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Health care initiatives on EDC's radar as it adopts list of priorities for the coming year

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission will look for ways to help and support local health care this coming year.

It's on a list of priorities adopted by the EDC's joint powers board and joint operations board at a planning retreat last month.

The list will help the agency stay focused on the areas most critical to Kandiyohi County's economic success, said Betty Bollig, chairman of the joint operations board.

"I think that's going to be important to us in the next year," she said.

Members of the joint operations board reviewed the report Thursday.

Among the issues the Economic Development Commission will concentrate on next year:

- Retaining existing businesses and helping them grow. Technology and the Internet have been identified as two of the leading strategies for achieving this.

- Beefing up the Willmar airport and the local aviation industry with the development of an airport-related business and marketing plan. The goal: to attract airport-related industries interested in locating near Willmar's new airport, which opened last year.

- Bringing in more tenants to the MinnWest Technology Campus. A target has been set of having five new companies commit to locating on the campus by December 2009.

- Opening new markets in renewable energy and value-added agriculture. One area of focus will be working with the city of Willmar and Kandiyohi County to address work-force development, cluster housing and feedlot issues. Another will be to explore the potential of anhydrous ammonia as a source of energy.

This is the first time that health care has appeared on the list.

The EDC has previously explored ways of collaborating with local health care providers, but opportunities for helping have been limited, said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.

With the health care industry under increasing strain, however, the time may be right to approach health care providers again, he said.

The EDC hopes to set up an initial meeting within the next few months to meet with local health care providers and ask if there are any areas in which the EDC can assist. From there, three or four key concerns will be identified and a longer-term strategy put together.

There are several positive signs that health care in Kandiyohi County is still managing to move forward, said board member Duane Hultgren.

"If there's a way that we can actually be part of that and enhance it, that would be great," he said.

Richard Falk, a Kandiyohi County commissioner and the County Board's liaison to the EDC joint operations board, said media accounts have left the public unnecessarily frightened for the future of local health care.

"Things really aren't as bleak as what you read in the paper," he said.