Economic Development Coordinator moving on

In an ongoing effort to soften a potential tax increase on NYA residents for 2013, the city council and staff have been forced to make some difficult decisions over the course of a half dozen budget workshops.

One of those decisions, arrived at earlier this month, was not to renew the city’s contract with Economic Development Coordinator Christie Rock, who submitted her resignation on Nov. 14, effective Dec. 20.

City Administrator Tom Simmons said the decision was driven purely by budget constraints.

“I wish we could keep Christie here, but it’s a simple numbers game,” he said. “I’ve never seen budgets this tough, except the last two or three years, and this year is even worse than the previous two years. She’s done a lot of good for the community and has accomplished a lot.”

Rock, who acted on the city’s behalf as a consultant for the past six years and was not a city employee, was instrumental in a variety of beneficial endeavors that were not limited to simply bringing in new businesses, though Simmons said that getting the two existing businesses into the Tacoma West Industrial Park as economic uncertainty loomed was no small accomplishment.

One of Rock’s primary contributions to the city was in the acquisition of grant funds for various efforts. She secured a $293,000 grant for the Owner Occupied Housing Rehabilitation Program, which provided forgivable home-improvement loans to 17 homeowners in NYA, Hamburg and Cologne. She established a forgivable loan program for external improvements to 11 commercial properties over the past two years. And she acquired over $1.2 million in grant funds for the Oak Grove Redevelopment Project, which was recognized as the Best Housing Project of 2011 by the Economic Development Association of Minnesota (EDAM) and a top project of 2011 by the Twin Cities business journal Finance and Commerce, among other awards.

“Christie was very proactive and more than paid for herself through all the grants she got,” said Simmons.

As a member of the EDAM board of directors, Rock also marketed Norwood Young America’s potential far and wide and helped develop websites and produce mailings highlighting the city’s opportunities. She also helped organize educational opportunities for small businesses and entrepreneurs. Because of those efforts, both Rock and Simmons said they believe the city is well-positioned for future commercial growth if and when the economy improves.

“I think Norwood Young America is unique in the approach that it took to doing economic development for a community of this size. It’s really done a good job of laying the groundwork for any future development,” said Rock. “Granted, things are slow right now, but the community is well placed. People know where Norwood Young America is. I think we have really laid a strong foundation for the future of this community. Being right here on the fringe of the metro area on Highway 212, I think this community is in an ideal location.”

Rock had a difficult job for the majority of her time with the city as the economy declined and businesses looked to maintain their status rather than expand.

“We brought her on before the economy turned bad. And still, we haven’t been burying our head in the sand. With Christie we’ve been moving forward, trying in a bad economy to get new businesses here,” said Simmons. “No one could ever accuse the city of not being very proactive in trying to keep businesses and trying to get new businesses. I think we’ve done more than cities even double our size.”

Rock said that, challenges and all, she thoroughly enjoyed her time in NYA building relationships with business owners and community members.

“My parents were small business owners, my husband is a small business owner. I know the value that they bring to a community, how important it is to shop local and be involved,” she said. “It’s just a passion I have.”

Now that she won’t be working 20-24 hours per week for the city, Rock said she intends to spend more time with her son, finish writing a dissertation and continue working with a number of neighborhood groups in Minneapolis.

Economic development duties in NYA will now be split between Simmons and Community Development Director Chelsea Alger, and Simmons said the city will still do all it can to attract businesses.

“When a new business contacts us or stops into the office and talks about possibly relocating or expanding, we drop everything else because we want business. It’s kind of the heartbeat of the community,” said Simmons.

“I feel that Christie was a very valuable asset to the city in promoting the community, its businesses, and as a place for new businesses to come to. Her expertise will be sorely missed,” he added. “She did a great job for the city.”