As Scott County's growth stalls, hurdles arise

  • Article by: DAVID PETERSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 10, 2012 - 10:02 PM

Scott County leaders ponder ways to attract new development.

The leaders of what was once one of the nation's fastest-growing counties are being warned they are not well-equipped to join a recovery that's slowly taking shape.

And consultants say the issues Scott County faces are common to many others as well. Among the sobering realities:

• While suburbs often cringe at the thought of big multifamily housing projects, that is what the market now demands.

• Meanwhile, the big corporate headquarters campuses they dream of? Mostly a mirage.

"Corporate campuses are tough," consultant Matt Mullins of Maxfield Research Inc. told a gathering of mayors and other civic leaders from across the county on Friday. "Everyone wants one. But there are only a handful of companies looking for that and it's a very competitive process. Ideally, it would be excellent for Scott," plagued as it is today with lots of lower-wage jobs versus the better paying offers in nearby Hennepin County. "But it's challenging."

Developers are keen on multifamily projects such as apartments and senior housing, he said, while for the moment "builders can't cash-flow single family subdivisions" of the type many suburbs prefer, "though I expect we will see more activity there soon."

Civic leaders spent more than two hours at Prior Lake City Hall viewing numbers showing the slowdown within the county in recent years and the immense gap between their goals for job growth and their ability to attract new firms.

Consultants warned of a limited supply of the kind of land firms seek: parcels ready to build on, with costly water services, sewer and the like.

The leaders also heard that in a competitive marketplace, Scott County is not blowing the private sector away with quick, well-informed responses to inquiries from companies seeking sites with certain amenities such as fiber-optic cable.

"Does each of you want to spend $80,000 to $100,000 for every city to hire and equip an economic development coordinator?" asked the county's soon-to-retire community development chief, Mike Sobota. "Can you do that? Probably not."

Indeed, in tight budget times, it was clear that elected leaders will be skeptical about spending the money that advocates say it will take to fix those dilemmas.

Said Prior Lake Mayor Mike Myser:

"We, as a county, had phenomenal growth for a while and then no growth. I'm not convinced we know what trajectory we're on right now. I don't want to spend the money and then have nothing occur for five or 10 years, and we know that happens all over the Twin Cities. We only have so much gunpowder, and we need to do it right."

Others spoke of it as a chicken-and-egg problem: Without attractive sites, no one will come.

"A lot of us want to jump to marketing," said Savage City Administrator Barry Stock, "but we have nothing to market! We have no land" -- or not the kind that's ready to be built on.

David Peterson • 952-746-3285

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