homepage logo

Making visitors to BE feel welcome

EDA discusses ways to make city’s tourists feel more at home

By Fiona Edberg - Register Staff Writer | Jun 13, 2021

Bruce Ankeny, center, of Ankeny’s Furniture, was given the EDA’s Business Spotlight certificate at the EDA meeting from EDA chair Peggy Olson, left, and EDA specialist Amy Schaeffer.

The Blue Earth Economic Development Authority (EDA) Board met Thursday morning on June 10. The board discussed strategies for encouraging passersby to venture further into town than the Jolly Green Giant’s territory.

The board considered using flyers to lure campers from the campground to the Blue Earth Municipal Swimming Pool. They also discussed how to interest tourists who stop for photo opportunities with the giant to explore the Giant Welcome Center and even take a spin through Blue Earth’s downtown area.

City administrator Mary Kennedy presented the idea of a flyer that could be distributed to tourists at the campground. She suggested adding “local tips” for tourists that could help them navigate the area.

Mayor Rick Scholtes added the flyers could promote Blue Earth’s swimming pool by offering visitors a free pass to the pool.

“The pool is at the other end of town, so the odds of people going there are not good,” he explained.

Scholtes felt free passes to the pool would not hurt its revenue, and could create business opportunities for the city through upping the amount of visitors.

Shellie Poetter, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, shared that a map of local bicycle trails is also in development. She suggested the map be added to the flyer packets as well, as visitors have expressed interest previously in local recreational activities.

“Families may even decide to ride up to the pool,” added Scholtes.

The board did not make a motion to include free pool passes in the flyer, but they did agree to bring the matter to the Blue Earth City Council so it can be put to a vote.

The board also discussed how to best direct the foot traffic at the Giant Welcome Center into the center.

Poetter informed the board that the center has been very busy recently.

“Monday we had over 300 people in there,” shared Poetter. “People are traveling, and we try to send them toward the south part of town as much as we can.”

However, Poetter explained there are many more visitors who do not come into the welcome center at all. Instead, they stop to snap a picture with the Jolly Green Giant and then continue on their way.

“I’m trying to figure out how we can get them in so we can talk to them and get them aware that we have a great town here,” explained Poetter.

Kennedy suggested the board look into recruiting volunteers who can be on-hand to take photos of tourists, and meanwhile inform them of other opportunities in Blue Earth.

“Then, if they’re not coming into the welcome center, somebody is outside directing,” explained Kennedy.

Poetter agreed this is a good idea, but also expressed concerns about understaffing at the center. She is not sure she has the resources to coordinate volunteers.

Poetter also suggested requesting KBEW Radio Station bring back their segment “Welcome Traveler,” which would encourage passersby to stop at Blue Earth during their travels.

The board encouraged Poetter to keep them informed of ways they can promote more visitors at the center and successfully direct existing visitors toward town. Additionally, they considered the possibility of signage to improve visibility and awareness of the center.

The board also recognized two community members. Bruce Ankeny’s store, Ankeny Furniture, was the board’s Business Spotlight of the month. Ankeny reminisced with the board about Blue Earth’s entrepreneurial past. Leyton Becker, veterinarian Dr. Robert Bogan’s newly recruited intern, was introduced as a new addition to Blue Earth’s business community.

Ankeny revealed that he will be closing his store, Ankeny Furniture, after many years of service in Blue Earth.

“After 75 years of the Ankenys owning that building, we’re going to pass it along to a business that will be good to keep in the town,” explained Ankeny.

He shared Michele’s Quilting and Sewing Center will be purchasing the building and continuing its tradition of local ownership. The transition is expected to happen next January.

Ankeny reminisced about the history of the building, which was built in 1946 by his grandparents. The building served a very different function originally; it was a roller skating rink, bowling alley, and cafe when it was first owned by the Ankeny family.

In 1969, Ankeny’s father wanted to purchase wholesale furniture for his family, and figured it would be easier to do so as the owner of a furniture store. This inspired the store’s conversion into a furniture store, which purpose it has served to this day.

“We appreciate everything you have done for the city,” Ann Hanna said following Ankeny’s speech.

“I love this town. It’s always been home,” Ankeny responded.

Ankeny has been a lifelong resident of Blue Earth. However, Leyton Becker, who was also introduced to the board, is an enthusiastic newcomer to town.

Becker is originally from Fairmont, but is relocating to Blue Earth to intern with Bogan while finishing veterinary school.

Bogan hopes to retire from practice soon, and the EDA board has taken an interest in helping Bogan recruit a potential replacement. The board hopes that recruiting veterinary interns will stir up future interest in Bogan’s position.

Other news discussed at the meeting includes: 

• Amy Schaefer, economic development specialist, shared the OPS clinic is offering industrial ear molds for hearing protection as it was an identified need within the community. A training course certifies technicians to perform the procedures, and Schaefer requested funding for employee’s starter kits, which are a requirement for the course. The board approved $2,335 in funds to reimburse the trainees.

• VISTA representative Hanna Haggarty presented the results from a survey she recently conducted. The survey’s purpose was to assess the needs of diverse populations in the community. Overall, Haggarty felt the survey was successful and has given her a better idea of how to minimize opportunity gaps in the community.

• Kennedy brought the rooftop of the Ag Center to the attention of the board. The rooftop has been having issues with leaks which need to be addressed. Kennedy explained the options are either to perform a test to locate existing leaks, the cost of which is undetermined, or to spend an estimated $11,625 to replace the roof. Due to mounting costs from fixing endless leaks, the board passed a motion to replace the roof of the Ag Center.