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Economic Development Commission to apply for entrepreneurship grant

SUNBURG — Hoping to harness the forces of a changing economy, the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission will seek a $100,000 federal grant promoting entrepreneurship.

Members of the EDC joint operating board voted Thursday to apply for the rural development grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The board’s action came during a meeting at the Kaffestua in Sunburg, the first in a series of EDC board meetings this summer that will be held around Kandiyohi County to foster more conversations about how the EDC can help with local economic development.

“It is important to get out and talk to the people in the communities. We work for you too,” said Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission.

Thursday’s meeting in Sunburg drew a turnout from local business owners and members of the city council who spoke of their frustration with expensive, burdensome regulations that hamstring what small towns can do in both the public and private sectors.

Scott Jorgenson, of the Sunburg City Council and a business owner, said local businesses were financially devastated when the reconstruction of former Highway 104 through town left the road closed for two years.

The result was “a beautiful road” but the individual cost was enormous, he said. “We had no business. Our town was deserted. It took every dollar I had.”

While the EDC has little role in regulation, it can help by supporting existing businesses and pursuing new opportunities, Renquist said. “What we try and do is create the environment... Sometimes prospering is just not losing ground.”

The USDA grant is one of the EDC’s latest efforts at providing resources to stimulate the economy.

If the grant application is approved, the money will help fund a feasibility study on the creation of a local entrepreneurship center, along with some training, said Jean Spaulding, assistant director of the Economic Development Commission.

Traditional jobs are shrinking and being replaced with what’s known as a “1099 economy,” or one of entrepreneurs, consultants and small businesses, many of whom work at home or telecommute, Spaulding said.

It’s an opportunity for rural communities to find ways to foster small-business entrepreneurship, support this growing sector of the economy and provide them with training and resources, she said.

The entrepreneurship center is “a concept at this point,” Spaulding said. One of the goals of a feasibility study will be to create a model that can eventually become self-sustaining, she said. “If it’s a template, it could be picked up and scaled to different communities.”

Proposed partners in the project include Ridgewater College, the Southwest Initiative Foundation, the BioBusiness Alliance of Minnesota and local entrepreneurs.

There’s no guarantee the Economic Development Commission will receive the grant, Spaulding said. “It’s a federal grant so there’s going to be applicants from all over the country. There’s always the chance we’re not going to get it.”

But sending in an application could help Kandiyohi County position itself for the evolution taking place in the economy and the job market, she said. “This is an opportunity for us to embrace it.”

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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