By Derrick Knutson
Nancy Hoffman, Chisago County’s new Housing and Redevelopment/Economic Development Authorities director has only been on the job for about a month, but she’s hit the ground running.
Hoffman, 50, said former HRA/EDA director Chris Eng, who recently took a job in Duluth as that municipality’s Director of Business and Economic Development, had numerous projects in the works, so she slid into the position and took over where he left off.
Hoffman has the expertise to make the transition from Eng to her a smooth one.
Before coming to Chisago County, she was the economic development director in Benton County for over 12 years.
She’s worked in similar capacitates for the East Central Regional Development Commission out of Mora, and the cities of Zumbrota and Oakdale.
Strengths of Chisago County
Hoffman said she sees numerous strengths Chisago County could implement to bolster economic development.
One she noted is the major thoroughfare running through the county – Interstate 35.
“I think there’s a lot of potential to have businesses from the Twin Cities expand to this area because of the close proximity to the metro,” she said. “We have some great industrial sites that are basically shovel ready.”
She also added there’s an ample labor force in the county and people are drawn to Chisago County because of its scenic beauty and charming towns.
“It’s so diverse here,” she said. “There are 10 very unique cities in this county. I think it’s a place where people want to be.”
Challenges to economic development
There are also some challenges when it comes to developing and retaining business in the county, according to Hoffman.
She said some businesses tend to be drawn to Wisconsin because they can sometimes get better incentives from the neighboring state.
Numerous people who live in Chisago County commute to the Twin Cities to work, and Hoffman said that’s also a challenge.
She’d like to see more businesses in the county to keep the labor force here.
Hoffman also said recent road construction is having a negative financial impact on businesses, but those road improvements are necessary for future economic development.
“It’s a good thing to have the highway projects because it will pay off in the long run and it’s good for economic development, but in the short term it’s kind of painful,” she said.
A good transition
Hoffman said it took some time to come to the decision to leave Benton County, but she’s glad she made the transition to Chisago County.
Knowing Eng made the move a little easier. The two went to college together and served on two regional economic development boards.
“Everybody here is so supportive,” she said. “When you’re somewhere for over 12 years, you have to think about it pretty hard. I knew how much Chris enjoyed it here, so I knew I would, too.”