Group hopes to boost local pride

FAIRMONT – Focus on Fairmont is a grassroots group with a vision for what it would like to see happen in the town its members call home.

Steve and Heather Hawkins spoke about that vision Tuesday night with an audience of Fairmont business leaders during a Bureau 14 meeting.

Nearly a year ago, Focus on Fairmont met for the first time, with 20-some people gathering to share their concerns and ideas for improving the city.

“There are so many great things about Fairmont,” Steve said. “… Some of us just have some concerns with the direction we’re headed. We want to improve, to be better than we are, to be better than average.”

Focus on Fairmont has continued meeting once a month over the past year. Its first public effort was launched in October when it approached the City Council about creating a rental ordinance.

Improving rental properties is just one piece of the puzzle, according to Heather, who spearheaded the group.

To understand her vision, it helps to understand a little bit about Heather. She grew up in New Ulm, “a city of charm and tradition” that prides itself on its German heritage. She moved to Fairmont during the mid-1990s, which is how she met her husband, Steve. She also works as an agent in Martin County’s probation department.

Initially, she said her concerns about Fairmont were mostly aesthetic, when she noticed certain parts of town were looking less than desirable. Then, through her job, she noticed more of her clients were moving to Fairmont not because of jobs or because they had any connections to the area, but they because they were drawn by cheap housing.

Heather put out some emails to see if anyone else shared her concerns, and people responded. Together, they started talking with city staff, researching other cities and looking at local statistics, property conditions and beautification possibilities. Their goal, they decided was to improve community culture and pride.

“The hard part is to determine where are we going, though even harder is to determine how to get there,” Steve said.

City administrator Mike Humpal, who has been working with Focus on Fairmont, said he would be remiss if he did not speak up about the city’s assets and recent improvement efforts.

“I do believe we’re better than average,” Humpal said. “Can we be better? Absolutely, but I do think we’re starting at a higher playing field than a lot of other communities.”

Focus on Fairmont meets the last Thursday of each month at noon in room 112 of the Southern Minnesota Educational Campus.