A task force with a goal of developing a strategy to replace lost area jobs took its first steps Wednesday in Brainerd.
Community leaders from a variety of industries and perspectives met at Central Lakes College and were asked to help develop a vision for the Brainerd lakes area and be part of the 2020 Economic Vitality Task Force.
Brainerd City Council member Lucy Nesheim, a member of a steering committee working on the project, said the goal is to set the stage for a healthy vital economy in the next decade.
"We need your help to do this," Nesheim said.
The short-term planning project is designed to come up with a comprehensive economic development strategy in the face of the Potlatch mill closing. The task force is being created in response to the loss of 616 Potlatch jobs, but has a broader goal to look at the overall economic development in the lakes area.
The Brainerd area received a $50,000 short-term planning grant from the Economic Development Administration in the aftermath of Potlatch's closing. The grant approval process took nine months.
The $50,000 EDA grant is matched by pledges of $52,500 from Potlatch, the Initiative Foundation, Minnesota Power, the Brainerd School District, Crow Wing County and the cities of Brainerd and Baxter. Potlatch provided $20,000 of the local match.
Missota Paper Co. initially hired about 120 people for its operations at the former Potlatch mill. Lisa Paxton, Brainerd Lakes Area Chambers of Commerce CEO and steering committee member, said the area also faces the possibility of losing 700 jobs associated with talks of closing the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center.
Meeting facilitators were Janna King, Economic Development Services, Minneapolis, and Shelly Bauerly Kopel, Venture Allies, St. Cloud.
The plan is to create a vision for economic development and then an action plan, develop a detailed analysis of the area's labor market, identify key industries to go after, establish how to reach those industries, identify trends and use that momentum for growth.
King said the process is aimed at developing a concrete action plan.
"The most important thing is leadership," she said.
Phase One will continue through September with members analyzing data, looking at economic trends and the area's competitiveness, strengths and weaknesses of exporting products or services from the area.
Phase Two began this month and continues through November with establishment of the task force. In September, there will be 10 to 12 community sessions to gather information and an online survey asking people questions, including what would they trade, such as good paying jobs for a company that negatively affects the environment. Success measures also will be developed.
Wednesday the group outlined challenges and opportunities in the region.
Recurring themes included challenges of transportation, shipping costs, a lack of a common vision between area communities, having options for spouses of newly hired employees, focus on retail versus other industry, lack of high-speed Internet, wages, affordable housing and a CAVE mentality -- which stands for citizens against virtually everything.
Opportunities included the area's natural resources, creating a council of governments, the area's growth as a regional center, retirees as a resource, coming technology upgrades in fiberoptics, regional approach, the summer population increase, niche businesses, commute times, health care, education and recreation.
Steering committee members are Sheila Haverkamp, Brainerd Lakes Area Development Corp. executive director; Paxton; Dan Vogt, Brainerd city administrator; Jeremy Vacinek, Baxter assistant finance director; Gail Leverson, Region 5 economic development director; and Nesheim.
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