Posted 3/22/22

THE MAYOR’S BY DAN TOLAND Well, we have made it out of the worst of winter, right? Spring is just around the corner, right? For this issue, I wanted to focus on the idea of “reawakening” – of …

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Well, we have made it out of the worst of winter, right? Spring is just around the corner, right? For this issue, I wanted to focus on the idea of “reawakening” – of the city coming back to life after the winter hibernation. This is the time of year when building and development projects kick into high gear. Developers submit applications for projects they are currently working on and talk to staff about future projects they have in mind. Prospective businesses come looking to open up shop in the city. With all of this activity, I thought it would be perfect time to share some insights on the city’s approach to economic development.

First, the city has a great reputation with developers and builders. They appreciate that we’re easy to work with, will do what we can to help their projects come to life (within our regulatory parameters), and will treat them with the same high level of service. Because of our reputation, many businesses and developers approach us, excited to build in River Falls and become a part of our community. But that doesn’t mean that we just sit back and wait for business to come our way. City staff are constantly working to recruit businesses to the city. For instance, take the old Shopko building. Our staff achieved a huge success in recruiting Tattersall Distilling, one of the Midwest’s premier distilleries, to put down roots and invest in our community.

While River Falls has small box retailers like Dollar General and Dollar Tree, it would be nice to get a larger retailer into the city like we had with the old Shopko, where you could find practically anything you might need – from socks and underwear to jewelry, makeup, kitchen utensils, and dinnerware. Unfortunately, the odds are stacked against us in bringing in such a retailer again. From a business perspective, it’s nearly impossible for someone to open a little shop downtown that sells clothing items – there’s just too much competition with the Hudson big box stores and online retailers.

And it’s not much easier to bring in a big box store. About half of our population commutes out of the city each day for work, meaning many conveniently pass by Target, Walmart, and other places where they can pick up all the items on their shopping lists. When the Shopko building was vacant, the city reached out to the Targets, Walmarts, Runnings, Hy-Vees – you name it – about bringing scaled-down, smaller versions of their stores here. These businesses are aware of River Falls, but they also know that Hudson is only a short drive away. Right now, there is not enough of a retail demand in our city to entice them to build here. The current worker shortages and increasing building costs certainly don’t make it any easier, either.

The city will always happily and eagerly work with anyone who wants to open a business in town – it’s just hard to find people that want to do it. I always hear residents talk about Hudson and ask why they have so many more great restaurants and shops. Hudson is on a major interstate and major river, which brings in a lot more traffic and visitors to support their businesses. As we continue to work hard to grow our business parks here in River Falls, we hope to see more and more people drawn to live and work in the city. More people means more opportunity for retail. We will welcome them to the community with open arms when they are ready to come.

Go Pack Go!