The man with a plan
Sitting down with Director of Planning and Economic Development Jason Angell
By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — “Economic development” is a broad term, and for the purposes of city government, it has far reaching influence. Marshfield’s Director of Planning and Economic Development is Jason Angell, and the projects he is involved with are some of the defining initiatives in the city.
The Second Street pedestrian corridor, downtown’s Façade Improvement Program, a potential city-owned subdivision, and the likely development of green space in the 200 block where the former News-Herald building stood are all headline-grabbing projects, and Angell has been involved with each.
Angell worked in the Minnesota cities of Chanhassen, Waconia, and Minnetrista in city planning prior to moving to Marshfield. Transitioning into a department focused on economic development — though the planning aspects of the job were familiar — required Angell to learn a great deal about the financing of projects.
“Now it’s kind of looking at the whole picture rather than just looking at the planning side of it,” Angell said. He added that 80 percent of his knowledge has been learned on the job, not in school. Angell graduated with a bachelor’s in community studies from Saint Cloud State in Minnesota.
“Like anywhere, the classroom can’t teach you people skills, and our role in local government is a lot of people skills,” Angell said, adding that many times city staff has to deliver news to citizens they may not want to hear and make decisions that will leave one group happy and another dissatisfied.
In the planning side of his position, Angell works with land use applications, people who want to start a home business, evaluating permit requests, and making sure new building projects are compliant with city requirements.
In terms of economic development, Angell promotes new opportunities in Marshfield like helping existing businesses find a new facility, identifying funding opportunities for businesses, and keeping constant contact with local companies. Angell played a supporting role in working with Mid-State Technical College to develop a new stainless steel welding program after learning that local metal manufacturers were having difficulty acquiring a skilled workforce.
“You can go through a 10-month certificate program, get done with that, get a job pretty much guaranteed here, and you’re going to start out making a $40,000-(plus)-a-year salary. It’s pretty attractive,” Angell said, adding that he works hand-in-hand with the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce & Industry.
Angell said that many local governments interpret their role as black and white, but he appreciates that the Marshfield city government makes a concerted effort to make common sense improvements come to reality.
“The approach is always, ‘If it makes sense, let’s find a way to get it done,’” Angell said.
Angell originally went to school to study criminal justice but found himself drawn towards city government particularly because of an excellent professor he had in college. Since he has entered the field, two of his cousins were inspired to follow suit.
“I’ve always been engaged in the community,” Angell said. “When I saw this (I) thought, ‘I can actually get paid to do something that I’ve always enjoyed, being engaged in the community, and actually helping to grow the community.’”
Angell said his biggest challenge has been finding ways to engage citizens in conversations about how to shape and move the community forward.
“How do you get people out? In most cases the challenge is you don’t hear from people until it directly impacts them,” Angell said. “You want them engaged. You try every way you could possibly think of to get them engaged.”
“The decisions that we will be making will directly impact you, so help us shape it,” he added.