Main Street Ada enjoys revival
ADA, Minn.—About four years ago, Ada decided to change its city government to allow for the hiring of a city administrator.
The person chosen to fill that job was James Leiman, who started work in early 2015.
Today, Leiman can list off what has happened in Ada since then, including a 70 percent increase in Main Street job growth; a 50 percent increase in industrial capacity; and more than $1 million secured in grants for community improvement and economic development.
In addition, home values are rising and school enrollment is growing.
Mayor Todd Sawrey describes the change as nothing short of phenomenal.
"Four years ago, we had over a dozen vacant (commercial) spaces. We are now down to one vacant storefront along Main Street," said Sawrey, who owns West Main Pizza in Ada, a business that has made lighting upgrades and other improvements with help from the city.
'We're very lucky'
Another commercial enterprise that has benefited from the business/city collaboration is Studio 4:13, an art studio owned by Elizabeth Rockstad.
In 2016, the studio embarked on a storefront beautification project that continued into 2017.
As part of that, the studio, which is named for Rockstad's favorite Bible verse, Philippians 4:13, refurbished its brick facade, complete with a colorful mosaic.
The cost was offset with grants made possible by the city.
"We're very lucky," Rockstad said, adding that business has been good, thanks in part to the traffic generated by a new business that opened next door, the Hidden Treasures thrift store.
Sawrey, who has been mayor for nearly a year and before that headed the city's economic development efforts, said that in addition to the benefits that come from aligning the efforts of government and business, another thing making Ada attractive to families and businesses is the fact it now has a certified dike, which means the city is no longer in the floodplain.
Sawrey and Leiman say Ada's success is attracting the attention of other cities in Minnesota as well as eastern North Dakota, and it's not uncommon for them to talk with visitors about the city's approach to development.
"My role is to be that ambassador," Sawrey said. "It's fun to show off your city and the great things that are going on."
And there's more to come, according to Leiman, who said the city has set up a business incubator that is getting ready to open in May with help from an entrepreneur-in-residence who will guide fledgling businesses.
According to Leiman, there wasn't any magic involved in Ada's transformation, just a realization that the city's strengths could be better aligned.
"This community had the tools and it had the spirit. It just needed someone to look at it from the outside," Leiman said.
He added that since 2015 Ada has successfully competed for and raised more than $1 million in grant funds.
Over the same period, the city's economic development authority leveraged a number of funds to loan more than $200,000 to growing businesses, according to EDA President Greg Slotten.
Public entities benefitting from grants and other forms of assistance include the Dekko Community Center, which has seen $500,000 worth of upgrades, including a 24-hour gym, library improvements and a pool-area facelift, according to Leiman.
Pedal to the metal
On the business side, one enterprise in particular has bloomed in Ada in recent years—Weave Got Maille, a maker of chain maille-related products.
Not only has it expanded into a second, much larger facility, but it has started a companion company called Premiere Anodizing and Metal Finishing.
"We're now selling in 78 countries and our product line has gone right through the roof," said Edie Ramstad, owner of Weave Got Maille.
Ramstad credits much of that success to a responsive city staff.
"Anything that we needed, they were very helpful to be there to the extent they could," Ramstad said.
Another business owner happy with the help she's gotten from the city is Lee Ann Hall, who operates Office Supplies Plus.
The business spruced up its storefront with assistance from the city and Hall said that work, combined with improvements being made at other stores, serves to attract even more businesses.
"When you have a nice looking downtown area, it makes it more attractive for people to stop and look and it draws more people who are interested in possibly opening a business," Hall said.
"Instead of looking at a bunch of storefronts that are rundown, or businesses that are closed, it's filling up Main Street by having nice looking places for people to rent," she added.