Reflections on a great 2016 for Vision 2020

Published 7:39 am Sunday, December 18, 2016

It’s hard to believe a year has already passed since I started with Vision 2020.  Every day I think about how lucky I am to work with such passionate volunteers and other organizations around town dedicated to making Austin the best it can be.

I sometimes worry, however, that I don’t say thank you enough for everything these great people do.  It seems fitting in this season of gratitude to step back and reflect on all that’s been accomplished in this exciting year.  None of the following would have happened without members of the community volunteering their precious time and effort, and I hope they know their work is appreciated and valued by everyone .

Biking and Walking: A $10,000 grant was secured through The Hormel Foundation to support expansion and improvements to the new mountain biking trail.  The Red Bike free bike share program launched in April and enjoyed a successful inaugural year.  Dozens of kids and adults received low-cost helmets on Bike Safety Day.  Austin was awarded an “honorable mention” designation from the League of American Bicyclists as we work to become an official bike-friendly city.

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Business Friendly Environment: The Small Business Development Center expanded its hours of free counseling that is available to anyone in Austin.  The Mayor’s ad hoc committee on housing developed a comprehensive set of policy recommendations to improve the shortage of quality workforce housing.  Construction began on the new Hy-Vee building, which was facilitated by a Hormel Foundation grant as part of the plans to redevelop the 18th Ave. NW retail corridor.

Community Pride and Spirit: The Community Home Improvement Program helped fix up over 20 homes this year.  Hundreds of special Valentine’s Day cards were distributed to local law enforcement personnel and senior citizens.  A new effort to reduce food waste and feed the hungry has been embraced by the Salvation Army and many local businesses.  Peer Power Partners is now in its 4th year and is still growing and reaching more students.

Community Recreation Center: The Packer Dome completed a successful first season and is already up and running again.  The City Council approved a lease agreement with the YMCA for the new Community Rec Center, which will allow the project to move forward with design and fundraising work.  The new facility will feature many amenities that were requested by the community, including an indoor aquatic center, indoor family playground, and a youth/family activity center.  The building will be architecturally significant and will be easily accessible from all corners of town at the former power plant location. 

Community Wide Technology: Research continues into the feasibility of a city-wide fiber optic network that would bring lightning-fast, ultra-reliable broadband Internet to the community.  A variety of federal, state, and private grants are being pursued to fund the project.

Destination Downtown: The new downtown SPAM Museum opened in April and recently celebrated its 100,000th visitor.  Sales are growing at many businesses thanks to the increased traffic.  Summer Kickoff, Fall Fest, and many other events brought hundreds of new visitors to the downtown area.

Education Leaders: Austin Aspires continues to expand its collection of volunteers and supporting organizations, including the national StriveTogether network. Action Teams were launched to address five key community issues: kindergarten readiness; fulfilling students’ academic potential; assisting parents and mentors; preparing for college and careers; and students’ overall health.

Gateway to Austin: New signs were installed throughout town to help direct visitors and everyone to Austin’s most popular destinations.  Plans were approved for reconstruction of the 11th Drive Northeast bridge in accordance with the functional and aesthetic standards laid out in the new Austin Visual Quality Manual.  Planning continues for a potential new Austin/Mower County Visitors Center.

Waterways: Local leaders lobbied extensively at the state level for funds to improve the quality and accessibility of the Ramsey Mill Pond area and 4th Ave. Dam.  The Cedar River Watershed District passed a levy to help provide matching funds for The Hormel Foundation’s $3.2 million grant to improve water quality and reduce flooding throughout the community.  Plunging for Pink had another record year in raising funds for cancer research at The Hormel Institute.

And that’s only what I could fit in this small space!  As always, if you want to learn more about this incredible work or would like to get involved, check out or give us a call at 507-437-3448.