Making Public Infrastructure a Catalyst for Economic Development and Community Prosperity

Making Public Infrastructure a Catalyst for Economic Development and Community Prosperity

February 6, 2024

By Jay Kennedy, Vice President, WSB

In the vast landscape of economic development, one key piece often remains hidden in plain sight: infrastructure. It’s not just about building roads and bridges; it’s about constructing the foundation for thriving communities and enticing businesses to bring jobs and investment.

Communities that invest in infrastructure with an eye to the future ensure they are the place that people and businesses want to be. Infrastructure is the lifeline that sustains economic progress. From utilities to public transportation to drinking water facilities, when these essential components are robust, designed with intention to the future and well-maintained, they create a fertile ground for businesses and communities to thrive.

Communicating with Businesses & Planning for the Future

The ‘build it and they will come’ approach, although powerful, isn’t the sole ingredient for sustainable growth. Communities need to actively engage with businesses and create an environment that welcomes investment.

Businesses looking for a community in which to invest can bring millions, sometimes even billions of dollars with them. Effective communication between communities and businesses is critical when it comes to infrastructure development. When local leaders say, “we are open for business,” they need the infrastructure and planning to back it up. 

When communities have plans that account for future development, population growth and supporting infrastructure, businesses can see a vision of why they should place their investment in that community.  

Relieving Infrastructure Stress & New Opportunities

There are also situations where upgrades and redesign can alleviate pressure on existing infrastructure and open new opportunities. Improving efficiency in public transportation and redirecting traffic from small community roads to major roadways, for example, can benefit both residents and local businesses. What starts off as one project opens the door for developers wanting to be a part of an up-and-coming area.

As infrastructure pressure is relieved and economic growth continues, it is critical to have a dedicated team that can manage an expanding community. It sends the message that the community is dedicated to growth, attracting even more investment.   

The Ideal Community: Balancing Residential and Commercial Zones

An ideal community strikes a balance between residential and commercial land uses, as well as public spaces. People prefer to live close to work and amenities. A blend of both residential and commercial spaces not only enhances convenience for residents but also attracts businesses looking for a customer base and workforce in proximity.

Collaborating Across the State and Region

Cities looking at their long-term community plans must ensure they also align with county-level planning and broader regional plans. Cooperation and coordination among various levels of government means that an infrastructure project is not operating in a silo, but instead part of a larger plan to drive people and businesses to the region.

How WSB Can Help

In Texas and beyond, the success of public infrastructure projects and planning is driving economic development. WSB is playing a pivotal role in communities throughout Texas, where expertise in smart infrastructure planning and execution has significantly reduced stress on resources while actively attracting businesses to the area.

WSB’s team can help with everything from community planning to public engagement to designing major infrastructure projects and more. We can help your community find ways to bolster economic growth and build infrastructure that fosters the long-term success of your community and region. 

Jay is a Vice President leading Texas operations. He has over 30 years of experience overseeing the management, planning, coordination, design and construction of municipal and civil engineering projects. He works with staff and clients seeking new business opportunities and developing local staff.

[email protected] | 512.518.1819

The Power of Partnerships in Economic Development


By Kim Lindquist, Director of Community Planning & Economic Development and Jim Gromberg, Economic Development Coordinator, WSB

Partnership is critical to successful economic development. Whether it’s working with cities, counties, private utility companies, developers or other private and public sector stakeholders, finding ways to share information, resources, collaborate and unite around a project ensures communities are ready and able to fully capitalize on development opportunities.


Over the past decade, we’ve seen more economic development projects target Minnesota communities, but turnaround time from the request for information (RFI) to final selection of a site often means stakeholders must be prepared to respond quickly. These projects can bring in new goodpaying jobs, improved quality of life for residents, a larger tax base and numerous other amenities and benefits, making them attractive to community members and local leaders alike. But without full stakeholder engagement in economic development planning, communities may miss their opportunity to secure an advantageous project.


A great example of the power of partnerships in economic development is a major data center that was pursued by the city of Lino Lakes, MN. When the RFI was released, local leaders were interested in securing the project to grow jobs, tax revenue and opportunities for their residents. However, the information needed for the RFI was not easily accessible or in one place – and the turnaround time was tight. WSB joined in the effort, tapping into our relationships with partners that included city officials, Greater MSP, Anoka County and Great River Energy to compile the required data.

