Report details local growth

FAIRMONT – The FEDA mission statement: “To maintain Fairmont as a quality community through business retention and expansion.”

Mike Humpal presented a report Monday describing various ways Fairmont Economic Development Authority has accomplished that mission. Humpal serves as Fairmont’s city administrator and its economic development director.

In the past 20 years, Fairmont’s population has decreased by 600 people, or 5 percent, based on census results. State demographer Tom Gillaspy has said if a city has grown in recent years, it’s likely through its immigrant population, and Fairmont’s has remained the same, around 5 percent, according to Humpal.

Over the years, the city’s employment rate has been stable, at 4.9 percent in November 2012; 3.5 percent in November 2002; and 4.5 percent in 1992 – all below the state and national rates.

Looking at labor force statistics and Fairmont’s population, Humpal said it is clear that while some manufacturers have closed their local sites, the workers chose to remain in Fairmont.

The city also fares well based on average weekly wages, compared to neighboring counties. Martin County is at $719. Blue Earth County is at $669. The state average is $875.

Similar stories were told with median household income – Fairmont’s is $38,134, and median housing value – Fairmont’s is $116,000.

What does this data mean?

“Fairmont compares well to other cities our size,” Humpal wrote in the report, which was requested by Mayor Randy Quiring. “Overall, we have been very stable from a population and labor force standpoint; not a lot of peaks and valleys over the last 20 years. We have done as well or better than most communities our size in the Midwest.”

Humpal also gave an overview of where the city stands financially.

Fairmont’s credit rating is Aa2 – the highest possible for a city its size. Its credit report describes Fairmont as a regional hub, with a history of conservative budgeting and healthy reserves.

“Fairmont has done a good job growing its tax base,” Humpal noted, with an annual average growth of 5.4 percent.

Examples of that growth are clear when looking at the long list of developments and expansions that have taken place in the past decade: Cenex Harvest States, Buffalo Lake Energy, Walmart, Goldfinch, Bank Midwest, Kahler Automation, Hawkeye Foods, Mayo Clinic Health System, Victoria State Crossing, Center for Specialty Care, Torgerson Properties, Dulcimer Medical Center, Hy-Vee, Fareway, Rosen’s, Kenway Engineering and Walgreens.

Combined, these projects add up to $312 million invested locally.

“Where would we be, what services would we have to cut without that?” wondered Councilman Joe Kallemeyn, particularly given state aid reductions that cities have faced in recent years. “… Our jobs would have been a hundred times harder.”

Indeed. Five of the city’s top 10 property taxpayers did not exist 10 years ago.

Fairmont Economic Development Authority has played a role in this success story, according to the report Humpal presented. Since 1995, which is when he was hired, FEDA has made 54 loans, providing $18.9 million in equity and conventional financing. The jobs created per loan averages 7.5, with a total of 405 new or retained jobs. These jobs add up to an estimated $12.6 million in payroll.

Also during the same time period, Humpal gave FEDA credit for assisting with $311 million in new investment and 740 new jobs.

Coming up on April 16 is the next FEDA strategic planning session, which takes place every two years.

Several significant projects have evolved through past sessions, one of which is the agriculture-education partnership between Fairmont Area Schools and the business community. Another is the city’s participation in the “Shovel Ready Program,” through which Fairmont now has 18 acres certified in the industrial park and a 75,000-square foot virtual building designed for the site.

In conclusion, Humpal stressed that “economic development does not happen overnight. It is an ongoing process that should evolve and change with market forces.

“Fairmont should feel good about how we have done. Fairmont is a great place to raise a family and grow a business.”

Crediting the recent push by Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce to develop community-wide positivity, Humpal closed with the following statement: “We become what we think: A positive attitude creates a positive action and results in a positive reality.”