AUBURN — In 1980, when Roland Miller was hired by the city of Auburn, he figured it would be a five-year job.

A Midwestern guy by birth, raised in Green Bay and a lifelong Packers fan, he thought the city was a fine place to build his resume before he moved on to the next one.

The community in Auburn is what kept him here, he said Thursday, some 35 years later. He learned about Auburn’s strong sense of community in 1980 when he read a section at the end of a community survey, Miller said.

“People had lived here longer and were connected to this community in a way I’d never seen,” he said. “It told me, right from the outset, this is going to be a challenge.”

A group of 50 current and past city officials, colleagues and Twin Cities economic development proponents gathered Thursday night in the atrium of the Norway Savings Bank Arena for Miller’s retirement reception.

Miller officially stepped down from his position as director of economic development as of Nov. 30 but will keep his hand in city business for a while, working as the city’s contact with Miracle Enterprises and the Chinese investors interested in developing the old Lunn and Sweet Shoe factory building on Minot Avenue.


That development, as well as dozens more that Miller helped mold, were the topics of conversation Thursday night.

Former City Councilor Gerard Dennison said Miller was largely responsible for nearly doubling the number of businesses in Auburn between 1980 and today.

“He did an incredible job attracting new businesses and creating thousands of new jobs and adding all kinds of money to the city’s assessed valuation,” Dennison said. “In my six years on the council, the assessed valuation went up $170 million.”

Chip Morrison, who was the city manager who hired Miller in 1980, said he recognized that Miller was a visionary.

“Nobody would ever call Roland a particularly great detail person, but his vision got us a lot of places,” Morrison said.

Miller was key, Morrison said, in developing the Roak Block from factory space into housing, as well as developing the city’s business parks and helping to create the Intermodal Freight Transfer Facility in the southern part of the city, the downtown ADAPT plan and now the $40 million Miracle Enterprises development.


City Manager Howard Kroll said Miller can claim much of the city’s current success.

“He’s been the face of this community, the face of this region and made a lot of things happen,” Kroll said. “Without him, we would not be in the position we are in.”

But Miller turned the praise back on the community.

“It’s been a labor of love, and I thank you all for every bit of it,” he said. “Really, I was nothing more than a conductor. You all made this happen — everyone here.”

Assistant City Manager Denis D’Auteuil said the city is reviewing resumes of applicants to replace Miller.

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