Viewpoint: The city that beat the odds


Red Wing started losing its historic luster to closed businesses, open lots and big box office stores taking over such as Wal-Mart and Target. Citizens beat the odds and implemented a strategy to save their historic downtown district from collapse and have reinvigorated the community with small business charm and excitement. Red Wing has set an example for a small historic city recognizing the economic impact of big business and therefore making a commanding effort to get the public back into the downtown area of the city. Red Wing city administrators implemented a plan specifically for the downtown area to bring the life back into it.

The city is famous for its Red Wing shoes that started production in 1905. The shoes have been sold all over the world and to the blue-collar workers building our cities throughout the years.

Red Wing is also famous for its historic pottery. The pottery took off back in 1861 when clay beds were found along the bluffs of the city.

Red Wing was also the location of Minnesota's first higher education institution, Hamline University.

Struggling cities across the United States and more specifically along the Mississippi River should look to Red Wing as an example of an economically struggling city taking the steps to once again be a thriving and prosperous community.

This would of course cost a significant amount of financial support, but Red Wing has also demonstrated unique ways to promote the city without the use the currency.

Updated infrastructure

One of the most significant projects Red Wing implemented was an infrastructure update to Highway 61, which is the main highway going through the heart of Red Wing. This road flows through the historic district passing by Red Wing staples: Red Wing Shoe Co. Store and the St. James hotel, which is a historical landmark. The improvements included new street pavement, storm sewer upgrades, new street lighting and traffic signal upgrades.

"Aesthetics to support commerce and tourism in the downtown and surrounding commercial areas are limited," according to the city's website stating the need for the Highway 61 reconstruction project, which highlights the city's intentions of the project when looking at the struggling downtown district.

Some may argue that not all cities have the means to commit to these upgrades in their towns. Implementing strategies and creative thinking can provide ideas that can benefit cities similar to Red Wing without spending substantial amounts of money. As seen further in this essay, Red Wing is making it happen through community support and forward thinking.

Retail Challenge

In 2016 Red Wing implemented a Retail Challenge to promote the downtown area and bring in new businesses to the city. This incentive held a unique opportunity for aspiring business owners and entrepreneurs come to the city. It invited anyone to apply for a new business within Red Wing offering multiple winners locations in the city to start a new business. The winning prize was a $40,000-value business package including marketing, business support and choice of open business space.

Many of the donations that contributed to the $40,000 were other businesses around the city offering a variety of services to the new business owner. This really exemplifies the community support required to make a turnout such as Red Wing has.

A positive action the city has performed during this project is continued support for the winning business owner Red Wing Bicycle Co. & Outfitters. They are now located right next door to the Red Wing Shoe Co. Store along Highway 61. An argument against this approach is the lack of citizen input in the selection process. Some citizens thought it would be beneficial to vote for the store they would like instead of the city picking the winner.

These projects are now tying together with the prominent staple company with Red Wing Shoes, the new Highway 61 projects and then the implementation of a new outfitter store. This created a teamwork environment and strategic planning for success.

Small Business Revolution

In early 2017 Red Wing participated in the Small Business Revolution, sponsored by Deluxe.

Deluxe is a company that attempts to highlight small businesses within our economy and supports their efforts. The Small Business Revolution was a competition. The top prize was $500,000 to go toward the revitalization of the city. It provides assistance to the city's small businesses and create hype for the community to get involved.

Red Wing was one of 14,000 cities that applied for acceptance into the competition. It was narrowed down to five cities and Red Wing was selected as a finalist.

When news broke out over social media and news broadcasts, the city started ramping up a reveal announcement at the Sheldon Theatre downtown.

The voting process was all online and people could go to the website and vote once a day for the city they wanted to win.

When the winner was revealed, it was not Red Wing but Bristol Borough, Pa. Even though Red Wing did not win, this event highlighted tremendous community support and willingness to reinvigorate the city from all angles. This was a highlight for Red Wing citizens, because they used an out-of-the-box approach to find ways to improve the city. They didn't just rely on money or make excuses to why something wasn't going to work. That's what struggling cities need: innovation, creativity and the willingness to try different approaches to success.


Red Wing has taken a unique approach to improving the downtown area and to also become more economically prosperous.

They have made significant financial commitments with the highway 61 project. Residents have made significant impacts to their city with the new Red Wing Bicycle Company & Outfitters. This business wouldn't have been possible without the creative thinking.

They also found cost effective ways such as the Small Business Revolution competition to bring the community together in ways that were thought not possible years ago.

Red Wing continues to move forward with its objective, but it's far from complete. As of June 2017, the community is engaged and ready to move forward and continue the shared success.

Economically struggling small towns like Red Wing can survive. Every city has its own special history, and if the leaders of the city can be creative and find ways to engage the communities, and bring people together; anything can happen.