Willmar continues to grow and prosper
WILLMAR — In 2016 the city of Willmar approved over $60 million dollars in new construction and development ranging from major school projects to new homes and businesses. These projects popped up all over town from the Industrial Park and along Lakeland Drive to the retail center of First Street.
"2016 was a positive year," said Bruce Peterson, Willmar Planning and Community Development director.
While Willmar still has a lack of housing in many areas, especially workforce housing, 2016 saw the construction of approximately 34 new homes.
"Every unit counts," Peterson said.
Peterson added he has had discussions with potential housing developers and hopes some major housing projects are in the city's near future. This is especially needed as Willmar's population continues to change and grow.
"Our population exceeds 20,000, I truly believe that," Peterson said, explaining that a portion of Willmar's population is fluid and can be difficult to count. However as those families grow comfortable in their new surroundings it should be easier to include them in the census count.
"I am optimistic our housing development will continue," Peterson said.
The other focus of Peterson's department is industry.
"We're focused on the jobs that provide the disposable income," which in turn brings more commercial and service-based businesses to Willmar, Peterson said.
Willmar Industrial Park
Already the city has seen good success with the third and fourth additions of the Willmar Industrial Park.
"This has been a great accomplishment getting our Industrial Park completed," Peterson said. The park was certified shovel ready by the Department of Employment and Economic Development, meaning the lots for sale have most of the pre-construction work already completed.
Dooley's Petroleum continues construction on its new office building and shop and Backes Technology is moving its business to the Industrial Park as well.
Peterson said in a few weeks he will be able to announce another land sale at the park, and other businesses have shown interest.
"We believe we'll be able to have the Industrial Park built out in four to five years," Peterson said.
There are discussions being had about other potential businesses moving to town. Peterson said there have been parties interested in the Mills Auto property downtown at Litchfield Avenue and Second Street Southwest. One developer could bring dozens of jobs to the city, he said, but a land sale hasn't yet taken place.
"I would really like to see them put that deal together," Peterson said.
There has also been interest in Mills' empty auto dealership location along First Street, across the street from Cub Foods. Peterson said developers have been asking about portions of the property, meaning the larger parcel would need to be broken up.
"We've heard from different entities," Peterson said of those showing interest in the property.
When it comes to the commercial side, Peterson said that usually takes care of itself.
"We continue to see the commercial build itself out. They will fill those gaps," Peterson said.
While there was the closure of Best Buy and S&F Furniture in the past few months, there has also been the construction as well as the opening of Hobby Lobby and Mattress Firm, and the expansion of Anytime Fitness. A new pizza restaurant, 1000 Degrees, will be opening soon next to Cullen's, and Target is advertising for employees to work at a Starbucks to be located in the Willmar store.
AutoZone is in the process of buying a lot near the Kandi Mall to build a new store, and Peterson said work on the new satellite retail building at the mall could begin later this year.
The past couple of years have seen development, expansion and new construction continue to rise in Willmar, and Peterson believes it will continue to do so.
"I'm optimistic health care will continue to grow. We're definitely seeing interest on the industrial and commercial side," Peterson said.
And while some of the major builds last year were from Willmar Public Schools, including the new elementary school, Peterson said those projects can be just as important to Willmar as a private development.
"It is important to employees," Peterson said, and if employees want to live in Willmar, employers will follow.
All the development that has taken place in Willmar — and those projects still to be completed — are doing their part to keep Willmar thriving.
"We'll continue to solidify our tax and employment base. Willmar, due to its location and status as a regional center, is going to continue to grow and pick up a lot of the slack in central and western Minnesota," Peterson said.