Work & Well-Being
The dynamic between work and well-being may be one of the hottest topics in the workplace right now—and for a good reason. Long before the threat of COVID, the workplace was already exploring how employers could provide more comforts of home while at the office. As the pandemic expedited the conversation, architects and designers have been hard at work reinventing the future workplace. See how JLG is is bringing new life into the workplace at JLGarchitects.com.
Cover Story 28 ONE OF A KIND
Tina and Jay Mrozek, owners of Blacklight Adventures, offer trend-busting family fun for all generations.
THE CONVENIENCE FACTOR
Convenience is one of the biggest factors in whether a consumer will do business with a company.
Meet the Rising Stars of Central Minnesota.
ALL TOGETHER NOW
Great developments are taking place in downtown St. Cloud, and stakeholders are working hard to keep the momentum going.
2023 CENTRAL MN GROWTH GUIDE
• Email Marketing Do’s and Don’ts
• Practice Doing Nothing
• Marketing and AI: Where it Fits
• How to Hire Seasonal Workers
COMING IN NOVEMBER : Financial Services & Wealth Management
Are you interested in advertising? Contact Melinda at email@example.com to find out more!
Main Phone: 320-251-2940 / Automated Reservation Line: 320-656-3826
Program Hotline: 320-656-3825 / information@StCloudAreaChamber.com StCloudAreaChamber.com
President: Julie Lunning, 320-656-3804
Director of Finance and Operations: Bonnie Rodness, 320-656-3806
Director of Programs & Events: Laura Wagner, 320-656-3831
Director of Marketing & Communications: Emily Bertram, 320-656-3809
Director of Downtown Planning & Development: Tyler Bevier, 320-656-3830
Director of Member Engagement: Antoinette Valenzuela, 320-656-3834
Administrative Assistant/Network Administrator: Vicki Lenneman, 320-656-3822
Administrative Assistant: Shelly Imdieke, 320-656-3800
CONVENTION & VISITORS BUREAU STAFF
Main Phone: 320-251-4170
Executive Director: Rachel Thompson, 320-202-6728
Director of Sales: Nikki Fisher, 320-202-6712
Sales Manager: Sumer Hager, 320-202-6713
Sports Director: Craig Besco, 320-202-6711
Marketing Manager: Lynn Hubbard, 320-202-6729
Marketing & Services Coordinator: Olivia Way, 320-202-6713
Administrative Assistant: Melissa Ludwig, 320-202-6770
Virtual Experience, Real Memories
Iwill never forget the day that I fell off a skyscraper. It was on a work trip to a big city. My co-workers and I thought it would be fun to ride the elevator to the top level and take in the view. We were excited, sure that the panorama from the 80th floor would be breathtaking. We climbed in the elevator to begin our ascent.
Immediately upon reaching the top, the elevator doors opened to reveal an unexpected, terrifying sight. It turns out, we had hit the button for the plank experience. What is the plank experience, you might ask? It’s exactly what you’re thinking. Reaching out from the door of that elevator was a wooden plank suspended into the open. Surrounding it was nothing but air. That’s it. Well, and a sprawling urban landscape of buildings, with helicopters chopping closely overhead and all the sounds of the city.
fallen off the side of the plank and was plummeting to my sure death! This was it, I was done for! As the ground approached, everything went white. My breathing steadied, my eyes refocused, and suddenly I was back on the ground floor, outside the elevator, ready for another ride.
Every detail was intentional, every interaction was genuine, and every memory we made was long-lasting.
Okay, I confess. I never actually fell from a skyscraper. But let me tell you, I genuinely thought I did. In truth, I was playing a game with the virtual reality software at Blacklight Adventures during a work holiday party. Everything about the experience – from being fitted with the headset to an actual two-by-four on the ground to enhance the walking experience – was immersive, authentic, and so very fun.
I immediately took three steps backward, thinking this had to be a joke. Was I supposed to walk on this thing, with no restraints or anything?! Heights are not my favorite, and I am whatever the opposite of an adrenaline junkie is. But my co-workers were behind me, telling me that they believed in me and that I could do it. What choice did I have? I had to walk the plank.
Trembling legs and shaky breath, I took my first fateful step out of the elevator. The wind whipped in my ears and the traffic below raced by. My co-workers urged me on, even though the pounding of my heart in my ears nearly drowned them out. One foot, then the other. One foot, then the other.
