A hometown strategy to a vibrant local community

I showed up a few minutes early for lunch to explore the one-and-a-half block downtown area of Edgerton, Minnesota. Despite the modest population of about 1,100, it is known for a few things—the traditional bakery, unique shops, and Dutch heritage.

As I look around, I am struck by how well kept all of the homes and yards are and how all but one or two storefronts are occupied.

Exploring on foot, I pass half a dozen strangers who look me in the eye and say “hello” or “good morning.” When I pop into the bakery for some treats, I chat with the woman who helps me about the nostalgia invoked by the date-filled cookies and anise candy.

After grabbing my treats, I head over to the grocery store and deli on Edgerton’s main street to meet up with Kendra Kuipers, also known as the local Welcome Lady.

Kendra is exactly the person you’d want to represent your community. She immediately puts me at ease, is kind, and has an open way about her.

As we talk, Kendra shares countless examples of why Edgerton is thriving. 

“I wanted to meet here because the owners make a donation to a charity selected by someone in the community and this month they asked me to choose,” she said. 

While we continue our conversation, Kendra tells me how the school is growing by leaps and bounds and how a new store on the corner of Main Street opened and sells local art and hosts events. I mention that I stopped at the bakery and she asks if I got what I was looking for. Evidently, they sell out often so it was good that I went before we met up.

Kendra has been the Edgerton Welcome Lady for eight years. She assumed the role after returning to the area and buying The Dutch Inn, which is attached to her home via an underground tunnel, and joining the local chamber of commerce.

A collaborative effort by the city and chamber, Kendra’s Welcome Lady duties begin when a new resident gets their water hooked up. After being notified, Kendra personally delivers a welcome bag to their front door. Sometimes she has to come back more than once to catch them. The bags, which are assembled with the chamber, include items like coupons for a free gallon of milk at the grocery store, a free haircut at the salon, free tickets to an event at the school, a local directory, and useful promotional materials from Fey Industries, the largest company in town.

The local church adopted the practice, too. New parishioners receive welcome bags when they arrive which include church-specific items.

Last year, more than 25 bags were delivered. That’s 25 new households in a town of just 1,100 residents. Some newcomers are there for only a few months, while others stay for years and bring their families.

While most communities in Minnesota struggle with child care, four new licensed child care facilities opened in 2019 in Edgerton.

The reception the Welcome Lady receives is overwhelmingly positive and you don’t have to dig deep to see the benefits. The coupons promote shopping locally. Also, Kendra is a familiar face around town so people feel incorporated right away, contradictory to a common criticism of Minnesota being tough for newcomers to break into.

While Edgerton demonstrates resilience, it still faces many of the issues similar communities face. There aren’t enough health care workers to staff the nursing facility, middle-income housing is scarce, and there aren’t enough houses available for everyone who wants to move to town. But, based on what I saw during my visit, Edgerton has the resources and people to overcome those issues.

Is the Welcome Lady what has the bakery selling out and the grade school growing while so many similar communities struggle? It’s only one factor, but it certainly doesn’t hurt.