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Vision 2040 forums start with debate on economic vibrancy

Willmar-area residents gather Tuesday the MinnWest Technology Campus to participate in a Vision 2040 forum. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR — The first in a series of five public forums in the Vision 2040 project kicked off Tuesday afternoon with group discussion about economic vibrancy in the Willmar Lakes Area.

Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation, the firm hired by the Vision 2040 steering committee to help lead residents through the visioning process, asked 40 participants at the MinnWest Technology Campus to think of the region as a baton in a relay race.

“We’ve got one generation that wants to hand it off to their kids and grandkids and do it in a really effective way,’’ she said.

“Wherever you are in your journey, whether you’re close to the finish line of your own career or you’re just getting started, we’ve got … to focus on economic vibrancy and what do we want to leave as a legacy 27 years from now and also to sit shoulder to shoulder with young professionals ...  let them learn with you and from you,’’ she said.

During the 90-minute session in the Life Science Building auditorium, Ryan asked participants to sit in multi-generational groups and identify existing programs, potential new programs, and potential public and private sector sponsors to develop greater entrepreneurship, nuture a stronger job base, and become magnets for regional talent, among other issues.

Participants were divided among six tables and their discussion notes were collected for a final report that will be presented in November.

However, Ryan picked one table at random to provide an oral report. Tom Gilbertson, owner of Gilbertson Management Group, a financial services business located at the MinnWest Campus, took notes and reported the highlights at his table.

They supported having an internship program available for business owners to cultivate and incubate future leaders within their company to help transition and keep companies in the community, and having transitional housing available that’s nice but still affordable for people moving here.

Other ideas were having a school designed to bring in people from other schools to allow students to finish their four-year degrees here; expand the health care system and facilities; and create “hubs’’ where wireless technology is available to businesses.

In an interview, Gilbertson said he thought the program was very interesting.

“I’d like to see the community coming together to plan out what the town will be looking like in 30 years from now,’’ he said.

Betsy Bonnema, owner of Red Star, an advertising and marketing firm, said she is part of a group trying to develop a home for people that work independently either because they are entrepreneurs or have a small business or are independent professionals and need a place to work, collaborate and create community.

“It ties into the entrepreneurial theme because it’s a great resource for that and we know … that by 2040, 40 percent of the workforce will be independent contractor-type labor,’’ said Bonnema. “That creates the demand for this kind of a space because those independents while they don’t want to be there 40 hours a week need places to go and connect.’’

Forums continue today and Thursday.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150