I almost made it to the end when suddenly, my stomach lurched and I let out an unflattering yelp. I had slipped and
Though this experience happened in 2019, my co-workers and I still talk about our time at Blacklight Adventures to this day. Every detail of our entire visit was intentional, every interaction was genuine, and every memory we made was long-lasting. When owners Jay and Tina Mrozek told me that this is their goal with all guests who visit Blacklight Adventures, I was not surprised. You can read more about their entrepreneurial journey on page 28.
As for me, I will not be walking any more planks. If you need me, I’ll be in one of the escape rooms.
Until next time, Emily Bertram, Editor
Emily Bertram, St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce
Alicia Chapman, Bluebird Creative
Eric Cheever, Stearns History Museum
Luke Griener, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development
Dr. Fred E. Hill, St. Cloud State University
Vicki Johnson, St. Cloud Area Planning Organization
Ari Kaufman, freelance writer
Sam Kraulik, Whitebox Marketing
Lynn MacDonald and Allison Bily, St. Cloud State University
Josh Villa, Magnifi Financial
Melinda Vonderahe, Marketing Consultant
Ad Traffic & Circulation
Yola Hartmann, Hazel Tree Media
ART Design & Production
Yola Hartmann, Hazel Tree Media
Cover Story Photography
Joel Butkowski, BDI Photography
Vicki Lenneman, St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce
1411 West St. Germain Street, Suite 101, P.O. Box 487, St. Cloud, MN 56302-0487 Phone (320) 251-2940 Fax (320) 251-0081
For advertising information contact Melinda Vonderahe, (320) 656-3808
Editorial suggestions can be made in writing to: Editor, Business Central, P.O. Box 487, St. Cloud, MN 56302-0487 or emailed to ebertram@ stcloudareachamber.com
Submission of materials does not guarantee publication
ST CLOUD AREA CHAMBER OF COMMERCE
2022-23 BOARD MEMBERS
Nick Bischoff, Design Electric
Ron Brandenburg, Quinlivan & Hughes
Doug Cook, Headwaters Strategic Succession Consulting LLC.
Tanja Goering, Celebrate MN, Board Chair
Joe Hellie, CentraCare, Board Vice Chair
Ray Herrington, Pioneer Place on Fifth
Patrick Hollermann, InteleCONNECT
Hudda Ibrahim, Filsan Talent Partners
Kevin Johnson, K. Johnson Construction, Past Board Chair
Matt Laubach, West Bank
Laurie Putnam, St. Cloud School District 742
Paul Radeke, BerganKDV
Brenda Sickler, Theisen Dental
Melinda Tamm, Ms. Melinda’s Dance Studio
Melody Vachal, Arise Cares
Donella Westphal, Jules’ Bistro
Dr. Jason Woods, St. Cloud State University
Growing Old on Purpose
Purposeful aging is fundamental to our health, happiness and longevity.
Reviewed by Dr. Fred Hill
Framed by a long conversation between two old friends, this book reconceives aging as a liberating experience that enables us to become more authentically the person we always meant to be with each passing year.
“Everyone is getting old; not everyone is growing old. But the path of purposeful aging is accessible to all. And it’s fundamental to health, happiness, and longevity. With a focus on growing whole through developing a sense of purpose in later life, Who Do You Want To Be When You Grow Old? celebrates the experience of aging with inspiring stories, real-world practices, and provocative questions to help readers navigate the path from adulthood to elderhood with choice, curiosity, and courage.” —From “Who Do You Want To Be When You Grow Old?”
This book consists of nine chapters.
Chapter 1. Old? Who, Me?
Chapter 2. If we all end up dying, what’s the purpose of living?
Chapter 3. Aren’t I somebody?
Chapter 4. Am I living the good life my whole life?
Chapter 5. How do I stop living a default life?
Chapter 6. Am I having a late-life crisis?
Chapter 7. Will I earn a passing grade in life?
Chapter 8. How can I grow whole as I grow old?
Chapter 9. How will my music play on?
Authors Richard Leider and David Shapiro believe that in order to age well “… we need to unpack our past, repack for the future, and repeat. We need to make growing old our central life task. This is why the path of purposeful aging requires practice. It’s things we do consistently, with
mindfulness and purpose, that enable us to follow our own path.”
Some of the answers to their provocative questions are:
• Purpose is our why –why we get up in the morning.
• The path of purposeful aging is a process of reimagination.