While the city ultimately lost out on the project, that doesn’t mean it was a failure. Instead, thanks to our collaborative efforts, there is now a site in Lino Lakes that is shovel ready, and the city can explore and pursue additional projects. Furthermore, building and maintaining these partnerships for potential projects down the road can have a huge impact on a community securing the right economic development opportunity when it arises.


Also important to consider, is that even if a project sounds good on paper, if it doesn’t meet the needs of the community, then it’s of little value. Diverse viewpoints and organizations bring a variety of perspectives to the table, which is key to ensuring maximum gain from a project as well as public support. Whether it’s repurposing a building or piece of land, constructing new housing to meet growing demand or restructuring zoning ordinances to attract significant investment, the bigger and more complex the project, the more nuances there are to consider. More collaboration can foster positive public opinion, better anticipate and overcome obstacles, correctly identify the needs of the community and secure the best possible outcome to promote growth and prosperity.

From strategic planning to final implementation, collaboration is key to the success of any economic development initiative. Our goal in every economic development project at WSB is to make the process seamless for our external and internal partners. We build and nurture meaningful relationships that benefit communities and people across Minnesota, Texas, Colorado, Arkansas and North Dakota, and it’s rewarding to see those efforts come together through the power of partnerships.

Kim is a planning professional with over 30 years of experience overseeing a variety of complex planning projects. Kim worked in high growth communities working with developers and the public on entitlements for residential development and business attraction to the city.

[email protected] | 763.287.8303

Jim has over 25 years of experience in economic development, including both redevelopment and greenfield development projects. Most recently, Jim was the State of Minnesota’s Business Development Representative for the Twin Cities metro area, responsible for attracting new businesses to the State and assisting businesses in expanding their current locations.

[email protected] | 763.762.2846

The benefits of building your staff with outside resources.

Preparing for and planning staffing support and resources at the local level is crucial to ensuring that the needs of the community are met, and statutory timelines adhered to. Sometimes, internal team members do not have the capacity to handle all the workload. Busy seasons, staff turnover, leaves of absence and unexpected challenges or needs arise that can throw a wrench in original staff and workload plans. In these instances, a consulting partner can be helpful to maintaining a high level of service while staying within budget and resource constraints. Here are four reasons to consider a professional consultant to help augment your staff’s capacity:


Unlike a full-time staffer, a consultant can be there for you as much or as little as you need. This gives you the ability to scale the level of service depending on your busy times or when your staff are unavailable. A consulting team can quickly adapt to your workload.


Consultants offer many different pricing structures that can range from stable monthly retainers to on-call hourly services. One of the strengths of a consulting partner is the range of expertise levels. Matching expertise with the level of skill needed allows for flexibility in budgets. In addition, an outside consultant can also present other options for partners or creative resources that weren’t initially considered.

Team approach 

A team approach means that you have access to the expertise and resources of an entire consulting firm when issues or challenges arise. When partnerships are formed between public and private entities, you are hiring a team and not just an individual. There is always someone with the necessary experience when a question needs an answer, a problem needs to be solved or an application needs to be completed.  

Always available 

With a consultant comes a deep bench of expertise. When someone isn’t available, you can rest assured that there is always someone available to attend meetings, field questions and review information in the event of a vacation or illness.

People often associate consultants with unnecessary expenses, but there are many cost-effective and creative ways that a consultant can actually reduce costs and help stretch budgets.

Positioning your community for economic growth

Bart Fischer, Senior Public Administrator discusses economic growth strategies with WSB’s Economic Development Coordinator Jim Gromberg, and Director of Land Development Bob Barth.

Following the Great Recession, many communities were caught playing catch-up as economic growth ramped up again.  As many cities face budget deficits and shortfalls in the coming months due to the pandemic, I wondered if there were cost-effective ways to get cities ready for an economic recovery?

I recently sat down with two WSB leaders to unpack what cities and communities can do in times of economic strain to better position themselves for future growth. As many of us who’ve worked in the public sector for years know, the challenges of today will soon pass, and it’s important to be ready for the future.

BF:  In your opinion, what is the number one thing a city can do to better prepare themselves for future economic growth?

