After a pandemic year, Marshall looks to the future
MARSHALL — The last time Mayor Bob Byrnes and city administrator Sharon Hanson were on stage to talk about the state of Marshall, it was just before the COVID-19 pandemic kicked off a year of major changes for the community.
On Wednesday, the pandemic still hung over the discussion at the 2021 State of the City Address, as Byrnes and Hanson talked about how it has affected Marshall’s economy and public health.
“With COVID, fortunately or unfortunately, it really did connect us with the rest of the globe,” Hanson said.
Byrnes and Hanson also outlined some of the major projects the city undertook last year, as well as future plans.
Dealing with COVID
“A year ago, we were dealing with uncertainty” about COVID, Byrnes said. City officials and staff were having frequent meetings to plan for public response to the pandemic while still trying to keep essential city services running.
“The Lyon County sheriff and our police chief did a lot of collaborating,” and Marshall was fortunate to have Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center as part of pandemic surge planning, Hanson said.
“We also had a goal of communicating well with citizens,” Byrnes said. In order to get health information out to the public, officials including Byrnes and city council member Dr. Steven Meister did a series of video messages for social media and public access cable.
In some ways, Marshall’s business community has been able to weather the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, Byrnes said. In general, city sales taxes in 2020 were up 3.3% from 2019. While Byrnes stressed that didn’t mean all businesses were doing well over the past year, many were able to find alternate ways to reach their customers.
“The community did a fantastic job of supporting local businesses,” Hanson said.
Marshall was able to give a total of 78 grants to help local businesses, using about $500,000 of federal CARES funding, Hanson said. Lyon County also did a good job of distributing aid dollars to area businesses through grants, she said.
However, there are still economic struggles Marshall is facing, Hanson and Byrnes said. Currently, Marshall businesses are facing a shortage of workers and very low unemployment.
Byrnes said he thought part of the answer to the problem would come from marketing and encouraging workers to come to the area. Marshall could also adapt its existing resources like Internet access to do this — for example, the city could support telecommuting options for people looking for a place to live while working remotely.
Hanson said Minnesota will have to challenge the aggressive marketing that South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem has done for her state. “We really need to beat that back a little” at the state level, she said.
Byrnes and Hanson said there have also been both business and city developments over the past year. The former Marshall Ramada location has been purchased by new investors and is being renovated as EverSpring Inn & Suites.
“We’re really pleased to have that investment in our community,” Hanson said. Other major investments came in the form of construction of new apartments on Legion Field Road, expansions at Action Manufacturing, and Horvath Funeral Service’s new funeral home on Lyon Street.
“There were also some major city projects that were completed,” Byrnes said. They included an expansion at the Marshall city water plant to pre-soften municipal water, and $14 million in updates to the city sewage treatment plant, which is still ongoing.
Renovations at Marshall’s city hall building on Main Street are nearing completion. Byrnes said the project was on track for city offices to potentially move in over the summer. The city hall project would not increase Marshall’s tax levy, he said — instead, the city used savings and a bond issue guaranteed with revenue from the municipal liquor store.
“We’re really happy we started this before COVID,” because planning temporary office moves during the pandemic would have been very difficult, Hanson said.
For the city, “The next big thing is planning for the Aquatic Center,” Byrnes said. The Marshall Aquatic Center is currently one of the oldest swimming pools in Minnesota, and has problems with leaks and a lack of accessibility, he said. Updating amenities like the Aquatic Center will be important for helping to encourage families to come to Marshall, Byrnes and Hanson said.
“We think if we build it right, we will have a regional draw,” Hanson said.
“We’re going through the process of, what would that look like?” Byrnes said.