As much of Minnesota’s existing workforce gets ready to enter retirement, the state is nearing a significant shortage of workers. Finding ways to combat this shortage is one of Greater Fergus Falls’ goals, and we are always thrilled to support local initiatives that add value to our efforts. One of the most recent initiatives doing that and more is The Big Build.
What is The Big Build Initiative?
The Big Build is a housing growth initiative led by Otter Tail County that is built on partnerships to support and encourage housing development in the region. The City of Fergus Falls is a strong partner of the county in these efforts. The county is an active supporter of the rural rebound movement and promoting the area as a premier destination for those looking to relocate — especially during their prime working years.
Increasing our workforce is incredibly crucial over the next decade. Employment projections made by Minnesota Compass suggest “by 2022, Minnesota will need nearly 3.2 million workers to keep pace with historic rates of economic growth statewide. With just over 2.9 million people over the age of 16 expected to be in the labor force and working, our state is expected to fall about 239,000 workers short.” Otter Tail County alone faces a projected 4.6% reduction in the available labor force over the next ten years.
While urging people to relocate and seek work in the area is a big part of reducing the workforce gap, a low housing supply has made it challenging to accommodate the needs of newcomers and existing residents alike. The Big Build aims to address the lack of housing options by rehabilitating, preserving, and building 5,000 housing units by 2025.
“This investment in housing growth is not only an increase in houses being built but also the creation of homes for people who want to live and work in our communities,” says Lee Rogness, Chair for the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners and board member of the Community Development Agency (CDA) and Greater Fergus Falls. “Housing opportunities are necessary to fill the more than 1,000 existing job openings in Otter Tail County, and housing continues to be a critical part of all economic development conversations.”
The Big Build is a Community-Centered Initiative
The Big Build’s focus isn’t solely on rehabbing or building single-family homes. The county and CDA have made it a point to ensure the initiative aligns with the housing investment priorities laid out in the county’s Long-Range Strategic Plan. “[We] have worked diligently and collaboratively to create an initiative with goals that encompass the housing needs of the entire county, from new homes for young families and affordable senior housing to the preservation and rehab of existing housing stock and everything in between,” Rogness explains.
To specifically spur an increase in new homes, The Big Build introduced a property tax rebate program. The rebate offers builders, developers, and future homeowners up to $10,000 as an incentive to invest in Otter Tail County. Incentivizing the construction of single and two-family homes helps to open up the existing inventory of lower-value homes to new buyers. It also increases the tax base and motivates people to replace rundown and dilapidated housing structures.
Making a Widespread Impact
The Big Build officially launched in 2020 and is already making big moves in Otter Tail County. Last year, the county added 656 new and rehabbed units for a total increase of $39.3 million in housing investment. Fergus Falls accounted for 35 of those new units and over $9.8 million in estimated housing value. The city also generated $155,000 in approved rebates in 2020 and nearly doubled its residential building permits from the previous year.
The value these new and rehabbed housing units bring to the community goes far beyond their monetary value. Increasing the housing inventory in the area has a domino effect that benefits the economy as well as residents and local businesses.
“The Big Build is truly an economic engine for the county. New twin homes open opportunities for older people to move into lower maintenance, smaller homes, which frees up multiple-bedroom homes for families. When single-family homes open, new families can move to our communities, which benefits our schools, helps close the workforce gap, and brings welcome local spending to our business community. The construction provides local trade jobs, with those wages getting spent back in the community.”
How Can You Support The Big Build Initiative?
The Big Build initiative has already made a dent in its goal of 5,000 new, preserved, or rehabbed housing units by 2025. That said, there’s still a long way to go. Rogness and The Big Build team believe “supportive partnerships, progressive perspectives, and community understanding” are critical to its success. So, how can we as a community help support this initiative?
Take advantage of the rebate program if you are considering building a new home in the area.
Invest in housing rehab opportunities in the area if you are in a position to do so.
Share the positive and innovative housing projects happening in the community with the county.
Helping get the word out about the strides The Big Build is taking to create a housing infrastructure that new residents look for is also important. Community members can encourage friends and family to relocate and build new homes in the region by sharing all the things that make Otter Tail County a great place to live.
“With the help of our community, we will encourage the ‘rural rebound’ of new or returning residents to [the area]. By inviting our family to live in Otter Tail County and inviting our friends to visit us, we can create the spark that people need to consider making this their permanent home,” Rogness says. “You couldn’t pick a better place to build your home or your life. There’s never been a better time to choose Otter Tail County, a caring community that has endless opportunities for outdoor recreation, fulfilling career opportunities, and so many great people that work hard to keep improving the community.”
The Greater Fergus Falls team couldn’t agree more! We are proud to support The Big Build initiative and its efforts to address our community’s housing needs and reduce the labor force gap. To learn more about The Big Build, visit the county’s website. Thank you to Otter Tail County representatives Lee Rogness, Amy Baldwin, and Sarah Schake for providing insight into the initiative!