BB: Review your zoning.  Today, communities need more flexibility within zoning.  Future opportunities will not come neatly packaged.  For instance, consumers interact with retailers differently every year.  If your zoning does not allow for an intermixture of residential, light industrial, small-scale fulfillment, artisan, and commercial you may find yourself losing out to communities that welcome a mashup of different uses. I think we’ll see existing commercial and industrial spaces repurposed and that trend will continue into the foreseeable future.

BF: What lingering effects will COVID-19 have on commercial real estate?

JG:  I think it’s obvious that we’ll see significant shifts in the way people use office space. How offices are set-up and the way people work has probably changed forever. I also think preparing for the future of what restaurants will look like is important.

BF: What is one piece of advice you would give cities when working with site selectors or future businesses?

BB: You must move beyond the optics. Some cities can be very selective about the types of businesses and industry they allow, and that approach is outdated.  If I told you a shingle factory would be a great addition to your community, I would be laughed out of most city council meetings.  But I bet if a community withheld judgment and really investigated it they might find that it could be an asset to the community. Manufacturing has changed. What was once considered ugly and undesirable can now be a modern asset that provides hundreds of jobs and increases the communities tax base.

BF: It’s hard to balance all the moving parts of economic development. What is your advice for cities who want to strengthen their economic development priorities?

JG: Don’t be afraid to look for outside help. There are organizations and professionals who dedicate their careers to economic development and that expertise can be very valuable. The best thing about economic development are the opportunities for collaboration between public, private and nonprofit entities.  This combination of expertise can really help bolster a community and prepare them for opportunities down the road.

BF: Equity is a big topic in today’s political and social landscape. How does equity fit into economic growth?

BB: Building equity within a community has multiple aspects.  Most communities think only of affordable housing.  However, equity requires ownership and opportunity.  How does your community increase ownership? How does your development process invite participation among diverse groups? Are minorities encouraged to participate in your economic development process or are they not present? Competitive communities will need to answer these questions if they are to understand their prospects in this new political and social landscape.  

BF: Funding seems to be the most common barrier to economic development.  What would you say to cities that are facing funding issues?

BB: Funding can be challenging, but cities need to be creative. Grants and TIF should not be your only tools. Get creative.  Talk to and partner with the private and non-profit sector on creative, community-based and mutually beneficial funding opportunities.  Get to know contractors who have insight into the modular building movement and consider how your architectural standards might affect project affordability.  Time is money.  If modular construction and streamlined approvals can knock six months off a project schedule that is six months of lease payments that can be brought into the project proforma as equity. 

BF: How can cities best prepare for potential large expansions in our region?

JG: Get your sites shovel ready! Although there are many definitions of what it means to be shovel ready, following the Site Selector Guild’s definition will help you take your sites to the next level. This will help you be prepared when opportunities arise.  As Bob mentions above, time is money. When turnaround time for new projects is shortened, jobs and tax base creation result in better cash flow and performance for the development.

Bart Fischer has over two decades of experience in public administration. Throughout his tenure, he’s worked in five Minnesota communities as the city or assistant city administrator.  Bart joined our firm in 2019 as a senior public administrator and focuses on lending his public service expertise to our clients.

A Principal at WSB, Bob leads WSB’s Land Development Services. Over his 26-year career, Bob has worked for both public and private sector clients, beginning as a water resources engineer and evolving into his current land development role. Bob’s current interest – and a focus for WSB’s Land Development Group – is sustainable redevelopment within urban communities. 

Jim has over 25 years of experience in economic development, including both redevelopment and greenfield development projects. Most recently, Jim was the State of Minnesota’s Business Development Representative for the Twin Cities metro area, responsible for attracting new businesses to the State and assisting businesses in expanding their current locations. In addition, he managed the State’s Shovel Ready Certification Program which prepares a community for projects that are interested in locating or expanding in their community.

WSB, Brooklyn Park & Brooklyn Center secure $150,000 grant

WSB assisted Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center in securing a Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) Youth at Work Competitive Grant for a combined $150,000 in funding. The funding will be used for the cities’ collaborative workforce development program BrookLynk in 2020 and 2021. Directed by Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, BrookLynk is a youth employment program dedicated to addressing the regional talent and workforce needs of the communities through a strategy that explicitly supports and invests in young people facing barriers to employment. The grant funding will assist in scaling the program to help train more youth to join the future workforce and build the talent pipeline.