• Having fewer outward responsibilities allows for greater inward growth.
• Admitting “I am old” does not mean we accept decline.
• Do not dread the prospect of getting older.
Our ultimate personal question may be, do I get old or grow old? Why not try to grow old on purpose, if we can.
Dr. Fred E. Hill is an emeritus professor at St. Cloud State University.
St. Benedict’s Community Ownership of CentraCare’s St. Benedict’s Community in St. Cloud, Monticello and Sartell will be transferred to Ecumen, following a search for an organization that could continue supporting the needs of the community, and to provide the best future care options for residents. Upon finalization of the sale, projected for late 2023, current CentraCare – St. Benedict’s positions will transition to new Ecumen ownership.
Wittnebel receives certification
Sydney Wittnebel, CPA at Schlenner Wenner & Co., received a Certified Valuation Analyst (CVA) certification issued by the National Association of Certified Valuators and Analysts (NACVA). She will assist the tax department by providing valuation analysis and financial statements for potential sales/mergers of businesses. She will also assist with business succession planning.
Vouk named Chief Operations Officer
Lisa Vouk has been promoted to Chief Operations Officer at InteleCONNECT. She joined the company 15 years ago and has played an integral part in overseeing customer service, marketing, operations and assisting with the growth and success of the company. ––––––––––––
To be included in the News Reel, please send your submissions to Emily Bertram at Ebertram@ StCloudAreaChamber.com
CentraCare appoints two new executives
Ryan Engdahl, PhD, LP, MBA, has been promoted to vice president of ambulatory care. He was previously the Senior Director of Behavioral Health.
Rachael Lesch, RN, MBA, has been promoted to vice president of population health & performance excellence. Her previous position was executive director of population health & quality improvement.
So ... What’s New?
The 2023 legislative session saw many laws passed that impact business … now and into the future.
The whirlwind that was the 2023 legislative session has left many business owners scratching their heads and wondering, “What now?” Some of the legislation that affects business is already in place. Some won’t happen for a few years. And almost all of the rules are being drafted daily. Following is a highlevel overview of the new legislation, as compiled by the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce.
In effect as of September 1, 2023
Wayne earns designation
Laraway Financial Advisors
President, CEO and Financial
Advisor Christopher Wayne was awarded the Silver Beaver Award for distinguished service from the Boy Scouts of America. The honor is given to individuals who have impacted youth through community service, noteworthy selfsacrifice, exceptional strength of character, and sustaining commitment to the scouting program.
St. Cloud Area Schools awarded grant St. Cloud Area Schools received a grant to help develop a new plan for arts education. The Perpich Center for Arts Education has named St. Cloud one of eight school districts to receive a Comprehensive Arts Planning Program, or CAPP, award.
• Hair texture and styles added to the definition of race
• Ban on restrictive franchise agreements (“no-poach” or “nonsolicitation” agreements)
• State building code process/rules change to require adult-size changing facilities
• Cumulative impact reporting on state air permits
• Odor management oversight
• Air toxics reporting criteria to obtain a permit
• Additional public meetings for non-expiring air permits
• Noncompete agreements banned (not retroactive before July 1, 2023)
• Lactating employees, pregnancy accommodations, unpaid leave updates and small business
• Human Rights Act updated with new definitions of sexual orientation and gender identity
• New and increased OSHA penalties, classification of citation data; authority to inspect employer exclusion
• Ergonomics Grant program
• New ergonomics reporting requirements
• New agriculture and food processing worker standards
• Nursing Home Standards board established to set new employment standards
• Motor vehicle sales tax increases
• New protections for employees related to employer-sponsored meetings and communications about religion or politics
• New protections in place for warehouse distribution centers
• New construction worker wage protections
• $20 per million gallons fee increase for DNR groundwater appropriation permits
• Legalization of recreational marijuana
In effect as of January 1, 2024
• Sick and safe time mandated
• New ergonomics standards in effect for warehouse, meatpacking, health care workers
• New safety standards for meatpacking
• New worker standards for meat and poultry processing
• Ban established on asking about pay history
• Tab fee increases
• Gas tax indexed to inflation
In effect as of July 1, 2024
• New 50-cent per-delivery on retail deliveries over $100
In effect as of October 1, 2024
• Minnesota OSHA fines/ penalties indexed to inflation
In effect as of January 1, 2025
• Minnesota Secure Choice Plan – retirement savings program
• PFAS (polyfluoroalkyl substances) ban in 11 products
In effect as of January 1, 2026
• New Paid Family and Medical Leave mandate
• New reporting requirements for all PFAS products
The St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce will continue to learn more and inform businesses about this legislation as it goes into effect.
