Two weeks into her reign as Cottage Grove’s new city administrator, Charlene Stevens remains vague about some things about the suburb. But she’s quite clear on this: Her mission is commercial and industrial development, and the jobs that follow.
Already, one sparkling midday last week, Stevens mingled with business leaders on a catered paddleboat cruise along the Mississippi River that offered scenic views of a side to Cottage Grove that few ever think about, much less see.
“There’s a desire to grow jobs here,” Stevens said. “Any community needs a balance of commercial and industrial development to be successful.”
Not every City Council feels that way, though, and it hasn’t always been the approach of Cottage Grove, said Mayor Myron Bailey.
“There has been a change in philosophy,” Bailey said as the big boat was docking after more than two hours afloat. “In the past, the goal was a bedroom community. But we want amenities, shopping opportunities, and we need to change the mentality to being pro-development.
“Look,” he added with a broad smile, “we brought in LeafLine last year! If that doesn’t prove we’re serious, I don’t know what would be.”
LeafLine Labs announced late last year that it would build a medical marijuana manufacturing facility in Cottage Grove.
“Many cities out there said they didn’t want to touch that business,” the mayor said. “We said, ‘This is interesting! Here’s a new thing coming forward. Let’s get ahead of the game.’ And that has stimulated a couple more companies [into] looking at purchasing land near them, because they’re there.”
Every table on the Jonathan Padelford stern-wheeler last week bore a giant tent reminding business folks from 3M and other firms of a set of basic messages:
Cottage Grove is 20 minutes from the airport. Tax incentives and financing options await. Staff will get “fast-tracked” approval for projects. All public infrastructure is in place, unlike some towns. More than 350,000 workers live within 25 minutes’ commute.
Stevens, 47, has moved frequently around the country in her career, having last worked as city administrator in Willmar, Minn.
She grew up in Sioux Falls, S.D., and her career started in nonprofits. After switching to public administration, she worked in Wichita, Kan., twice, and in suburban Philadelphia in between. She and her husband have three sons, ages 6, 8, and 11, and all are still in Willmar until the family finds a home this fall in Cottage Grove.
Stevens was drawn to the Twin Cities by its quality of life and by family ties. She was considered for jobs in Shakopee, Golden Valley and Coon Rapids before landing in the east metro. As she looked at the area more as a parent than as a prospective employee, she was impressed, she said, by the mammoth East Ridge High School in Woodbury.
“She’s a ‘can-do’ person,” Mayor Bailey said. “Our council now has a business-friendly mentality, and she fits that bill.”