Osakis is being recognized for its financial strength and resiliency – even during a pandemic.

The city has been selected as a finalist for the Strong Towns, put on by a national nonprofit community development organization, Strong Towns, based in Brainerd.

The competition celebrates communities that are intentionally building strong, financially resilient communities.

Justin Dalheimer, a school board member and CEO of Osakis First National Bank, sent an email to city, school and community leaders Friday, March 12 explaining how significant the recognition is.

“This is a pretty big deal, as it’s nationwide and will bring a lot of great publicity to Osakis, our lakes area, and recognize the hard work all of you have helped us do to not only get through this pandemic, but come out thriving!” Dahlheimer said.

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Dahlheimer, Osakis Mayor Dan Wessell and City Clerk/Treasurer Angela Jacobson submitted the application.

As one of only 16 cities to make the finalist cut, Osakis will now be placed in a tournament-style bracket along with other resilient communities, and the cities receiving the most votes will advance. In the first round, Osakis will go up against Yellow Springs, Ohio, population 3, 487.

Voting for the Osakis match-up went live on Monday morning, March 15. Here’s the link to vote: StrongTowns.org/stmedia.

“The goal is to keep advancing and we will have more opportunities to showcase our community,” Dahlheimer said.

In the application, Osakis leaders said one of the community's strengths is how residents, with diverse backgrounds, work together, get involved and get things done.

"We are a town of generational farmers, lake-loving tourists, regional workers, and outdoor enthusiasts which often can create conflict in visioning, but we have been able to achieve coordinated efforts and keep the town we love thriving," they said.

Community leaders also touted the trail system and how pedestrian friendly the town is.

"We redesigned our downtown about three years ago to widen the sidewalks, slow down traffic and cater to our trail users and pedestrians," they said. "We will be soon finishing our comprehensive plan and an element that was focused on was adding more sidewalks and trails and connections."

They noted the city has been aggressive with the redevelopment of existing neighborhoods:

"We have allocated economic development funds specifically for existing housing improvements, deconstruction and building on existing lots. We have been creative in our downtown areas to allow more density than traditional parking requirements often inhibit. We are considering increasing our impervious surface requirements to allow for modern improvement of old-style lots. We actually rezoned an area of town in the last five years to accommodate these older lots and allow for more development on them."

During the pandemic, Osakis put up a skating rink on a vacant lot downtown which turned into a place with a community Christmas tree that was donated by citizens.

"We held a light parade that had huge turnout for our local businesses and included our local nursing home so those residents could feel the community having their support. The demand for that skating rink is turning into visioning for a grant to put in a new park with improvements that should bring more outdoor commerce," leaders noted.

No business in Osakis has closed during the pandemic, leaders said, and there is a strong demand for building space property values have increased.

"Our enrollment at our local school is stable and we have numerous planning and zoning applications for new housing and improvements to existing housing," the leaders said. "We are also seeing a growing group of people contacting our city that are going to be teleworking for the foreseeable future and are looking for unique live/work space options that we are exploring. The local bank is starting the design of a telework/community space to begin some business incubation."

The city's complete application is on the Strong Towns website.

John Pattison, content manager for Strong Towns, noted that organizers received many incredible entries for this year’s contest. “So many, in fact, that it was difficult for Strong Towns staff to narrow them down to just 16.”

Small Towns is using the hashtag #strongesttown to promote voting across all its social channels and the finalists are being encouraged to do the same.

About the contest

This is the sixth year of the Strongest Town Contest. The goal, according to its website, is to highlight towns that are doing the hard work of becoming stronger by putting in place the processes, systems and commitments that build enduring resilience and long-term prosperity.

Nominations were accepted Feb. 8 through March 7 and were judged by a panel of Strong Towns staff and board members.

The four rounds of the competition kicks off on Monday, March 15. People will be able to vote on the match-ups based on written submissions from the towns, photos, podcast interviews, and a webcast.

The winning town will receive a visit – once it is safe to gather in-person again – from Strong Towns President Chuck Marohn to celebrate the victory and share the Strong Towns message.

The winner will be announced on Friday, April 9.

Last year’s winner was Watertown, South Dakota.

For more information, visit www.strongtowns.org/strongesttown.