When business comes knocking, Anoka County officials want to be ready.
It’s why the county has been working for months on a website that offers an easy look at available properties and commercial real estate ripe for development across the county’s 21 communities.
The goal, officials said, is to offer a regional tool in an area — economic development — that typically is handled by each city independently, rather than as a joint countywide effort.
The website, anokacountysuccess.org, launched Friday and is part of a broader effort in the state’s fourth most populous county to be competitive with its neighbors, tackle perception issues and attract new businesses.
“All this information has always been there. It’s just never been compiled in one place. It’s never been user-friendly,” said Commissioner Scott Schulte. “We think this is the answer to getting them to notice us.”
The website also aims to promote Anoka County’s assets, calling attention to its low taxes, affordable land and easy distance from Minneapolis and St. Paul, officials said.
It highlights the area’s core industries, which range from data centers to manufacturing.
Each city in Anoka County, as well as its last remaining township, pitched in a funding share based on its population size toward the $20,000 needed to get the website and related marketing materials up and running.
The county, in turn, pays the $80,000 salary for an economic development specialist to spearhead the regional work and act as a point person for cities and stakeholders.
Jacquel Hajder, who most recently worked as housing and economic development coordinator for White Bear Lake, stepped into the newly minted role last July.
Hajder said she has been meeting with city leaders and staffers in each Anoka County community to learn about their development priorities.
Those sharply different visions cover urban, suburban and rural areas, from booming Blaine, population 62,000, to tiny Bethel, population 466. Hajder said tools like the website help cities work together to promote Anoka County.
“It brings more opportunities and more attraction to the north metro,” she said. “In the past, Anoka County was honestly often overlooked.”
The economic development initiative stems from a $40,000 study funded by the county, Connexus Energy and the MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce. The 2017 study, described as “game-changing,” digs into the area’s economic opportunities and obstacles, from commuter trends to image issues.
Putting together an updated, countywide inventory of available sites and buildings for businesses emerged as a key priority.
While some larger cities already have staffers dedicated to economic development, smaller communities often lack the resources to market available land.
That’s where the website and Hajder come in.
In Linwood Township, for instance, Hajder is helping staffers craft clearer zoning for business development. In Bethel, she is working with city leaders on their goal of revitalizing downtown.
And in Ham Lake, Hajder said she is planning a workshop on economic development strategies as city officials consider the future of land for sale, especially on Hwy. 65.
“I think it’s a good move on the county’s part,” said Don Krueger, Ham Lake’s interim city administrator. “It’s a great partnership.”