Gerry Granum, 53
Chief Executive Officer/Scout Executive
Central Minnesota Council – Boy Scouts of America
Previous position: Director of Community Relations/National Liaison at the Cascade Pacific Council in Portland, Oregon
When did you start your current position?
June 16, 2023
What did you do in your previous position and what will you miss most?
I did a whole host of things. I managed several staff members who supported our volunteer base, focused on growing the scouting program through community partnerships, and oversaw fundraising campaigns, special events and product sales. I was also the National Jamboree staff advisor for our council. The thing I will miss the most from the Cascade Pacific Council will be the volunteers. Everywhere I have gone throughout my scouting career, it is always bittersweet when you have to say goodbye.
What are you looking forward to the most in your new position?
I am very excited to partner with our board of directors,
our staff and the countless volunteers who make scouting go across Central Minnesota.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Volga, South Dakota. It is a small community in eastern South Dakota. As a product of a small town, I am always fascinated by who the key stakeholders are in each community and what makes each town so special.
What are your hobbies?
I enjoy reading, golf, camping, photography, and officiating youth sports.
Fun fact about yourself: When I was completing my master’s degree in Counseling Education from South Dakota State University, I needed to do a school internship. The Foley School District took me in and gave me my first stint as a school counselor almost 30 years ago. I guess it is fair to say I have come full circle. I may not be in the school system, but I think over my 25-year scouting career I have helped young people develop leadership skills, character and prepared them for life.
Everywhere I have gone throughout my scouting career, it is always bittersweet when you have to say goodbye.
CentraCare Foundation raises $6 million CentraCare Foundation completed the mental health care campaign Lighting the Path, which helps to expand access to mental health support across CentraCare communities. Over the 12-month campaign, community members, businesses and CentraCare employees contributed more than $6.2 million to support mental health in the area.
Liberty Bank earns distinction
Minneapolis St. Paul Business Journal has named Liberty Bank Minnesota one of the state’s strongest midsized banks. Liberty was recognized for having the highest core-capital ratio of all midsize banks and the lowest loan-to-deposit ratio.
Stearns Electric introduces electric lawnmower
Stearns Electric Association, in partnership with its wholesale power provider Great River Energy (GRE), leased a 74” electric lawnmower from Mean Green Electric Mowers to replace a diesel-powered machine at Lynx National Golf Course in Sauk Centre. This pilot project is the first of its kind for a golf course through Mean Green Electric Mowers.
Seitz adds employees
welcomed three fabricators to the team. Lucas Winskowski, Oliver Statz and Brandt Conklin signed on after Seitz sent a contingent to St. Cloud Technical & Community College to do a presentation on employment opportunities.
A Friend of Business
Longtime Chamber volunteer and incoming Board Chair
Tanja Goering is prepared to work hard for your business.
When it comes to Chamber advocates, Tanja Goering might just be one of the biggest. Having volunteered with the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce in a number of capacities, she brings with her a deep understanding and appreciation for the organization as she stepped into the role of Chamber board chair in September 2023.
Originally from LeCenter, Minn., Goering graduated from the College of St. Benedict and has remained in Central Minnesota. She spent the majority of her career focusing on management operations and business development, primarily in the transportation and staffing industries. She is currently the community engagement chair with Celebrate Minnesota. Her journey with the Chamber originated from a desire to be more involved in the business community. “I was looking for opportunities to meet new people, learn more about area businesses, and also volunteer to make a difference,” Goering said. The Chamber checked all those boxes.
Goering has since served as the chair of the business development council twice, the chair of the government
affairs division, served on the government affairs advisory board, scholarship selection committee, and the 150th anniversary committee, been a Top Hat Ambassador, is a 2015-2016 leadership graduate, and is now serving her second term on the Chamber’s board of directors.
Goering recognizes the mutually beneficial side of volunteering with the Chamber, as it has allowed her to grow her skill set and her professional network. “The most rewarding part for me is developing new relationships that have grown into friendships,” Goering said.
