For those in the trenches at Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. it’s frustrating to hear people wonder just what the nonprofit is doing to bring in jobs.
A new image, a new message, a new plan, a new website and renewed effort to increase public awareness are all part of BLAEDC’s relaunch this week.
For Sheila Haverkamp, BLAEDC executive director, part of the goal is to increase awareness about the organization in the communities it serves. And Haverkamp said part of BLAEDC’s message is the area is ready to grow as the economy recovers. BLAEDC doesn’t create jobs, it works with companies that do and promotes the area.
“I think as an organization, we’ve had a lot of successes,” Haverkamp said.
BLAEDC works with entrepreneurs to assist start-up ventures, provides assistance to existing companies looking to expand and works to attract new business to locate in the area. The assistance comes in helping companies find locations, financing and incentives.
The nonprofit corporation lists accomplishments of working on 350 projects with $310 million dollars in capital investments and 3,800 jobs. BLAEDC reports those efforts were part of bringing $117 million in annual wages to Crow Wing County and $3.5 million a year in area property taxes.
To get it’s message of growth across, Haverkamp tapped into the talents of the nine pottery artists sharing space at Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd. The potters created planters used at BLAEDC’s annual meeting earlier this week.
Speaking about the Franklin Arts Center, Paul Bloom said the space, with 25 live/work spaces for artists, is full and has a waiting list of 36. The commercial space is also full with a waiting list.
There are cubicles left for painters and there is room for additional pottery artists. The nearby farmer’s market will expand to three days a week this year and include crafts. Bloom said the arts center, in the former junior high off Washington Street, will be open more days for tourists and those interested in buying artwork.
Bloom said the art center wouldn’t be there without BLAEDC’s efforts, which were key in Art Space’s purchase of the building.
Scott Juranek, MicroNet Inc. CEO, said the Baxter-based software is poised for major growth and is proof of software engineering jobs right here in the lakes area. MicroNet, which once had offices on Washington Street in Brainerd, began as an information technology firm.
MicroNet’s main product is ChamberMaster, a cloud-based software that pulls data together for organizations, particularly chambers of commerce. But the company sees growth potential for organizations beyond the 900 chamber customers it has now. MicroNet employs about 27 full-time workers. BLAEDC supported MicroNet as a start-up and assisted when the company was ready to grow. The company grew from developing software for the Brainerd Lakes Chamber to developing an application that went nationwide.
Juranek said he was inspired to move to the area after doing consulting work here. At MicroNet, Juranek said a realistic expectation means the company could triple its customer base in the next few years.
In the last 25 years, BLAEDC reports it has attracted $7.5 million in grants, which it reports is an average of $300,000 per Crow Wing County community
Wausau Paper’s $27 million capital investment to rebuild its No. 7 paper machine, is the largest project BLAEDC has worked with. Wausau Paper is putting contractors to work with the current project, which is slated to be completed in the first quarter of 2011.
BLAEDC also assisted Landis+Gyr in Pequot Lakes, which in its earlier form was known as Hunt Technologies, to create a meter farm where the engineering firm conducts product tests. Landis+Gyr works as a smart grid with meters that send and receive information between customers and utilities. The Pequot Lakes office is part of the Switzerland-based company that is a world leader in smart metering.
BLAEDC’s new logo, which resemble tree leaves that increase in size indicating a growth pattern, was designed to represent just that — economic growth.
The nonprofit’s new website was designed to present a clear image of what BLAEDC does, what assistance it offers to companies interested in locating here. It lists information on the work force; lists sites available for fast-track development; expansive and updated demographic information on area communities, down to commuting times. A section on targeted industries for growth — technology services, manufacturing, healthcare, energy and tourism — lists strengths in those areas, examples of existing firms and average weekly wages by industry along with opportunities for sites in the lakes area.
Photos and details on available buildings are included to help those interested in the lakes area find options. The website also highlights companies that have already used BLAEDC to expand or start here. The website — www.growbrainerdlakes.org — was created by Candyce Hegstrom of Strategic Website Solutions.
RENEE RICHARDSON may be reached at email@example.com or 855-5852.