Businesses have been drawn to Plymouth for years without government help, but when Dave Callister became city manager, he wondered: Was the city overlooking development opportunities?
Previously, economic development was “not a large focus,” said Callister, who got the job about two years ago. “We didn’t know what we missed.”
The city is making up for lost time. In the past six months, Plymouth officials have combined several strategies into a new, formal effort to shore up economic development, hiring a dedicated economic development manager, scheduling meet-and-greets with existing businesses and creating a “Plymouth Proud” program to bolster visibility of local companies.
Before the efforts could begin, a first step was taking stock of what the city already had going for it, something officials hadn’t done before, said Danette Parr, the city’s first economic development manager.
What she and other officials gleaned jump-started the city’s efforts.
“We didn’t know until about a year ago that we probably have more med-tech businesses than any city in the world,” Callister said.
More than 130 med-tech companies call Plymouth home, he said, but many people — even residents — don’t realize it.
Hiring someone to focus specifically on development makes a difference, said Craig Waldron, a public administration professor at Hamline University.
“I would say it’s a smart move because cities go through these cycles where they grow and … go into a decline,” Waldron said. “Plymouth is at the top of its game, but you have to work to stay there.”
The city’s 2016 budget allots $181,000 for economic development, but that figure will likely increase over time, Callister said.
Finding a new home
Promoting and branding Plymouth and its businesses is the goal of the “Plymouth Proud” campaign, Parr said.
Launched in January, it has a blue and green logo that businesses can display with window clings. It goes beyond just encouraging residents to shop locally, she said.
Parr also wants to recruit new businesses while retaining and helping those already in town. One challenge: While the city wants to attract more businesses, there isn’t much space for new commercial development in Plymouth, she said.
Future plans likely include redevelopment of underused areas of the city, Callister said.
“There’s room for more — we just have to be smart about how we develop our community,” he said.
Several well-known businesses have moved to Plymouth in the past year, including TCF Bank, Smiths Medical and Polaris, Callister said.
When Smiths Medical chose Plymouth for its new headquarters, President and CEO Jeff McCaulley was won over by the building itself, as well as its location near other medical and technology-oriented businesses.
“We also liked the community amenities in that area,” he said, including quality schools, parks and access to a community center and ice arena.
Officials were welcoming, McCaulley said, with the mayor meeting with him early on. The company qualified for two state incentive programs, administered through the city.
The city is planning its next steps, such as a spring Realtor forum to encourage local Realtors to collaborate. In the future, Parr envisions hosting a trade show featuring medical and technical products, creating a consortium of CEOs and working with higher-education institutions to fix workforce shortage problems. Planning will probably begin this summer, she said.
Callister said: “It’s in everybody’s interest, not just the businesses, to have a thriving business community.”