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Consultants to begin fact finding for Vision 2040 project in Willmar, Minn., community

WILLMAR - It may be easy to see a community's current strengths and weaknesses, but detailing dreams and expectations for a community's future is a little more challenging.

A team of consultants will be spending time this summer in what's being described as the "greater Willmar area" to lead the community through a process to identify goals - and an action plan to meet them - that will launch this community to the year 2040.

The "Vision 2040" process begins next week when representatives from Next Generation Consulting of Madison, Wis., conduct one-hour sessions with a long list of small groups over a three-day period that begins May 28.

One of those sessions on May 28 will be a joint meeting with the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Willmar City Council and Willmar School Board that's set for 4:30 p.m. in the multi-purpose room in the county's Health and Human Services building.

Elected officials from other cities and school districts in the county have also been invited to attend, said Kandiyohi County Administrator Larry Kleindl, who is a member of the Vision 2040 steering committee that has provided the framework for the study.

"I'm really excited about this," said Kleindl. "A lot of hard work is going into this. A lot of thoughtfulness."

Willmar Superintendent Jerry Kjergaard said the School Board supports the effort and will be actively involved in it.

"I support it because it's one more way to plan for the future," Kjergaard said.

During the initial research and information-gathering phase, the consultants will meet with individuals from a variety of community sectors: senior citizens, high school and college students, business leaders, civic organizations, ministerial association and ethnic groups.

"This is a group-driven process," said Kleindl.

The field research will include learning about the history of the area and get a feel for the "lay of the land," said Kleindl. "They'll get a feel of what the greater Willmar area is about."

The next phase involves comparing the greater Willmar area with five "peer" towns: Hutchinson, Alexandria, St. Cloud, Owatonna and Watertown, S.D.

Another component is getting input from the public.

Kleindl said this exercise will utilize a new method to engage a younger audience that may involve "roaming" chalkboards or message boards that will be placed around the community where people can write responses. It's a method made popular by Candy Chang, an artist and urban planner, who has used public spaces in her hometown of New Orleans to create community ownership.

In July the consultants will host a large community event that will provide an opportunity for citizens to discuss ways to keep the area vibrant and provide ideas for how to grow the next generation of leaders.

Don't expect to see flip charts at this session, said Kleindl, with a nod to the tech-savvy generation the Vision 2040 group hopes to attract.

By late fall an action plan will be completed and the committee will establish action committees to implement the goals.

The community went through a similar process in 1999 to develop the Vision 2020 plan. Kleindl said many of the goals set in that plan have been accomplished.

The county, city and private donors have provided funds to cover the $25,000 cost of the study.

Carolyn Lange

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

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