As Goering steps into her role as board chair, she has outlined several priorities. “I’d like to continue to forge partnerships in a way that generates positive outcomes for the community at large while leveraging the breadth of resources,” Goering said. She believes that if we work together to share resources,
the community at large while leveraging the breadth of resources.”
we can have a greater impact on the community. Business advocacy through government affairs has always been a passion for Goering. “We want to keep our environment competitive and attractive for new business,” she said. She hopes to be a voice of business when it comes to long-term impacts of legislation on small business. “We are better when we collaborate instead of using labels,” Goering said. “Leave the label at the door and focus on coming up with solutions.”
With Goering’s background in staffing,
“I’d like to continue to forge partnerships in a way that generates positive outcomes for
she also has a passion for workforce development, recruitment and retention. She is excited to partner with the Chamber’s existing efforts to continue to grow its reach.
Goering is also prepared to be flexible depending on the business climate. “Some of the growing economic uncertainty could present a challenge in the year to
come,” Goering said. She is ready to help the Chamber pivot and adapt to those concerns should businesses need assistance. “I’m very passionate about the Chamber and the people,” Goering said. “It’s an honor and a privilege to volunteer with such a diverse group of business leaders in the community.”
Brenny Transportation recognized Brenny Transportation has been named the 2022 Midwest Region Carrier of the Year by ABC Supply Co. They earned the distinction in a pool of over 250 suppliers.
Matvick was recognized for going above and beyond in her work to provide good matches for Bigs and Littles and growing the program's reach in the area.
Matvick wins award
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Minnesota's Program Director Ann Matvick was selected as the winner of this year's Brick Award for Program Staff Person of the Year.
St. Cloud Hospital
NICU receives award
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at St. Cloud Hospital is Minnesota's first and only NICU to receive a Beacon Award for Excellence from the American Association of Acute and Critical-Care Nurses. The award recognizes excellence in evidencebased practices to improve patient outcomes, staff engagement and a healthy work environment.
Metro Bus wins award
Metro Bus Mobility & Training Center was named the first winner of the TripSpark Community Partner of the Year Award. The award recognizes a transit agency that is most proactively improving community access and implementing Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging initiatives.
SCSU library staff earn award
Staff members of the St. Cloud State University library recently received the 2023 Minnesota Academic Innovator’s Award by the Minnesota Library Association. The team of Robin Ewing, Jennifer Quinlan, Tom Steman, Melissa Prescott and Missy Northenscold were honored for making course materials and scholarships more affordable and accessible for SCSU and the Minnesota State University system.
Several businesses named Top 200 Workplaces
Nineteen Chamber members were recognized by Star Tribune as Minnesota’s Top 200 Workplaces. Ranking in the top 20 include: Bell Bank, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, Edina Realty, Frandsen Bank and Trust, Bolton & Menk Inc., Capital One, and Compeer Financial. For the full list, visit BusinessCentralMagazine.com.
Visit Greater St. Cloud
promotes, adds staff
Olivia Way, previously in the information specialist role, has been promoted to marketing and services coordinator, and Craig Besco, formerly a sales manager, has been promoted to sports director. In addition to these promotions, they welcome Sumer Hagar as sales manager and Melissa Ludwig as administrative assistant.
We Got Billy!
The quest to brew a national beer turned fatal for one regional brewery.By Eric Cheever
Initially, sales of BILLY Beer were gangbuster. Stores couldn’t keep it on the shelves, and the breweries producing it couldn’t keep up with the orders. A year later BILLY Beer could not be given away. Millions of unfilled cans had to be sold back to the can companies for recycling, and one of the four breweries involved with the project went bankrupt.
How did this happen?
In the late 1970s, when giant brewers like Schlitz and Miller were infiltrating local markets, midsize regional brewer Falls City Brewing Co. in Louisville, Kentucky, needed a home run. Its once stable sales area had been taken over by the big boys and its market share had plummeted.
At the same time, the newly elected American president’s little brother had become an overnight sensation. Billy Carter was an attention hound who was wellknown for his love of beer. He called himself a professional redneck, and Americans found him refreshing – or at least entertaining. Why not have this self-proclaimed redneck, who came to represent good times, endorse a Falls City beer?
A deal with Carter was signed. It was rumored that he earned $50,000 per year for attaching his name to the new product. Falls City created several new brews and Carter picked his favorite. A new label that was distinctively late–‘70s in nature was designed and it was off to the races.
Promotional sign for BILLY Beer
The BILLY Beer can included an endorsement from Billy Carter stating that it’s the best he’s ever tasted.
