Vision 2040 Steering Committee begins work on goals that could define Willmar for years to come

Years ago, workers first looked for a job and then lived where the job was located. Today's younger workers first find the community where they want to live and then find the job to support them. This dramatic change in how people -- especially y...

Vision 2040 steering committee member Kevin Halliday, left, looks on Thursday during a meeting at the Oaks, as Pablo Obregon addresses an audience. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Years ago, workers first looked for a job and then lived where the job was located. Today’s younger workers first find the community where they want to live and then find the job to support them. This dramatic change in how people - especially young business people and professionals - decide where they want to live means communities must develop and market quality-of-life amenities that differentiate their community from other communities across Minnesota and the country.
The challenge for local leaders is to recognize and incorporate this change of thinking if they hope to attract newcomers to the Willmar Lakes Area.
“What this means is the things that were niceties like parks and trails, amenities within your community, which, if you were an elected official and had a few bucks left you put some money into, those now move up in terms of priority simply because that’s how people are going to make decisions about where they live,’’ says Ron Erpelding, facilitator for the Vision 2040 Steering Committee.
“We need to maintain what we have, retain what we have and attract newcomers. That means you’ve got to have the things in your community that attract them. Those are things that will be deal breakers in the future for people deciding, ‘Am I going to live in Kandiyohi County or am I going to go somewhere else?’ ’’

Attracting and retaining newcomers to the Willmar Lakes Area is the first of four goals the Vision 2040 Steering Committee and its subgroups are discussing and working to implement.
The goals were established in the Vision 2040 report released in November by Next Generation Consulting of Madison, Wis. The goals grew out of many public meetings and events and an information-gathering process last year that focused on a variety of issues with the intent of imagining and positioning the Willmar Lakes Area as a “great place to live, work, and raise a family.’’
The goals are:
- Attract and retain newcomers to the Willmar Lakes Area.
- Strengthen the region’s diversity.
- Develop and enable more things to do.
- Develop the next generation of leaders.
Each goal has three or four strategies. Subgroups are discussing how to implement those strategies. But what transpires will depend on the involvement of people.
Erpelding says he was pleased with the number who attended the community input meetings and those who expressed an interest in being part of the process.
“The challenge now is to make sure we engage them and that we provide opportunities for them to be involved,’’ he said. “A lot of those volunteers are action oriented-type folks who don’t necessarily want to go to a meeting but want to help get done what needs to be done.’’
If there are “champions’’ in particular areas besides the goals and strategies, those could evolve as very active strategies moving forward, he said.
Steering committee members are explaining the Vision 2040 plan to various community groups, including neXt, a group organized to attract and retain young talent in the community while developing the next generation of leaders.
“This is a great opportunity for all of us to put the best we can to move forward,’’ Pablo Obregon of Pact 4 Families Collaborative, a Vision 2040 partner, told neXt members Thursday.
City Clerk-Treasurer Kevin Halliday encouraged his listeners to choose a focus area and get involved.
Melissa Sorenson from Jennie-O Turkey Store said she is working on the goal of developing the next generation of leaders. She hopes her group can tap into people who are not involved.
City Administrator Charlene Stevens said the steering committee’s purpose is to keep the process moving. She said more than 100 people are already involved.
Erpelding said the steering committee ensures that folks are talking to each other, that initiatives, activities and strategies move forward, that everyone knows what’s happening and that opportunities exist for them to work together.
The steering team met 12 to 15 times during the past year and a half in getting the Vision 2040 process started, following the success of Vision 2020.
But the subgroups have only met for the past couple of months since the plan was rolled out in November.
“And now we need to look ahead for our kids and our grandkids, jump ahead 25 years and position our Greater Kandiyohi County Lakes Area for what’s ahead so that people continue to say what a great place this is to live,’’ said Erpelding.

More information about Vision 2040 is available at

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