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EDC eyes greater emphasis on supporting existing local businesses

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission will continue pursuing leads to bring new businesses into Kandiyohi County.

But look for a slight shift that puts greater emphasis on supporting and strengthening the businesses that are already here.

"I feel that our trend in the next five years is our best opportunities or best bets are going to come from local business," said Duane Hultgren, chairman of the EDC's joint operations board.

Members of the operating board met Thursday to talk about the agency's five-year plan. Nearly a dozen goals were identified last month during a strategic retreat. The board's task Thursday: to narrow the list to five objectives that will help guide the EDC's direction through 2015.

The plan is expected to be finalized in October.

Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission, said that whether the focus is on growing local businesses or bringing in a new manufacturer, one doesn't preclude the other.

"Could we do more and could we do better? There is no doubt that we could," he said. "We have attracted some businesses from outside of the county and in some cases from out of the state."

Outreach doesn't always produce immediate results, he acknowledged. "It's hard to measure emphasis and activity."

If Kandiyohi County is going to experience economic growth, however, nurturing local businesses will be one of the keys, Hultgren said.

Although it's a coup to be able to recruit a major company, it's also costly to do this and ultimately can be a tradeoff, he said. "The benefit of doing that becomes minimized."

One of the goals should be no net loss of jobs in Kandiyohi County over the next five years, suggested board member Betty Bollig.

"That's what we're really trying to get at -- that people have jobs," she said.

Board members also identified the reduction of barriers and obstacles to business creation and expansion as a goal.

"It is the biggest roadblock for businesses today," said Ron Christianson, of the Willmar City Council and the EDC's joint powers board.

Other goals under consideration include creation of a regional biosciences corridor, increasing cargo use of the Willmar Municipal Airport, supporting Rice Memorial Hospital in strengthening its regional presence, and developing renewable energy and value-added ag enterprises.

The objectives that ultimately are selected must be specific and realistic, Renquist said. They also must be measurable.

Although the five-year plan will shape the Economic Development Commission's priorities, it will also need to be flexible in order to respond to changing situations and new opportunities that might arise, said Ron Erpelding, a member of the operating board.

"Any five-year plan is a living thing," he said. "It changes."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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