Farmington aims to ramp up economic development

  • Article by: SUSAN FEYDER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 17, 2014 - 1:56 PM

The Dakota County city hopes new Adam Kienberger can help it chart a course for commercial and industrial projects, as part of its bigger-picture economic growth.

Farmington has hired a community development director — the first time someone has had that job since 2006 — as part of a larger economic growth strategy.

Adam Kienberger, 33, comes to Farmington with solid credentials in community and economic development.

Most recently he spent more than eight years as an economic specialist with Lakeville, where he helped craft that city’s business promotion strategy under its “Position to Thrive” banner.

Before that, he worked for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) and as an economic development assistant at the city of Woodbury.

The hiring of Kienberger, who started his new job this month, comes about four months after Farmington fired longtime city planner Lee Smick, saying it wanted a replacement with deeper experience in economic and property development.

“I proposed it to the council, and they were on board from the get-go,” said City Administrator David McKnight of reviving the community development director position.

Kienberger, who will be paid $84,559 this year, will oversee planning, economic development, building inspections, heritage preservation and code enforcement.

The past couple of years have seen Farmington ride the wave of homebuilding that has swept through the Twin Cities. The city has been among the metro area’s most active home construction markets, with 135 housing permits last year, nearly double the number in 2012, according to the Builders’ Association of the Twin Cities.

The upsurge in home construction has positioned Farmington for more nonresidential building activity, McKnight said. “I’m not putting all of that on Adam. Others, like city staff and the council, have roles. But with housing coming back, it’s time for us to concentrate on commercial and industrial development.”

Already, the city could be getting close to getting its first brand-name hotel. Cobblestone Hotels of Neenah, Wis., which develops small, midmarket hotels, has met with Farmington officials about its interest in building one. It has looked at land on the west side of town, just off County Road 50.

Meanwhile, commercial and industrial permits valued at more than $500,000 have been issued through the first week in June, up sharply from less than $90,000 for the same period in 2013.

But the city lags Dakota County in terms of business development. Farmington accounts for about 5 percent of the county’s total population but has less than 2 percent of its privately employed workforce, according to DEED.

Nearly 25 percent of Farmington’s land is agricultural. The lack of land ready for industrial and commercial development is a challenge for the city, McKnight said. “We have to figure out where’s next. If we don’t have the land available, nothing’s going to happen,” he said.

Legacy for the land

Kienberger said part of his new job in Farmington will be to work with local property owners to determine their long-term plans for their land.

“There will be questions about what they want as a legacy for their property,” he said. “Is it something that they want to continue to farm now and in future generations, or do they want to make some sort of shift over time?”

Farmington’s interest in industrial development appears to be well-timed.

The metro area has seen increasing developer and investor interest in industrial properties in the past year. Bryan Van Hoof, a senior vice president with the Minneapolis office of CBRE Group Inc., notes that the southeast metro market is especially tight, with some industrial projects getting full rosters of tenants before the buildings are completed.

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