Ramsey County leaders want to send a clear message to companies looking to make a move in 2020: The east metro offers ample incentives and room for their businesses. That’s why they’ve launched Ramsey County Means Business, an online business resource portal.
Designed specifically for businesses and corporate site selectors, RamseyCountyMeansBusiness.com includes an interactive map of nearly 60 properties available for development and redevelopment across the county. It also includes lists of incentive and cleanup programs at the local, state and federal levels that can offer assistance.
The website, created in partnership with St. Paul and the county’s suburbs, was designed to replace a stack of papers typically provided to prospective businesses, said Kari Collins, Ramsey County’s community and economic development director.
It showcases an array of opportunities for corporate site selectors who may start their search at “Twin Cities” and “Ramsey County” but wouldn’t necessarily be aware of prime properties in White Bear Lake, Shoreview or Little Canada, for example.
“People see a fully developed community and they say, ‘Where am I going to put my business?’ ” Collins said. “There are plenty of redevelopment opportunities to make room for your business.”
About the website, she said: “This was really intended to help our community partners showcase what they have. We may not be presenting ourselves as sophisticated as we are.”
Collins said it’s all part of a larger effort to provide concierge-style service to prospective businesses. She said it’s critical to respond quickly to inquiries and make connections between local, county and state agencies, vs. the old way of responding, “Sorry, we don’t do that here.”
“We want to shepherd them along the way,” Collins said.
The new website markets two of the metro region’s largest redevelopment opportunities, on property owned by Ramsey County in St. Paul: the 71-acre former Boys Totem Town correctional campus on the East Side, and the downtown strip called Riversedge, 5 acres along the Mississippi River that Los Angeles-based developer AECOM hopes to transform into four towers with office space, condos, retail space and a hotel. The image on the website is a rendering of Riversedge with the headline “Innovation Playground.”
Collins said county projects are part of the website but said it was created to spur growth for east metro private developments as well.
“Economic development is critical to the success of the region, and this tool both organizes our resources and highlights the real opportunities businesses have here,” said B Kyle, president and CEO of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, in a written statement.
‘A great start’
County officials worked with city leaders to determine which properties — from residential to commercial and industrial — to include on the website.
“This area, including Ramsey County, over the years has been a little behind and slow to react to competition for economic development,” said Shoreview Assistant City Manager Tom Simonson. “They are finally stepping forward and realizing there is a story to tell. It’s not only telling but selling that story.”
Shoreview is working with the firm that designed Ramsey County’s website, Golden Shovel Agency, to create one for the city. “Everyone has to up their game,” Simonson said.
Sites listed on the county website include the old Second Harvest Heartland headquarters and warehouse in Maplewood; the site of the old Skyline Motel in Mounds View; the Shoreview Corporate Center near Interstate 694; and the 122-acre former Ford assembly plant in St. Paul’s Highland Park, which master developer Ryan Cos. plans to transform into a bikeable, walkable village of thousands powered by renewable energy.
Not listed is the county’s largest redevelopment project of all, the 427-acre site of the former Twin Cities Army Ammunition Plant in Arden Hills. That project is on hold as the county and Arden Hills battle over the site in court.
The website includes information on a property’s acreage, zoning and local contacts, and lists incentive programs down to a city’s willingness to work with developers on cleanup and density.
Collins said the site also highlights Ramsey County’s trade schools, training programs, community colleges, universities and its existing workforce of nearly 248,000 workers — 94,000 with bachelor’s degrees and 66,000 with graduate degrees. Given low unemployment and a tight labor market, companies want to ensure that they can fill jobs with qualified workers.
“We can’t have a strong economic portal without a strong workforce piece,” Collins said.
For many of Ramsey County’s suburbs, with populations under 30,000 and small city hall staffs, the county’s website helps them amplify their redevelopment efforts.
“We are really supportive of what the county is doing and we are encouraged by the county’s efforts to foster economic development,” Simonson said.
“It’s a great start,” said Nolan Wall, community development director for Vadnais Heights. “The county promoting development opportunities in the various communities is helpful for all. … Redevelopment is the key to increasing our tax base moving forward.”