If St. Paul is going to become a better place to do business, it's going to take teamwork.
That will be the underlying theme Mayor Chris Coleman lays out Monday when he releases a six-point economic development plan for the city.
It was devised in conjunction with major St. Paul business organizations and states goals and responsibilities for improving commerce.Acknowledging that St. Paul can do more to attract new businesses and keep the ones it has, the plan outlines common-sense ways for the city to:
• Cut through some of the red tape.
• Retain businesses and recruit new ones.
• Revitalize downtown as well as neighborhoods
• Ensure the schools are doing their part to build an educated and skilled workforce.
"It's in everyone's self-interest to be doing this," Coleman said.
It's not the city that creates jobs and wealth, but businesses and nonprofit organizations, according to the plan.
It has taken about two years and many meetings with members of the Capital City Partnership, St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, St. Paul Port Authority and St. Paul Riverfront Corporation to come up with the goals.
"Everybody has come together, and that hasn't always been the case," said Kris Johnson, Chamber of Commerce president. "Times aren't as good and we have to bring together the resources we have."
Financial breaks wane
In the past, the city has offered tax incentives to companies such as Lawson and Gander Mountain. It also made a forgivable loan to the downtown Macy's -- as long as it doesn't leave before 2012.
But St. Paul, like other cities across the United States, isn't flush with cash these days. Tough economic times have slowed investment and put pressure on many existing businesses.
The Penfield, an upscale condo tower project, has been stalled and will no longer feature condos. The developers, however, plan to do something with the site.
Prime downtown riverfront property occupied by the old West Publishing complex and vacant county jail is being shopped by Opus Northwest. The developer needs a big office tenant to begin work on a $200 million office tower, condos and hotel. Opus has said it's committed to the site.
The city stands to lose two longtime employers, 3M and Ford Co., but the land left behind presents major opportunities for redevelopment.
Although it's not guaranteed to roll yet, the planned Central Corridor light-rail line is the biggest opportunity for changing the face of the city's neighborhoods and businesses.
Developer Steve Wellington said the past year has been a pretty good one for his company doing business in the city. He said he intends to break ground on three St. Paul projects in the next year.
A time to sell
With St. Paul in the national spotlight of the Republican National Convention in September, it's no wonder city leaders are unveiling this now.
They want to sell St. Paul's livability.
"A big part of what we have to offer is quality of life," said Patrick Seeb, CEO of the Riverfront Corporation. The post-secondary options, cultural institutions and natural amenities make the city a great place to do business, he said.
Coleman points out that the existing workforce is highly educated.
The strategy suggests that St. Paul and its partners will try to attract businesses that aren't likely to outsource and that have the greatest potential to grow in existing industries, such as health care or manufacturing.
At the same time, there will be surveys for existing businesses and other programs to help fill downtown office space.
A vibrant downtown is critical to creating a strong tax base, said Cecile Bedor, director of the city's Planning and Economic Development. A consistent knock on downtown is that it's sleepy. A recent report by the local office of Colliers Turley Martin Tucker said that at the end of the first quarter, the vacancy rate for office space in St. Paul was 26.3 percent, compared with 16.9 percent for the overall Twin Cities area.
Outside of downtown, there will be a renewed focus on helping neighborhoods and ethnic businesses thrive, according to the plan.
Ultimately, Bedor said, the three main goals are to increase the tax base, increase the number of jobs and make sure existing businesses are successful.
"Those things will attract new businesses," she said.
Chris Havens • 651-298-1542