‘We have a lot of people looking at Albert Lea’

Published 8:35 pm Wednesday, January 29, 2020

ALEDA director shares successes of last year


Albert Lea has seen an increase in economic development momentum in the last year, according to Albert Lea Economic Development Agency’s executive director Wednesday during the annual Greater Jobs Inc. meeting at Wedgewood Cove.

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Phillip Johnson said the organization is meeting with seven developers on various projects, including one that hopes to build market-rate apartments on the south side of the Blazing Star Landing. He anticipated a development agreement could be in place by March.

The project, he said, would be good not only for people looking to move to Albert Lea, but also for others who are already in the community, noting there is a great need for market-rate apartments.

Another developer, he said, has expressed interest in building workforce college housing that could potentially be utilized by Riverland Community College students. A development agreement for that project could be in place by July.

“We have a lot of people looking at Albert Lea,” Johnson said.

ALEDA’s spec building off of Margaretha Avenue that was vacated when Zumbro River Brand expanded now has three tenants and will soon have a fourth.

“A lot of our businesses are running out of space,” Johnson said, noting it is a good indicator that businesses are expanding.

In addition, he is talking with six new businesses, including an ag-related business, another tied to family recreation and another dealing with cabinetry. Three other existing businesses are looking to expand.

“I’ve seen the change in the community since I’ve been here … It’s all of us working together,” said Johnson, who started as the ALEDA executive director in February 2019.

He said loans totaling $800,000 have been given out to nine businesses in the last year, including Infinite Recycled Technologies, Mortarr, Thirsty Fox, Bragen Rights Photography, Grandma’s Gourmets, Peppered Cow, New to You Consignment, The Outlet and AmTec Ingredients.

All of these interactions took place as ALEDA, the city of Albert Lea, Freeborn County, the Albert Lea-Freeborn County Chamber of Commerce and the Albert Lea Convention and Visitors Bureau partnered to develop a new strategic plan with economic development and site selection consultant Ady Advantage over the last six months.

Johnson said the strategic plan process brought stakeholders together, as well as other community members for feedback and has provided a reaffirmation of what needs to be addressed.

Some of the key themes centered around workforce, housing, education and child care. The plan also explores better marketing for the community’s assets, sharing about the diversity of businesses in the community, creating a pipeline for students to transition into the workplace and better integrating for new community members to get them involved in community projects.

He said many of these themes seem basic, but if they are not addressed they can be roadblocks to success.

They also need to refine the incentive package available to businesses looking to come into the community and become a more business-friendly community.

A community event is being planned for late February to present the final plan and the goals for moving forward. The plan will then be reviewed regularly.

Some of the other things the organization has been involved with include working with the Albert Lea Healthcare Coalition, which he said they have approached as they would with any other business that has potential to bring new jobs to the community.

ALEDA moved downtown into the former Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services building with the chamber in the fall, and Johnson said the organization is also working on a community outreach center for residents new to the community, which could be put in at the Albert Lea Business Development Center in ALEDA’s old office space. He said they should know by late February if that is moving forward.

It was the 75th year for the annual meeting.