LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Since being hired as Lester Prairie’s first economic development coordinator, Adam Birkholz has been doing something he enjoys promoting his hometown.
The path he took to get to the newly-created position may be unconventional, but Birkholz said his background is part of what led the city council to choose him for the job.
“I am very committed to Lester Prairie,” Birkholz said. “I have some skin in the game, and I want the community to succeed.”
Before being hired as economic development coordinator, Birkholz worked for the city’s public works department, four years part time while he was in college, and 11 years after that.
He said this gives him knowledge of the city’s buildings and grounds that an outside candidate would not have, and a strong background with the city’s infrastructure.
“I have a sense of pride in Lester Prairie,” Birkholz said. “I think I know the values of the community. I have an idea of what the community is looking for, and it’s my job to help us get there.”
He also noted his background has allowed him to “hit the ground running,” in a way that an outside candidate would not have been able to do.
Birkholz said his new position spans several areas, including community development, housing development, economic development, and planning.
The goal is to do what’s best for its 1,700 residents as a whole, as opposed to individuals or small groups.
He noted he is looking at both the present and the future needs of the city.
“We want to be a sustainable community and continue to grow,” he said.
Birkholz noted that the operation of the city is much different than a private business, and the city must follow statutes in its operation.
He sees his role as being a point-man to help the city coordinate these activities.
He said he will gather information, and present good information to the city council to help the council, as elected officials, make decisions.
Birkholz said the city has been able to accomplish a lot over the years with very little staff. The new position will help ease the burden, and will allow the city to move forward on things that it was unable to do previously.
In the past, the city did not have anyone who could devote significant time to projects and activities. The new position will allow him to participate in county-wide meetings, and give Lester Prairie a voice.
“This is going to be a win for Lester Prairie,” Birkholz said.
One of his priorities will be to improve communication, both within the organization, and between the city and its residents.
Birkholz said one of his strengths is communication, and improving communication is one of his personal goals, because he has observed at times in the past communication was lacking in the city, and there can be some very negative consequences of that.
The new position will help the city communicate a consistent message to residents, he noted.
He said his is not afraid to communicate, and is willing to ask questions, do research, and work hard to help the city thrive.
“What a local government is, is a service-providing organization,” Birkholz said. We’re here to provide services for the citizens of Lester Prairie. It can be in terms of utilities, like water and sewer, or streets and maintenance of streets. Police protection is a service. Fire protection is a service. This is just another service to the community. That’s the way we need to view it. As employees, we are all service providers working together to provide services to the residents of Lester Prairie.”
Poised for growth
Birkholz said Lester Prairie is situated for growth. The city has plenty of capacity in its wastewater treatment plant to accommodate new residents and businesses.
The city has done a good job keeping streets up-to-date through regular maintenance, which allows the city to get more life out of the streets.
The city has low bonding debt, and is financially stable, Birkholz said.
He added that the local school helps the community, and, if the school district is healthy, it helps housing.
He also noted the city is close to the Metro area, and to transportation corridors including Highway 7 and Highway 212, which may make the city attractive to businesses and employees.
One of the keys to economic development, Birkholz said, is to build off of the businesses that are already there.
One of the first things he did after being hired for the new position was to go around and visit nearly all the business owners in and around the city to find out what they think the city needs, and what would help their businesses to thrive.
Birkholz has also been looking at ways to market the community. He is excited about the opportunity to promote his hometown.
He said the city has many features that make it a good spot to live, including a local grocery store, hardware store, clinic, and bank, among others.
Birkholz hopes to educate the public on the importance of shopping locally, to keep money in the community.
At Birkholz’ request, the city council has scheduled a workshop meeting at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 1 during which Birkholz will present some of the information he has gathered since accepting the new position, and request council direction on how to proceed.
Birkholz is a 2000 graduate of Lester Prairie High School.
He said he thoroughly enjoyed his time in school and participated in multiple activities. One of the advantages of Lester Prairie having a small school district, Birkholz said, is it give students the opportunity to participate in multiple sports, as opposed to some larger districts where students have to specialize.
Birkholz participated in football, baseball, and wrestling. Since graduation, he has been giving back to the community by coaching football, which he has been doing for 15 years.
“It’s a wonderful experience,” he said. “I love working with the kids. I think I can offer something to the kids. That’s why I do it. I feel athletics offer kids numerous things other than just the sport itself. It teaches very important life lessons.”
“I’m grateful for my education in Lester prairie,” Birkholz said. “I think it prepared me for numerous things throughout my life.”
Family is very important to Birkholz, and when he is not working, he enjoys spending time with his wife, Dana, their daughter, Hailey, 6, and son, Clayton, 4.
“We like to spend as much time on the water as we can, boating. Also walking, biking, those kinds of activities. We try to get outside as much as we can, he commented.”
Birkholz is finishing his degree in interdisciplinary studies, with a minor in urban and regional studies at Minnesota State University, Mankato. He expects to complete his final two classes in the spring.