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Renville County man seeking support for billboard project designed to attract residents of metro area to rural Minn.

OLIVIA -- By train or by billboard along the freeway, John Hubin is looking to lure metropolitan area businesses and residents to Renville County.

Hubin is asking the Renville County Board of Commissioners for support from the county in both endeavors.

Hubin, publisher of the weekly newspapers serving Hector, Bird Island and Buffalo Lake, urged the commissioners to support plans to place billboards along Interstate 394 in Minneapolis to catch the eyes of harried commuters caught in traffic. The billboards will feature photos of school children posed on the Main Streets of Renville County communities. They will ask commuters if they are "Tired of the parking lot?'' while touting the benefits of moving to Renville County.

Hubin is hoping to raise $12,000 by June 5. If successful, he would be able to reserve three billboards in the metropolitan area to feature the campaign from July 4 through Labor Day.

News of the plans for the billboard campaign has brought Hubin calls of support, and even a $100 donation. The county commissioners at their meeting Tuesday voiced support for recruiting businesses, but steered Hubin to the county's Economic and Development Authority as the possible source of financial support.

The county EDA distributes $30,000 each year -- or $3,000 to each of the county's 10 communities -- to be used for economic development and promotion. Hubin said some of the communities have already indicated a willingness to see a portion of their allotment devoted to the billboard campaign.

The Renville County EDA board of directors meets May 28 and is expected to consider the funding request.

Hubin considers the west central region to be the "last outpost for economic growth'' in the state.

He also urged the commissioners to support the Southern Minnesota Area Rapid Transit or SMART campaign to see passenger rail service on the Twin Cities & Western railroad. The short-line railroad is well poised to offer passenger service to the metropolitan area, said Hubin.

He spoke on behalf of obtaining federal stimulus funding for the proposal earlier this month at the Minnesota Intercity Passenger Rail forum in St. Paul. He pointed out that the line, which parallels U.S. Highway 212, offers a direct route to the confluence of the Hiawatha and North Star passenger rail lines next to Target Field, now under construction as the Minnesota Twins' new baseball stadium.

The line was voted the nation's top short-line railroad in 2007.

Perhaps most important, the line has an interest in seeing its rail bed upgraded to accommodate passenger service as well as the freight it now hauls, said Hubin. He said company president Mark Wegner would like to see passenger service become a reality on the line as early as 2018.