Cottage Grove City Council candidate Q-and-A: Justin Olsen
What is the biggest issue facing Cottage Grove in the next four years and how would you propose to address it?
As one of the few communities in the Twin Cities metro area with readily developable land still available, we must be very smart and focused regarding overall growth. If re-elected, I will continue to work closely with the Cottage Grove Economic Development Authority, city staff, and City Council colleagues toward widening and diversifying our city’s tax base through sensible commercial development as a way of creating a vibrant, compelling commercial environment including retail, service and dining amenities that keep Cottage Grove residents shopping locally.
I will also continue my work with all stakeholders involved on further growing our city’s already healthy Business Park to draw in additional industry and living wage jobs that not only support the commercial sector, but also encourage intelligent growth in our residential sector
Why are you most qualified/best choice to serve as a member of the Cottage Grove City Council?
I am a long time resident of the community and a very involved volunteer with significant knowledge about the values and culture of Cottage Grove. I am also a former member of the Public Safety, Health & Welfare Commission for over four years, former president of the Cottage Grove Strawberry Festival Committee, current vice-president and board member for one of our area’s Lions Club, business mentor for DECA & Junior Achievement and an active Cottage Grove Athletic Association youth baseball and softball coach for many years. I possess over 20 years of multi-unit business management experience in a variety of retail and wholesale industries that includes responsibility for managing a staff of over 200 people along with budgets exceeding $100 million annually.
Why has the City Council’s approach the past four years to major issues — like the new City Hall, attracting commercial investment, budgeting and property taxes — been the right one? Or, is there something you would change?
We’ve been able to accomplish some very good things in partnership with city staff during my time on the council, despite what has been a challenging economic environment, while laying the foundation for a very promising future. Our tax levy has remained flat, which means the owner of an average priced home in Cottage Grove will pay less in property taxes to the city in 2013 than they paid in 2004. We’ve also been able to invest in a mission critical piece of community infrastructure for our Public Safety Department in building a new City Hall and public safety facility, paid for with cash at no additional cost to the taxpayers due to the low cost of both labor and materials for the project. In fact, the project will come in on time and about $2 million under budget because we chose to build at the perfect time in the market cycle.
Our sensible budgeting practices and prudent financial decisions have also led us to receive a boost in our credit rating from Standard & Poor’s, moving us from AA to AA+, which puts us in the upper echelon of all cities in our state. We’ve “re-branded” the city with a new logo and marketing program to attract more retail and light industrial business to our community, with great success. Our “Shop Local” program has been popular with our area Chamber of Commerce because we are focusing on keeping shopping dollars in town while working to attract businesses Cottage Grove residents want and need.
Occupation: District manager, Brown Shoe Co.
Lived in Cottage Grove: 32 years
Family: Married 13 years to wife, Kim; son Corbin, 11, and daughter Rose, 8.