As a regional brewer, Falls City didn’t have the capacity to make or distribute a national beer. To solve this, they leased the name and recipe to three other regional breweries. The first company to join in was the Cold Spring Brewing Co., in Cold Spring, Minnesota, followed by West End in Utica, New York, and Pearl Brewing in San Antonio, Texas. It was hoped that this new brew would ease a bit of these firms’ financial woes.
Amidst much fanfare, BILLY Beer debuted in early November of 1977, in Plains, Georgia – hometown of the Carters. The first batch of beer sold like hotcakes.
Cold Spring Brewing Co. worked around the clock to get BILLY ready for its Midwest release. The morning
of November 28, 1977, broke to a ‘carnival’ atmosphere in Cold Spring, as fifty semitrucks were loaded with the first of 100,000 cases of BILLY to be available outside of the southern U.S. As the trucks left the brewery, they were led by police escort and preceded by a German marching band. Much of the town including ROCORI high school students lined Red River Avenue to watch the parade. Back at the brewery, there was a collective sigh of relief. According to Cold Spring Executive Vice President Ric Giglio, “We’ve got a big bunch of tired but very happy people here.”
Carter claimed that he was on the way to becoming the ‘Colonel Sanders of beer’. It looked to many observers that nothing
could get in the way of BILLY’s continued success, except Billy Carter himself.
Carter’s contract stated that he had to appear at multiple public events. He would show up at the event, throw out a few scripted talking points, proceed to get drunk and tell reporters that he didn’t like BILLY and that he really drank Pabst. Or he would simply not show up at all, which is what happened in Cold Spring. Soon Carter’s reputation began to change from a lovable free spirit to an unpredictable drunk who was extremely difficult to work with.
It is said that nearly every beer drinker in the nation bought a twelve pack of BILLY Beer in 1977-1978. Unfortunately for the brewers, almost no one bought a
second twelve pack. By the middle of 1978, retailers were finding it difficult to give BILLY away, let alone sell it at a profit. Falls City Brewing had put all its eggs into BILLY’s basket. By October of 1978, Falls City, once the bestselling brand in much of its territory, was no more.
Cold Spring, West End, and Pearl were able to survive the BILLY debacle, but serious harm had been done to their reputations. For Cold Spring, the end of BILLY marked the beginning of a 20-year decline that ultimately led to bankruptcy and eventual rebirth.
SPIRE RAISES NEARLY $80,000
Members of Spire Credit Union along with listeners of the radio station KS95 raised nearly $80,000 for Secondhand Hounds through the Buck$ for Babe fundraiser. This is the second year operating the fundraiser, and Spire alone donated $25,000 to the campaign.
Phone Photo Pro
Most smartphones have extensive photo capabilities. So how can you use them to capture the best marketing imagery?By Sam Kraulik
Creating App-ealing Visuals
The skill set and expertise of a trained graphic designer is unparalleled – even by technology. However, there are a number of apps and websites that can help with quickly assembling social media posts and graphics, even for novice photographers. Here are a few helpful apps to check out:
1 In-App Editors: The basic editing capabilities of social apps like Instagram, VSCO and TikTok are more than adequate for basic photo and video editing. The other apps serve as compliments to the in-app abilities.
In today's digital landscape, the potential to create stunning photos and videos using just your smartphone has never been more convenient. For business owners and content creators, mastering this skill is essential. Having impressive technology at your fingertips, though, is different than knowing how to use it to its fullest potential. Here are a few tips for taking your phone’s photos and videos to the next level.
Capture Better Photos
To elevate the quality of your photos, start by ensuring
proper lighting. Embrace natural light whenever possible, considering its intensity, shadows, and how it falls on your subject. If natural light isn’t available, use external light sources like a flash or an LED panel. If your device supports it, take advantage of shooting in raw format to retain more detail and allow for better editing capabilities. Experiment with composition, angles, and perspectives to add interest.
Create Impressive Videos
When it comes to creating impressive videos, focusing on
stability, lighting, resolution, and audio is key. Start by using a tripod or stabilizer to ensure steady footage. Again, use natural light whenever possible and consider using other lighting sources like a lamp or LED panel to properly illuminate your subjects. Setting your smartphone to the highest available resolution will enhance the clarity and detail of your videos.
