Business owners working toward economic solutions


What can be done to improve the business in Maple Lake?
About 40 people gathered to answer that question during “Working Together for Commercial Growth,” sponsored by the Maple Lake Development Committee Wednesday, Jan. 22, at The V by HH.
In order to spur commercial growth, MLDC is targeting the downtown business district, followed by the industrial park and the Highway 55 corridor.
Understanding the issue
Maple Lake Economic Developer Paul Bilotta shared market data that paints the economic picture for Maple Lake.
“On population, we had a decline from 2010 to 2013, but that is turning around and they’re projecting 3.65 percent growth over the next five years,” Bilotta said. “There is population growth rate acceleration in the city and it’s slower in the outer areas.”
While the local market is small, it expands by about 10 times within a 15-minute radius and by about 40 times within a 30-minute radius.
“Relying on local spending does not support the local economy,” Bilotta said. “That’s really critical. We’re looking to pull in businesses that will attract people from far away.”
Pop-up businesses?
In an effort to lure new businesses and traffic downtown, Maple Lake is looking to develop a pop-up business program.
“Pop-up business programs are very interesting and can revitalize an area,” Bilotta said. “We take a space that no one is doing anything in at the time and look at short-term, interesting tenants who may not bring much in rent, but they bring in business. Many times, we can develop those (short-term leases) into long-term leases.”
Mayor Lynn Kissock suggested pop-up businesses could feature artists from St. Cloud State University and the surrounding area.
A pop-up business program can be run by a public or private entity in an effort to draw new business to town.
“Having an empty building takes a toll, but having someone in there and taking care of it improves the community,” Bilotta said.
MLDC Treasurer Scot Chantland, the owner of Olde Town Creamery Antiques, has had success with the pop-up business model in other towns.
“I wouldn’t have done a pop-up business with a three-year lease because, ‘What if it doesn’t work?’” Chantland said. 
Bilotta said local interest, or a lack thereof, would dictate whether or not a pop-up business program could be implemented or successful.
“The city can’t run a pop-up business on its own,” Bilotta said. “If no one is interested, there’s no point in going that direction.”
He added that another new program to spruce up downtown is in the works.
“It’s something that will have a private-public match,” Bilotta said. “If you have a $30,000 upgrade to do, $15,000 could be paid by this program and $15,000 would be paid by you. There’s usually a burn-off period: If you use this and stay there for a period of time, it turns into a grant. We haven’t worked out all the details, but that’s what we’re working on.”
More information appears in this week's Messenger.