North St. Paul city manager: Next challenge is defining vision for the future

Holly Wenzel
Review staff

New North St. Paul City Manager Jason Ziemer says the city of North St. Paul has plenty to offer prospective residents, developers and current businesses.
Its challenge right now: pinning down what those aspects are and presenting them.

"The way I describe it, a city has to be ever-evolving," Ziemer told members of the Review staff at a Nov. 5 meeting. "A city has to keep renewing itself. If you're standing in place, you're gonna die ... and we need to get that redevelopment engine going again."

North St. Paul is well-situated to "tell its story" to developers, Ziemer says; it just has to decide what that story is.

"Every small city will tell you it has a distinct identity, a rich history, 'small-town values,' but we need to figure out 'What are those values exactly? How do we stand out and what makes us different?'" he explains. "Every city says it's 'business-friendly,' but what does that mean?"

So far, Ziemer has held "retreat" gatherings with city department heads, council members and staff, discussing the city's current status with each group and asking for their ideas for its future.

From there, he and his staff will prepare a draft strategic plan to present to the city council for its input sometime in December. "That strategic plan will look at where we are now, where we'd like to be in the future, and the policies and practices we need to put in place to get us there."

Ziemer hopes to also use the approach he used in Maple Plain to court developers, promoting the advantages North St. Paul enjoys that may not be within its borders.

"We have businesses and schools whose employees come here every weekday. We have Century College just a few miles up the street," he says. "People think you just count rooftops, but businesses who locate here are not limited to just our 12,000 residents."

Another point in the city's favor: the fiberoptic infrastructure it offers. "You hear all the time that for many online businesses you can reach your customers from anywhere. That fiber infrastructure is something we can capitalize on."

The city may also need to pursue public funding in order to secure new projects, Ziemer added. "Whether that's tax-increment financing or federal or state grant money, you often have to have public funding to get projects going. That's true for redevelopment and even for what we think of as 'new' development, like building townhomes on a cornfield."

Residents would have a chance to look over a strategic planning document after the council works on it, probably in January at the earliest.

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