I look at these types of project with a very skeptical view. It’s important that private development dollars, private nonprofit groups, sports league clubs and business leaders show they are behind these projects with their energy and their dollars. City and county officials must listen intently to what these private groups interested in these projects are telling them.

The local taxpayer, via the city and county, will have to be involved and invest in these developments. The city and county must take the long-term view that assisting in these developments with beneficial tax programs in the short term will pay off in the long term. This long-term investment approach is necessary to attract these private investment dollars. As has been seen with the new St. John’s project currently under construction and re-development in Albert Lea’s downtown area some forward thinking by taxpayers can have a large payoff in the future.

Albert Lea and Freeborn county sit at the crossroad of two major interstates, but also sit at the crossroads of the area’s future. There are two paths. One involves status quo. In my opinion that means little change. Population will continue to stagnate as it has the past 40 years.  Tax dollars will continue to shrink as our population ages, and people spend less. Fewer workers, smaller schools, less public amenities and probably more problems.

The other future is much more difficult. That future involves investing in our infrastructure and in our school systems and community college. That future involves citizens getting involved in our community, volunteering at schools and assisting on nonprofit boards that need new energy. The difficult future requires you to attend workshops to learn more about local problems, to lead difficult conversations with city council and county board members and to share your opinion. If you personally do nothing, so will this area.

Our future will not be solved by large tax increases and big spending by local government, but by the energy and solutions citizens bring to the problems we face. We must make smart investments with taxpayer dollars and assets, and those smart decisions will only be made when more people impacted by the decisions become involved in shaping those decisions.


Brian Hensley is a chairman of the Freeborn County Republican Party and local financial adviser with Intego Financial Group. Brian also serves on the city of Albert Lea Parks and Recreation Board. All opinions are his and do not necessarily reflect those of the organizations he is associated with.