The annual “State of the City” program presented to business leaders Thursday, Jan. 28, had a weathering-the-storm tone and even an occasional overcoming-great-odds vibe.
It featured Eden Prairie City Manager Rick Getschow and Superintendent of Eden Prairie Schools Josh Swanson providing updates on 2021 accomplishments and what’s ahead for the city and schools.
Eden Prairie Chamber of Commerce President Pat MulQueeny also spoke. His organization hosted the event at Central Middle School.
The storm and great odds, of course, are the COVID-19 pandemic of nearly two years. It had a sizable presence in the chamber of commerce and school district presentations; less so in the City of Eden Prairie portion of the program.
Both Getschow and Swanson cited ongoing public satisfaction with their work: Getschow noting a 2020 Quality of Life Survey in which 93 percent of resident respondents rated their overall quality of life as excellent or good, which places Eden Prairie’s quality of life higher than benchmark communities; Swanson pointing to a school district 2020 survey of parents that gave instructors a 98 percent “quality teacher rating.”
Swanson also called attention to improvement in the number of students reading well by third grade – 75.2 percent – that came even as learning was disrupted early in the pandemic. Likewise, he noted improving graduation rates at Eden Prairie High School for groups including Black, Asian, and Latino students.
“The pandemic really hasn’t stopped us one bit,” he said, referring to 2020-21 advancements in the 10-year Designing Pathways program that has been underway for about five years. That includes:
- improvements to the Little Eagle Preschool program as it moved into elementary schools;
- new “Pathway” electives at Central Middle School that allow students to explore careers, such as business and management, at an early age; and
- the introduction of EPHS “Capstone Projects” that are optional, interdisciplinary projects in entrepreneurship and other areas, allowing students to go beyond the minimum graduation standards.
But, it’s been a challenge, Swanson said, mentioning the difficulty of managing a multimillion-dollar remodeling project at CMS at a time when construction prices spiraled upward, and the supply chain constricted.
Responding to business interests in the room, Getschow focused on new development in Eden Prairie, including a substantial uptick in apartment projects either approved or in the city’s review pipeline: Flagstone and Paravel, side-by-side projects overlooking the Purgatory Creek Recreation Area, and under-review projects The Ellie, north of Smith Coffee & Café, and Blue Stem North, near the intersection of Highway 212 and Shady Oak Road in northeastern Eden Prairie.
Those projects are also adding affordable housing, he said, because a new Inclusionary Housing Ordinance requires developers of multi-family housing to make a certain percentage of the units affordable at a given income level.
Additional approved-but-not-yet-built projects mentioned by Getschow include the former Gander Mountain building repurposed as the Asian Mall and replacing the long-closed Burger King restaurant at Highway 5 and County Road 4 with … another Burger King.
Another sign of Eden Prairie’s good business climate, he said, is a low unemployment rate: 1.7 percent in November. (The December unemployment rate for Eden Prairie ticked up slightly, to 1.9 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.)
The perspective of trying to do business in a global pandemic was offered by MulQueeny, who relayed the struggles of local businesses to hire staff, keep goods moving, and remain open as COVID-19 and restrictions changed rapidly. He said his organization, which has more than 300 members, focused on telling members’ stories to a wider audience and influencing state decisions on when to re-open and by how much.
“Eden Prairie had some good stories to share,” MulQueeny added, mentioning the arrival of a Winnebago Industries headquarters in Eden Prairie and the opening or planning of new restaurants such as Bo Diddley’s and Chick-fil-A.
Good stories are foundational to the annual “State of the City” events, focusing mostly on successes that usually aren’t difficult for city and school leaders to list. Keeping successes coming while facing the headwinds of a pandemic is something altogether different, as noted in a bit of verbal irony offered by Swanson, who joked, “It’s been pretty darn easy!”
Mark Weber is executive director of the Eden Prairie Community Foundation, which partners with the city, schools, and chamber of commerce on some programs.
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