Top-notch schools, community pride and bountiful outdoor recreation are just a few reasons why.
Over the past few years, a rise in the ability to work remotely has driven scores of families across the country to leave costly urban areas in search of a better quality of life in smaller towns. Owatonna, Minnesota, is one area that has welcomed new residents. And, if you’re looking for a great place to raise a family, Owatonna just may be the place for you.
Owatonnans have a tight-knit community with a sense of pride in where they live — city improvement projects are often funded by local businesses and created with the help of volunteers (like the new singletrack mountain biking trail in town). Having affordable housing and a lower cost of living is a boon to those with kids, too.
Owatonna boasts a highly rated public school system with award-winning teachers and coaches. There are tons of family-friendly activities and great access to parks, organized sports and extracurriculars. And, if you can’t find it in Owatonna, bigger cities are just 45 minutes away.
We spoke to two locals about why they’ve chosen to raise their families here.
Jolayne Mohs is mom to three hockey-playing boys and moved to Owatonna from St. Paul. She’s an active school board member, while her husband owns a contracting business.
Jeff Hall’s Owatonna roots go back generations, and while he lived in the Twin Cities for a dozen years, the financial adviser and father of two boys always knew he’d return home to raise his kids.
Here’s their perspective on raising a family in Owatonna.
In Owatonna, ‘It Takes a Village’ is more than just an expression.
Having a place where you know your neighbors (or even better, the kids all play together while everyone keeps an eye out) is key when choosing a place to call home.
“Owatonna is a town where you know your neighbors — it’s not a bedroom community, where people are gone all day — it’s a community where you see people in town and run into them when you’re out and about,” says Hall. “In a city, I don’t think people know their neighbors like we do. I can walk down the street and know everyone’s first name and say hello. We have neighborhood gatherings and it’s really supportive that way.”
There are also scores of ways that people can be involved in the community, whether at their kids’ schools, with nonprofit organizations, or in another capacity.
“We’re deeply embedded in this community because we believe that it takes a village and if we need help from the community, we have to be a part of the change — you have to have some skin in the game,” says Mohs. “There is always a fundraiser to go to and it blows my mind how much money goes towards nonprofits and projects in town.”
Most of all, the sense of pride locals have in Owatonna makes people not only feel welcome, but want to be a part of it. In fact, many grandparents have moved to join their children and be closer to their grandkids, and have created a robust community of their own.
“I always knew, even watching my parents as I was growing up, that I wanted to be a part of this community — I wanted to give back,” says Hall. “It’s a great place to live and work and raise a family, there are a lot of opportunities to give back and volunteer.”
There are plenty of activities for everyone.
Owatonna’s proximity to the great outdoors offers year-round fun, whether it’s a family bike ride on one of the local multiuse paths, a hike in Kaplan’s Woods or organized sports.
“We love the outdoors,” says Hall. “So just the ability to go fishing at the local lake, ride our bikes around town on the trails, go golfing — it’s great. There are a lot of family friendly things to do.”
When it comes to organized extracurricular activities, Owatonna has a spacious new soccer complex, numerous hockey facilities and other opportunities outside of sports, too.
“Owatonna has been a really good and supportive community for us,” says Mohs. “Our kids are involved in a lot of different things that they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do if we had stayed in St. Paul. Sure, they play football, hockey and lacrosse, but we also have a fishing team they really enjoy. We have a clay trap team within the school district.”
Mohs also says the local school has a robotics team, phenomenal arts and music programing, an active theater program where talented local youth are given opportunities to perform in both high school drama and community theater with multiple generations of locals performing.
Owatonna’s schools are top notch.
Owatonna offers excellent public and private school education options.
Mohs has three sons who attend local public schools, which they love. Mohs is on the school board and spoke highly of the quality of education they’re getting at Owatonna Public Schools.
“We’re building a brand-new high school that will open in the fall of 2023 — that will be a significant game changer for kids in this community,” she says. “We have a very robust school district that is doing a lot of amazing things with strong programming across the board.”
Owatonna has plenty of other choices when it comes to schools (and childcare), including Montessori and private and parochial school options.
Hall’s wife teaches first grade at a local private elementary school that their sons attend. After elementary school, their boys will go to the public schools that he and his wife both attended.
Numerous families who have relocated have grandparents who have also moved to the area, including the Mohs, whose parents moved to Owatonna five years ago.
“There is a strong sub-community of grandparents in Owatonna that have moved here because of their kids and grandkids,” says Mohs. “They’re active and engaged. We have a robust program within the school called ‘Grandparents for Education’ that go in and can read with kids or help in classrooms. There are multiple groups that grandparents can get involved with.”
It’s easy to get around — or get outta town.
Owatonna is 45 minutes south of Minneapolis/St. Paul (aka The Cities to locals) and close to other midsize cities like Rochester and Mankato. In fact, the local saying is that “Everything is 45 minutes from Owatonna.” That makes access to an international airport quick and easy.
“We’re this little community of 25,000 people that can get to a major metropolitan area in under an hour,” says Hall. “It’s the convenience that we love. Meanwhile, it only takes 5 or 10 minutes to drive across town — and everything you need is right here.”
This article was sponsored by the Owatonna Partners for Economic Development.