Top story: Economic news dominated in 2011

Click here to see other top stories of 2011.

by Joni Astrup
Associate editor
Economic news dominated the landscape in 2011.
The economy and how those issues have played out locally was chosen as the top story of the year by the Star News staff.
Here is a recap of some of the highlights.

Some ‘rejuvenation’ in the business sector
New home construction remained sluggish and some businesses closed in Elk River in 2011 — Hardee’s, M&I Bank and Simonson’s Salon and Spa as examples. But there were some positive signs as well.

The addition of a new sign signaled a new era for Elk Park Center.

Elk River’s Elk Park Center shopping center got a big shot in the arm with the renovation of the old Target store. The store had closed in 2008, was purchased by Furniture Outlets USA and had been used as a furniture liquidation center. A major renovation in 2011 turned it into three stores: Jo-Ann Fabric and Crafts, Ashley Furniture HomeStore and Furniture Mart. Nearby, the former Movie Gallery building was also renovated and is now open as a Pizza Ranch restaurant.
Jo-Ann, which opened in November, reported being off to a promising start. When asked recently how the first few weeks have gone, Store Manager Tamara Peterson said it has been fabulous.
“What a warm reception we have had in Elk River and the community,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”
Meanwhile, Elk River Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Debbi Rydberg senses a positive feeling in the business community.
“There has been some rejuvenation,” she said.
While there are still businesses that have reached the end of their ropes, Rydberg is seeing more businesses start up than fail.
“I’m seeing it start to climb up,” she said. “ … I am seeing some new businesses and some determination.”
In other 2011 economic news in Elk River:
•Guardian Angels began construction on a $3.5 million project to add 30 memory care units to Guardian Angels by the Lake. It is projected to open in late spring 2012.
•A new 53-unit apartment building, The Depot at Elk River Station, opened this year near the Northstar train station.
•After six years in temporary space, Spectrum charter school opened its new high school and middle school in September.
•Responding to a declining jail inmate population, the Sherburne County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved a request in September to eliminate 17.3 jail staff. The number of all types of inmates was down — county, Huber, Sentence to Serve, as well as federal inmates.
•The Elk River City Council spent months going over its proposed 2012 city budget with a fine-toothed comb. The end result? The city will levy $837,000 less in property taxes in 2012 than it did in 2011.

In hard times, many offer a helping hand
There were efforts on a number of fronts in 2011 to help people hard hit by the economic downturn.
District 728 Community Education launched a free Out of Work Series in January that was successful. Held at Rockwoods Bar and Grill in Otsego, the topics covered included managing your emotional response to being out of work, financial responsibilities, self-assessment skills, identifying resources and tips for living on less.
“It was really popular,” said Jay Grammond, program specialist with Community Ed.
It not only was a place to get information, but also allowed people to network.
Grammond said they will offer a new Out of Work Series beginning Jan. 17 at the Handke Center in Elk River. Four sessions will cover different topics.
Another group remains focused on homelessness in the Elk River area.
Great River Family Promise (GRFP) continued in 2011 to organize an outreach ministry to homeless families in the area. Nine churches have committed so far as host churches; 13 are needed for the program to begin. An additional three churches have signed on as support churches, according to Sandy Breed of GRFP. Participating churches will take turns housing homeless families during the night and feeding them breakfast and supper.
“From the statistics that we’ve seen, we feel that homelessness is really not going away in our county and there’s no emergency shelter,” Breed said.
There were 49 children considered homeless in the Elk River Area School District during the 2010-2011 school year, Breed said.
Others in the community continue to help ward off hunger.
Several programs operated during the summer to meet the needs of children who otherwise were likely to go hungry. One of them was CAER food shelf’s summer program called Kidz Kitz  — breakfast, lunch and snack items to feed a child for a week. During the first week they distributed 118 Kidz Kitz totaling 2,705 pounds of food.
In general, the Elk River-based CAER food shelf continued to see high demand in 2011.