C magazine

A place to call home

Dave Smiglewski, mayor of Granite Falls, Minn.

Jan 25, 2019

During one awful four-year stretch, Granite Falls was ravaged by three natural disasters. Each time, the southwestern Minnesota town of 2,800 emerged better than before.

"Every community has a personality," says long-time mayor Dave Smiglewski. "Some moved ahead; others you can't budge. We may not have all the assets or tools of larger communities, but that doesn't mean we can't make Granite Falls a good place to do business and raise families." 

He cites two examples where vision, can-do spirit and investment made the community stronger. 

In 1996, to address a longtime need and help retain an important local business, the city built an airport. When a flood roared through town the next spring, the state's governor, Arne Carlson, flew in to check out the damage. 

Standing on a bridge over the raging Minnesota River, Carlson asked Smiglewski what the town needed most to recover, and the mayor ticked off his topmost concerns. "Governor Carlson turned to his commerce commissioner and said, 'Let's take care of this,'" Smiglewski recalls. "We've done $40 million in flood mitigation since then, but that early money was key to getting started. Without the airport, the governor would have flown to some other flood-stricken town." 

In 2000, an F4 tornado destroyed 67 homes and Farmers Co-op Elevator on the west side of town. 

"We'd just taken a major hit," says Smiglewski, "but we saw an opportunity." A task force led by Scott Dubbelde, the co-op's general manager, suggested building an ethanol plant. 

It wasn't easy selling shares for an ethanol LLC that existed only on paper, says Smiglewski, but since the 40-million-gallon facility went online in 2005, it has given investors a nearly fourfold return on investment. 

"Ethanol plants typically create a market for corn, are a boon to communities due to property taxes and provide jobs," says Dubbelde. "That has all held true for Granite Falls Energy."

It was a grassroots effort, Smiglewski adds. "We want people to believe good things can happen in our town."

While much is going right in Granite Falls, "Our most valuable export is still young adults," admits Smiglewski. He knows it takes affordable, quality housing; living-wage jobs; health care facilities; good schools; and other services to attract and retain residents. 

The civic leader believe the community will rise to the challenge again. "Harnessing our enthusiasm, showing appreciation for involvement, being inclusive and letting people know they can capture a piece of the American dream here - that all matters."


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