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EDC outlines economic development goals for next five years

WILLMAR -- An ambitious set of goals is taking shape for the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission to pursue over the next five years.

At a retreat Thursday at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, members of the EDC's joint operations and joint powers boards began filling in the details for how the five-year plan will be carried out.

Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission, called the plan "the big picture" for the agency's future direction.

"Each and every year there should be some work," he said. "The essential goal should be moving us forward."

At the top of the list: Finding ways to support existing businesses in Kandiyohi County.

"We need to look at existing business because we know that's where our growth is going to occur," said Betty Bollig of the joint operations board.

During a work session that lasted almost four hours, board members identified at least half a dozen specific goals for helping local businesses remain viable and helping them expand.

One key strategy is removing barriers that might exist to business growth, and working to enhance efforts by Kandiyohi County and the city of Willmar to be business-friendly in their regulations, ordinances and practices.

Another high-ranking priority is to assist Rice Memorial Hospital with strengthening its position as a regional hospital.

Bev Dougherty, of the EDC operations board, said she had surgery earlier this year at Rice Hospital and was asked by numerous people why she didn't go out of town for the procedure.

"It was an eye-opener," she said.

Perceptions of the local hospital need to be assessed and improved, she said.

Board member Ron Erpelding agreed there are image problems with the hospital. "I've heard the same thing. It's concerning," he said.

Other areas in which the EDC might be able to work with Rice Hospital could be in the development of extended-stay lodging for patients' families and in the development of a parking ramp, Dougherty said.

Recruitment for the MinnWest Technology Campus remains a goal of the EDC as well, and dovetails with yet another objective: to create a regional biosciences corridor in which Kandiyohi County is a key player.

The EDC also has the commercialization of at least two renewable energy projects and the expansion of three value-added ag businesses as a goal within the next five years.

Increasing the use of the Willmar Municipal Airport is on the list too. Strategies suggested by the board include addressing air cargo, air taxi and charter flights, and developing on-field aviation-related businesses.

Renquist said the list will undergo further tweaking and refining before going back to EDC board members for a final review. The EDC's volunteer committees will be asked to come up with a plan by January for how each of them will help accomplish the goals on the list.

Although the five-year plan is ambitious, it's not unrealistic, Renquist said. "I think we can accomplish many of these goals. ... I feel very good that this is a process that can work and be very productive for our organization."

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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