"We are the only regional hub in the state that isn't on a four lane highway," was how Tracy Veglahn of the Marshall, MN (population 12,735) Chamber of Commerce started our tour. Tracy, Mike Johnson, City Administrator, and Mark Hanson, head of ED for Marshall, a new position, gave me a tour of the town prior to my talk in the community. I often hear complaints of lack of four lane roads as a reason why a community isn't doing better. Marshall is an example of what can happen in a progressive community which lies over 2 hours away from the Twin Cities on a mostly two lane road. I remind my audience that 59 of our top 100 agurbs® lie over 25 miles away from a single interstate. Marshall proved to me what you can do even if you have a certain remoteness.
We drove by a brand new high school, built at a cost of $43 million after going through a number of failed bond referendums. The school has 900 students. Citizens of Marshall lobbied the state to build SW Minnesota University here in the late 60s and today has 3,500 full time students. Mike Johnson told me, "In the last two years we have annexed in over 750 acres into the town with the residential and commercial growth that we've had."
Later, when we were visiting the brand new $3 million airport terminal, which provides an incredibly positive image for first time visitors, Johnson explained, "We've invested more than $20 million into the airport since 1994. We are in the process of taking the runway from 5,000 to 7,000 feet."
The downtown is going through a transformation, anchored by a wonderful white table clothed restaurant that would be a major plus in Minneapolis or any other major city. A mixed use project is in the works in the town.
The town isn't without its challenges. It is six miles/hour windier at 16.4 miles/hour than Chicago's Windy City reputation. Floods have ravaged the town in the past even though the Redwood River, which runs through the town doesn't appear very threatening. But, Johnson explained to me the problem for the town, "There is more fall from the Buffalo Ridge, about 25 miles south of Marshall, than there is from the headwaters of the Mississippi River to New Orleans." On the surface it seemed incredible to me, but having driven the route earlier in the day from Sioux Falls, SD I could understand it.
One tremendous asset in the town, the 51 acre Independence Park, was built despite tremendous resistance from local residents who thought that it was an extravagance when it was first proposed in 1980. The city bought the park on contract, local residents mounted a referendum to kill the project, but the city council persevered and found a way to develop the park without going through a bond referendum. Today, none of those opponents can be found as the park is tremendously popular. The town's unemployment has varied between 1.6% and 2.7% over the past several years. There is currently a shortage of hundreds of workers in the town, especially in the IT and marketing areas.
Marshall has recently been recognized as the Top 25 Micropolitan Community for quality of life in 2006; Top 100 Micropolitan Area in 2005; and Best 100 Commmunities for Music Education in 2005.
I told them at the talk, that after taking my tour, I could assure them that they would make my next book. Marshall is on the cusp of some great things.