Cottage Grove business study reveals gaps in city assistance
The city has pinpointed five strategies to better engage with Cottage Grove businesses, after receiving the results of the year-long business retention and expansion study.
The city partnered with the University of Minnesota to crunch the data after city staff and business owners on a task force conducted interviews with the owners of 41 business regarding their employees, struggles and future plans.
The U of M analysis found five gaps in service they suggested the city should address: more partnership with the Cottage Grove Area Chamber of Commerce, challenges in hiring experienced employees, gaps in broadband connectivity, advice from other businesses and better communication regarding code enforcement.
They have started contacting broadband providers to fill the gap in service on 95th Street, and will search for other gaps in broadband as well.
Broadband and code enforcement will be the simpler goals to meet, said Matt Wolf, economic development assistant. He said they are considering giving welcome packets to new businesses that outline codes. The survey found that they need to improve communication on codes, so the city — and likely the Chamber — will hold some events or make YouTube videos to go in depth on the ordinances.
Economic Development Director Christine Costello said one of the city's pitfalls may have been interacting with businesses only to enforce codes, and for many "that memory of feeling cold just kind of stuck in their heads." She said they will continue interacting with businesses to try and overcome that feeling.
Wolf said they are taking the first steps to amp up the workforce by starting work on a workforce training committee that they're hoping to have together by the end of this year.
They will also contact the school district and regional technical colleges to explore programming possibilities.
One of the big concerns is finding an experienced employees to fill positions, especially as the baby boomer generation retires, Wolf said.
Results of the survey showed that 49 percent of the businesses involved think their workforce needs more training.The survey found that manufacturing and health care fields — the city's two largest employment categories — in Cottage Grove have found it especially difficult finding skilled employees.
"We're trying to keep businesses from needing to look elsewhere," Wolf said.
The survey found that many businesses in Cottage Grove do want to expand, however. Though 40 percent of businesses aren't thinking about making any changes, about 29 percent are considering expanding at their same location, and 32 percent consider expanding elsewhere.
Only about 5 percent are considering closing, and 2.5 percent have thought about downsizing.
The city will be launching a business advisory committee that can report back to the city about issues or concerns in the business community.
Staff will also continue doing retention and expansion surveys with businesses, with a goal of about 10 to 15 each year. They will also revisit businesses every two years, as well as launch quarterly business updates for the city.
"There's some really big steps yet to come," Wolf said. Many business owners also reported a desire for an improved retail atmosphere.
Though almost 50 percent said they felt the local shopping atmosphere was average and 24 percent said above average, none would classify it as excellent.