Siems: State funds would provide big boost for Vision 2020

Published 1:01 pm Sunday, April 10, 2016

By Greg Siems

Vision 2020 Director

It can be hard to keep track of all the action happening in St. Paul while the state legislature is in session. Over a thousand bills are introduced every year, but thankfully we have representatives with a proven track record of fighting for our interests at the capitol. We at Vision 2020 are very grateful that many of the issues Rep. Poppe and Sen. Sparks are focusing on this year will support or directly impact the work of our volunteers here in Austin.

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For starters, increasing access and funding for broadband Internet has garnered bipartisan support and is a critical economic development tool for Greater Minnesota. Many cities, including Austin, are considered “underserved” in terms of fast, reliable Internet, and will continue to fall behind larger communities unless something is done. Businesses of all kinds must compete in today’s high-tech world, and telecommuting from home is becoming increasingly common. Providing access to cutting edge Internet speeds is essential if we want businesses to start up and grow in Austin and to attract new workers. Gig Austin and the Vision 2020 Community-Wide Technology committee continue to support these efforts and are working to position Austin for future growth.

Sen. Sparks has authored several other bills that would positively impact Austin’s economy and tie in with the work of Vision 2020’s Business Friendly Environment committee. The first involves expanding a fund to help entrepreneurs, particularly women and minorities, start businesses. Another would provide more incentives for developers to build workforce housing in Greater Minnesota. One of the biggest hurdles employers face in attracting new employees to live and work in Austin is the short supply of attractive, affordable homes. Construction of single and multi-family homes in town has been slow for years, so anything that can be done to jumpstart the situation would be most welcome.

Both Sparks and Poppe are also working, with the support of the Vision 2020 Waterways committee, to secure state bonding funds for several great projects that will improve water quality and increase access to our waterways here in Austin. Near the dam at Fourth Avenue Northeast (by City Hall and Riverside Arena) the plan includes restoring the banks along the river, creating new flood control retaining walls, and establishing a trailhead with public gathering space and a canoe/kayak portage.

In the Ramsey Mill Pond area, the project aims to create another trailhead with a boat launch area and fishing pier, restore the old railroad bridge to make it safe for pedestrians, and build nearly 5 miles of new trails that will make the area easily accessible from downtown Austin, Todd Park, and the Hormel Nature Center. Matching funds are also being sought for the Cedar River Watershed District’s Accelerated Results Plan, which has 25 projects lined up to reduce flooding and improve water quality along the Cedar River.

Taking all of these efforts together, it’s easy to see how big of an impact they would have on Austin. Increasing access to state of the art Internet, developing the local economy, and improving our waterways are all major goals of Vision 2020, and we are happy to see these issues getting the attention they deserve at the capitol. With the help of our local representatives, we can make these goals a reality and move our community forward.