Anoka County, often labeled as remote and rural, knows its image needs an update.
So county officials are proceeding with a regional branding campaign, one of several key suggestions from a recent study on economic development.
The study has been described as a “game changer” for the state’s fourth most-populous county as it works to attract new businesses, tackle perception issues and promote a unified message among its diverse cities and last remaining township.
“It’s long overdue,” said Commissioner Scott Schulte. “When we tell people we’re business-friendly, we can show them proof.”
Last year Anoka County joined Connexus Energy and MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce to fund the $40,000 study, which digs into the area’s economic opportunities and obstacles.
The next phase of work will include crafting a cohesive brand, creating a new website and hiring someone for the freshly minted county job of economic development specialist, a position approved Tuesday by the County Board.
The new employee will act as a point person in Anoka County for cities and stakeholders, with a salary ranging from about $53,000 to $96,000, according to the job posting.
“We’re not taking the approach that this is a county job, and [that] we’re telling the cities what to do,” Karen Skepper, director of community and governmental relations, told commissioners. “We’re taking the lead from the cities.”
In a separate decision Tuesday, a committee of the county’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority — which consists of County Board members — approved pitching in $8,000 of an additional $40,000 needed to put some of the study’s other recommendations into action. That cost is being split among the county, Connexus, MetroNorth Chamber and participating cities.
Final approval for the county’s funding piece is expected March 27.
Six Anoka County communities — Andover, Anoka, Blaine, Columbia Heights, Coon Rapids and Ramsey — have already committed $12,000, according to Bruce Sayler of Connexus, a Ramsey-based electric cooperative that serves the north metro.
The new website, to be dedicated to economic development, will list all available properties and buildings in one place for interested site selectors and companies. “I think it’s really going to put Anoka County literally on the map,” Sayler said.
No such inventory has existed before, officials said.
“That’s something we should be able to have at our fingertips,” said Rhonda Sivarajah, chairwoman of the Anoka County Board.
Several commissioners say this economic push needs to stay anchored in concrete results. Some expressed disappointment with the county’s partnership in Greater MSP, a public-private nonprofit that promotes the entire metro area.
“I want to stay focused on measurable outcomes,” Commissioner Julie Braastad said. “The results through Greater MSP have been less than we hoped for.”
Anoka County joined the regional economic development group in 2011 and pays the organization $75,000 a year. Its work has come under scrutiny elsewhere in recent years, with some cities questioning their return on investment.
Schulte said the new website, staff position and branding efforts will help position Anoka County as a better partner with Greater MSP when businesses come knocking.
Sivarajah, who is on the board of directors at Greater MSP, credits the group with landing 1,400 jobs for the county. She said Anoka County’s latest efforts will help bolster Greater MSP’s work by showcasing the county’s strengths, from its lower property taxes to cheaper land.
The branding challenge may be figuring out how to pull together the county’s contrasting communities, which encompass urban, suburban and rural areas with sharply different visions for development.
“Not all counties have that great diversity,” Sivarajah said. “I think it’s a strength for us.”