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EDC hears firsthand about Spicer economic successes

In this undated photo, crews with Vreeman Construction of Willmar work on the foundation of the new addition to O’Neils Food and Spirits in Spicer. The bar was touted Thursday as an example of economic development in the region. Tribune photo

SPICER — Examples of economic development successes weren't hard to find when the joint operations board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission met Thursday in Spicer.

The board heard firsthand from Spicer city officials about many of the projects underway to boost business and residential expansion.

Even the meeting itself was hosted in one of Spicer's newest venues, the event center of the expanded and remodeled O'Neil's Bar.

"We're very proud of it," said Spicer Mayor Denny Baker, describing how O'Neil's has revitalized one of the main corners in downtown Spicer.

The meeting Thursday was the latest in a series of road trips the Economic Development Commission has been taking this summer to raise its visibility and foster connections across the county. Other visits have been to Sunburg, Raymond and Lake Lillian.

The outreach with the board of directors is something the EDC plans to continue, said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.

"The EDC wants to come into all the communities in the county and be helpful," he said.

Spicer is unique in having its own economic development authority. At one time the Spicer EDA might have been perceived as competing with the Willmar and countywide Economic Development Commission, but Baker said Thursday that the two entities have become cooperative.

"We look upon it as a partnership today more than we used to," he said. "I think the roles are meshing. ... We're all in the same boat. Each area has unique things they bring to the table."

One of Spicer's current projects is the development of a downtown plan. A community-based focus group, consisting of about 30 members, has been meeting to talk about the options, said Ron Fake, director of the Spicer Economic Development Authority.

"We're presently thinking about expanding that into a formal study," he said. The study would become a catalyst for finding, creating and bringing in new businesses to Spicer, he said.

Baker also outlined some recent land acquisitions that will add more lots for future residential and possibly commercial development.

A proposal that arose about 20 years ago to merge the cities of Spicer and nearby New London has been inactive but not entirely dormant, Baker said. "There is talk here and there."

Renquist said Kandiyohi County's relatively low unemployment, active economy and average wages, along with other economic measures, put it in the top 25 percent of U.S. "micropolitans," defined as extended communities with a population of 50,000 or less.

"Much of what's happening in Spicer is due to their own efforts. A strong county economy gives Spicer a greater chance of success," he said.

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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