Prior Lake continues to make progress on a long-term plan to stimulate and diversify its economy, posting some gains in commercial development in 2013 and establishing more goals for the next few years.
In a recent report to the City Council, the Economic Development Authority — reconstituted last year to include more members from the community at large — pointed to several measures of growth last year. The value of commercial and industrial permits totaled $3.6 million, more than double 2012’s total.
The number of jobs in Prior Lake rose from 7,996 in 2012 to 8,163 last year, while the number of business establishments increased from 548 to 557, according to figures from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The city exceeded goals for creating jobs and adding businesses for a three-year period ending in 2013.
Unlike Shakopee, where an influx of large new employers is sparking growth, Prior Lake’s recent developments are mostly small stores and restaurants. The largest was the opening last fall of a Lunds supermarket in the space formerly occupied by the Village Market.
The 35,000-square-foot store is the first Lunds south of the river. “It was definitely an area where we lacked a presence and where we were interested in expanding,” said Aaron Sorenson, a spokesman for Lund Food Holdings, which also owns and operates Byerly’s, which has stores in Burnsville and Eagan.
City Administrator Frank Boyles said Prior Lake continues to work on diversifying the workforce, most of which now is in the entertainment and hospitality sectors, primarily at Mystic Lake Casino and Hotel. The EDA took a step in that direction last year, creating a “technology village,” a small-business incubator.
“We feel very good about the technology village, its progress so far,” Boyles said. The program exceeded its first-year goal of three small-business tenants, getting six focused on software development, graphic design, e-commerce and digital community news. The city carved out space in city hall to house the program, with offices for small-business tenants as well as computers, printers and other equipment.
One tenant, Innovative Computer Professionals, already is about to relocate to expanded offices in the Village Commerce Building. The software development business had only one employee in Prior Lake when it moved into the city hall space but will have nine at its new digs, said Mark Friesen, director of development. He said he expects the move to happen in June.
“Moving out [of city hall] but moving into Prior Lake is exactly what we want to see,” Boyles said. “The nature of these jobs is precisely what we have been looking for.”
The technology village’s goals this year include creating a pipeline of prospective new small-business tenants, said Dan Rogness, community and economic development director. The program’s board surveyed local building owners last year to determine the amount of vacant available space. “We’ve also gone out on our own to get a better inventory of space that’s available and we’re keeping better track or what’s out there,” said Rogness, who serves as the technology village’s director.
The EDA also supported last year’s effort by the city to extend its fiber-optic network, another step to encourage more tech-related business development. The city, Scott County and Integra worked out a cost-sharing agreement to build and operate an extension of the county’s fiber backbone along County Road 21 from the intersection at County Road 42 to the intersection of County Road 27.
Prior Lake’s city hall, police station and library already have fiber. The extension will bring high-quality fiber to four remaining city buildings — two fire stations, a maintenance building and the water treatment plant — with lateral lines going to several nearby business areas.
The EDA has said it will continue to support further expansion of fiber throughout the city.