Additionally for video, pay attention to audio quality by filming in quiet environments and using an external microphone for clearer sound. It's also important to consider the orientation in which you shoot your videos, especially when planning to post them on social media platforms. Shooting in portrait
2.Canva: If you work in marketing at any level and you haven’t tried Canva yet, you are missing out. This affordable online software can help even the most beginner designer create stunning photos and videos. Perfect for digital graphics like website ads, email imagery or social media posts, Canva is an essential tool in any marketing arsenal.
3 FaceTune: If you take a lot of selfies – or photos of people – this app could become your best friend. Use it to quickly retouch photos where the lighting is unflattering or the angle just isn’t quite right. There is a free trial, and then it’s a monthly fee to use.
4 Pixlr: This mobile photo editing app is great for beginners or professionals in a hurry. It has a free version and comes loaded with filters, tools, and templates without being too overwhelming.
5 InShot: If you need a quick, user-friendly app for editing videos for social media, this is it. InShot offers pre-built canvas sizes for specific social platforms and simple editing tools for creating an engaging video. It is free, but you can pay to remove watermarks.
orientation (vertical) for social media use can be best as it provides a taller view and fits better within the platforms.
Enhance Images and Videos with Apps
Leveraging photo and video apps allows you to enhance the quality and consistency of your visuals. With just a few taps, you can optimize lighting and color balance, creating photos and videos that align perfectly with your brand.
When editing your videos, there are several other aspects to experiment with. Most of these can be found within
your phone’s own editing software. Composition, hue, saturation, audio levels, and the addition of text or graphics are just a few examples. These options provide opportunities to elevate the impact of your visuals, allowing you to convey your message effectively and engage your audience on a deeper level.
Know When to Take it Up a Notch
As your needs grow, partnering with a skilled creative agency can further advance your marketing efforts and coordinate visuals. These
partners bring expertise, industry knowledge, and professional tools to deliver visually stunning imagery that resonates with your target audience.
Remember, your visuals reflect your brand's identity. By optimizing your photo and video captures or investing in quality marketing imagery aligned with your audience's preferences, you can pique their interest and make a lasting impact in the market.
Chamber Connection takes place every Friday from 7:30 to 8:45 a.m. It is hosted by a different Chamber member each week at various locations. For a buck and a business card at the door, start your Friday off with some networking and fun!
Business After Hours is a great way to unwind after a busy day. Hosted by Chamber members once a month, guests can expect plenty of refreshments and networking to cap off their day
Nothing is as vital to a full life as a healthy spine and brain. CentraCare neurosurgeons are specialists you can trust.
Hook the Keepers
Do your hiring and retention plans catch the best candidates – and keep them hooked?By Gail Cruikshank
to solve workforce woes. There are six areas that must be addressed to help with employee retention.
People and culture
burnout by focusing on mental health support programs. These include access to wellness coaches, sabbaticals, financial counseling, and other resources.
With the number of jobs available today, an efficient, concise, and well-communicated recruitment and retention plan is essential. Otherwise, job seekers will go elsewhere.
Key characteristics of a highly effective, yet simple, hiring process include:
1 Screen every applicant instead of relying exclusively on systems. You never know where they may fit perfectly within the organization.
2 Allow opportunities for candidates to informally reach out with inquiries about the company before applying for a job.
3 Consider and tap all markets for talent – meet them where they are at.
4 Ensure that the application is concise and easy to fill out. Only ask for information you truly need and
will use in selection – additional information can be captured later.
5 Review job descriptions and requirements for all positions to compare essential criteria with skills that would be nice to have, but not required.
6 Offer “returnship” opportunities to recapture talent. Create a smooth path for professionals to return to the workforce after a career break so they can quickly develop new skills or prepare for different areas of responsibility.
7 Implement an efficient interview process that provides timely updates to all candidates – even the candidates you don’t extend employment offers to. Speed up your hiring decisions and extension of job offers, because candidates who have options won’t wait around.
Once you’ve hired a new employee, that’s just the beginning. Retention is one of the easiest ways
Cultivate a culture of trust and accountability. Build performance models that encourage candid conversations, provide continuous feedback, offer clear expectation on goals and outcomes, and encourage self-directed employee improvement.
Acknowledgement at work
A little gratitude goes a long way. Thank and recognize your employees verbally and in written communications. Discover what motivates your employees, and provide opportunities to enhance both professional and personal passions. Share words of confirmation and affirmation and respond to feedback or ideas.
