Written by Executive Director, Aaron Backman
2023 was a memorable year in many ways. A new housing study covering all of Kandiyohi County was completed by Viewpoint Consulting in January. It identified a need for 2,555 additional housing units, including 1,580 units in Willmar, to be constructed between now and the year 2030.
Several housing projects that the EDC was significantly involved with were completed or commenced with this year. Edgeview, the Unique Opportunities multi-family project along County Road 5 on the northwest side of Willmar, completed Phase 3 and 4 buildings, and added 144 units. Block 25 Lofts, the Lumber One multi-family project in the City’s Renaissance Zone, was completed in July and was fully occupied by mid-August. This added 58 units in downtown Willmar. In June, the housing developer Unique Opportunities pulled a $6 million building permit to construct a 74-unit multi-family building along Lakeland Drive on the northeast side of Willmar. In October, the housing developer Kuepers pulled building permits of about $7.5 million for two 36-unit apartment buildings south of Walmart in southeast Willmar.
There was forward progress on several projects in Willmar’s Industrial Park. In September we received news from MnDOT that the new Willmar Wye, a railroad bypass on the west side of town, was recognized as a regional 2023 America’s Transportation Award Winner in Chicago! In the same month, the sale of 144 acres of city-owned land to MB Rail, a rail services company based in Lexington, Kentucky, was completed. This will facilitate the development of the Willmar Rail Park. In October the Willmar City Council approved the purchase agreement to sell 13.67 acres of land in the industrial park to Duininck Concrete, which also needs to have rail access for their business.
Significant progress was made on our efforts to extend high-speed broadband throughout Kandiyohi County in 2023. In December 2022 the State Office of Broadband approved a $4.9 million grant as part of a $10 million project to extend broadband to Arctander, Dovre, Mamre and St. Johns townships. The telecom provider, Federated Telephone Co., is paying for 25% of the costs. Notably, Kandiyohi County, through federal ARPA funds, is contributing over $1.3 million to the projects and the townships the remainder. Construction of this broadband project began in earnest in the Spring of 2023, and is now largely completed.
There were successful broadband projects in the 8th round of Border-to-Border grant recipients announced in the summer of 2023, including projects in Harrison, Lake Elizabeth, and East Lake Lillian townships in Kandiyohi County. The broadband provider for those projects is Meeker Co-op Light & Power. More grant applications have been submitted in December.
The EDC has an award-winning entrepreneurship program called the Elevate Community Business Academy, a 12-week training program. To date we have had five cohorts of students and graduated over 50 local people, with a significant number being women and diverse. A number have gone on to start or expand their businesses that have leveraged $1.1 million in financing to date. Recently, the KCED was awarded $203,500 in state funding to expand the program.
Sarah Swedburg, the staff person that really expanded Elevate (as well as a myriad of other things, such as child care programming, broadband grant applications, etc.) resigned her position at the end of year. She has accepted a planning position at Bolton & Menk. We wish Sarah the very best as she moves ahead in her career and are grateful for the nearly three years she served this organization!
This article was first published in the Winter 2024 EDC Newsletter Published in January 2024, Issue 15.