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Vision 2040 provides a roadmap to future, but new leaders needed to make it happen

Rebecca Ryan, a consultant with Next Generation, addresses an audience Wednesday at the Willmar Conference Center during a public meeting about the Vision 2040 report. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR — If a community-driven plan that’s designed to carry the Willmar lakes area into the year 2040 is going to work, key leaders need to step forward to make it happen.

“You need champions,” said Ron Erpelding, during a presentation Wednesday of the Vision 2040 plan that outlines goals and strategies to move Willmar and Kandiyohi County into a healthy future.

Erpelding, who has filled community leadership roles for decades — he served as chairman of the community’s Vision 2020 plan as well as the Vision 2040 plan — said it’s time to ask a new generation of community residents to take over.

Looking at the room of more than 200 people that attended the noon presentation, Erpelding said the plan “depends on all of you stepping up” to work on goals identified in the plan including: bringing “newcomers” to the Willmar area, strengthening the region’s occupational diversity, developing more “things to do” and developing the next generation of leaders.

“If there are no champions, it absolutely doesn’t happen,” said Erpelding, who said the community successfully implemented several goals in the Vision 2020 plan and is more than capable of doing the same with the 2040 plan.

A second public presentation of the plan was conducted Wednesday evening.

The Vision 2040 effort has been funded by local governments and private donors. Next Generation Consulting of Madison, Wis., was hired by the Vision 2040 steering committee to lead the community through the visioning process. Comments have been gathered from elected officials, local community leaders and various members of the public.

Besides identifying four key goals, the 45-page plan also includes strategies and access to resources for reaching those goals.

“This is a robust plan,” said Rebecca Ryan, the lead consultant from Next Generation Consulting who led the community through the self-examination and goal-setting process this summer.

In a summary of the strategies, Ryan said to reach the first goal to attract and retain newcomers, which includes immigrants and people who left Willmar after high school and now want to raise their families here, the community needs to “roll out the welcome mat” and make affordable housing available, including housing that accommodates multi-generational family living arrangements.

The second goal on the list is strengthening occupational options that allow people to advance in careers once they move here.

“What will be your next MinnWest?” Ryan asked, referring to the growing technology campus in Willmar that his home to several employers.

When young families look for a place to move to, they consider high-speed Internet as crucial as people in the 1930s viewed plumbing, said Ryan, stressing that technology needs to be expanded here.

With a growing number of “free agent” employees, Ryan also said the community should create shared work spaces that give freelance workers a place to collaborate.

The third goal of responding to the community’s overwhelming desire to have more things to do is challenging for a town to meet but can be addressed by providing the platform and environment for new recreational activities and businesses to grow, said Ryan.

The report recommends developing Robbins Island Park in Willmar. Ryan said future development of the park could be a positive “tipping point” for Willmar.

The fourth goal is to develop a new generation of leaders.

Ryan said the community has a “great bunch of assets on paper” that other neighbors envy, but those assets could be lost if the leadership roles aren’t passed on.

Ryan encouraged current leaders to look at young people they know that could serve and give them a “nudge.”

Likewise, she said the next generation of community leaders should be aware there is an “expectation” for them to pick up the ball and lead.

“You can’t phone leadership in,” said Ryan, adding that the “time has never been better” to be at the table to share ideas and do the work it takes to move the community forward.

“Where are you going to be 27 years from now?” asked Ryan.

She said not all the goals of the Vision 2040 plan can be achieved in the next two to three years.

But moving closer to the goals by 2040 will be the “greatest gift” that today’s leaders can give to the community’s children the grandchildren, said Ryan, who drew attention to a young mother in the audience who had brought her 3-week-old daughter, Leah, to the presentation.

The decisions made today will determine if “Baby Leah wants to live, work and play in this community” when she is 27 years old, said Ryan.

“Are you for her?” asked Ryan. “Are you for this community? … Let’s do this together.”

A copy of the plan may be viewed here or at the link above.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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