Fairmont EDA studies child care, workforce housing

FAIRMONT — The Fairmont Economic Development Authority received updates Monday on two subjects that have a major impact on business creation and growth: child care and workforce housing.

Linsey Preuss, the city’s economic development coordinator, reported that local lenders are putting together a program geared to coach people in qualifying for a loan; guide them through the basics of buying a home, whether through conventional financing or contract for deed; and the fundamentals of maintaining a home.

A version of the program for Spanish-speaking buyers will be led by Jessica Martinez, community outreach coordinator at Fairmont Area Schools, and already has 12 people signed up.

“This program will be put in by the private sector, but we (FEDA) are going to help market that,” Preuss said.

“If we can provide education as one of our tools, that will be awesome,” said Andy Noll, FEDA chairman.

Preuss reported that the child care action plan developed four goals to alleviate the shortage of more than 170 child care slots in Martin County. These include engaging private sector employers who feel lack of child care has affected their ability to hire or expand; renovating the SMEC building to create child care “pods”; creating funding for new and interested providers; and securing scholarships for professional development training in Fairmont for all child care providers.

“This project is coming along nicely. It’s exciting, and it is moving ahead,” Preuss said.

In other business, Preuss introduced Holly Petrowiak, who will work at City Hall with economic development and also with Megan Boeck in the city’s planner/code enforcement office through Martin County’s summer intern program. Petrowiak, daughter of Larry and Dawn Petrowiak of Fairmont, is studying community and regional planning at South Dakota State University.

FEDA previously had donated $3,500, which covers the cost of one intern in the program, but pledged an additional $3,500 on Monday after hearing the number of students and employers interested in participating greatly exceeded expectations.

And Preuss will be able to use Petrowiak’s assistance to secure new businesses or help existing ones expand, projects that can take a few months or a few years.

“April was very, very active,” she told the board. “An average month for me is working on three and a half new projects, but in April, it was nine. That’s the most I’ve ever had in one month. Things are very positive, lots of businesses looking to make an investment.”

In another matter, Stephanie Busiahn, executive director of Visit Fairmont, presented FEDA members with a condensed report of the visitors survey, targeting people who live 50 or more miles away. The survey, conducted from June through November of 2018 through the University of Minnesota, was financed by several local sponsors, including FEDA.

The survey ascertained the reason for a visit to Fairmont, planned activities, money spent and other information. During the summer months, 75 percent of the visitors polled listed Fairmont as their primary destination.

The survey also showed that many visitors were unaware of the lakes, dining options, museum, disc golf and other amenities available in the community.

“The takeaway for us was that we just need to do a better job of communicating that to our visitors,” Busiahn said. “We need to educate our visitors once they are here.”

Preuss reminded FEDA members why the economic development group supported a project geared to tourism.

“People are not going to move here unless they visit here first so it is very important for our two organizations to work together,” she said.