Competitive compensation is the easiest way to incentivize employees to stay, but benefits go beyond pay. Offer flexible benefits to best meet all employee needs, – which can be different based on age groups and type of workforce. Review scheduling and job requirements for areas of flexibility. Provide childcare benefits and flexibility to work while caring for family members. Address employee
Provide opportunities for growth and advancement with continuous learning opportunities. Encourage additional responsibilities or opportunities for engaged employees. Provide flexibility and autonomy to deepen engagement in company and community. Implement reverse mentorships, where younger talent provides insight to managers to support hybrid work, diversity and inclusion, stereotypes and generational divide challenges that companies are experiencing.
Share your business on social media for recruitment marketing. Conduct townhalls and staff meetings to share company sales, planning and challenges. Operate your workplace in a manner that is professional, appreciative, positive and safe.
Mission and values alignment
Live your mission and values through all you do. Address the mission and values during every step of the recruitment and retention process to ensure candidates’ beliefs align with company mission, vision and values.
The Benefit of Time
When it comes to nontraditional benefits, flexibility reigns. American workers feel companies should offer employees more control over their work hours and location, but less than 50 percent of businesses do. This is according to results from a Harris Poll survey commissioned by Express Employment Professionals in December of 2022. The survey also revealed:
WHAT'S VALUED VS. WHAT'S REALITY
The Waiting Game
WhenBy Josh Villa
percent as of July 2023. Where rates are today versus where they were even 18 months ago can impact your business’s cash flow.
Understanding the cost of funds is vital to planning your expansion. How much will it cost to expand, including financing costs? How much will it cost you not to expand due to lost potential revenue growth or increased efficiencies?
Loans like the Small Business Administration (SBA) 7a program are an excellent option for businesses in this climate
conventional long-term loan today. Rates are at their highest in almost 20 years, and you would be stuck paying excessive interest and then paying for a new origination fee to refinance if and when interest rates go down. It’s a win-win when you get to save time and money.
There are also plenty of short-term loan options on the market. They provide quick funds – but at a high cost. Not only do these programs typically carry higher interest rates than conventional or SBA
"The Waiting is the Hardest Part,” according to the late, great Tom Petty. And now, more than ever, that statement applies to small businesses across the country.
Interest rates are rising, and some financial institutions are scaling back lending due to uncertainty in the market and tightening liquidity. Small business owners are asking themselves, “Do I wait to take
the loan to expand my business? After all, ‘The waiting is the hardest part!’”
The answer depends. The answer might be no if you see warning signs in your industry. However, if the answer is yes or maybe, take the time to consider the following thoughts.
Rates are high. The average Historical Prime Rate is 6.8 percent, and we are at 8.25
because they are long-term (generally 10 years if real estate is not included) and can help purchase equipment, fund startup costs, and provide working capital. The 10-year term notably impacts your ability to preserve cash flow as a business grows. These long-term 10-year SBA 7a loans also carry no pre-payment penalty, so you can save money by paying it off early.
Keep in mind that these loans are variable rate. That may sound risky in this environment, but consider what happens if your business locks in on a
loans, but they also generally have short repayment terms, which can limit your cash flow for continued growth.
For businesses waiting before expanding, now is a great time to help grow that cash position more quickly through Certificates of Deposit (CD) with a set term, or a money market if you prefer more liquid funds. Many credit unions and banks have competitive deposit opportunities.
Despite the competitive deposit rates on the market, many small businesses are hoping to see loan interest rates “Free Fallin’,” but it looks like we may need to be patient and carefully evaluate the best path forward.
it comes to financing, the most important part is knowing when to commit and when to wait.
There are plenty of short-term loan options on the market. They provide quick funds – but at a high cost.and preferred SBA lender. Josh also works with Ultum Group, which is a national SBA Lender Service Provider.
Suite new font!
The default font for Microsoft productivity apps such as Word and Outlook has been Calibri since 2007. That’s about to change, thanks to testing done by the company. In 2021, Microsoft began testing five new fonts for user feedback. The update stems from a need to keep applications looking fresh, as Office products bring in nearly 24 percent of Microsoft’s revenue. The font currently known as Bierstadt, which was designed by font designer Steve Matteson in 2019, rose to the top. The name Bierstadt comes from the name of a mountain in Colorado, and also means “beer city” in German. As some feedback said that users didn’t take the name seriously, it is being renamed Aptos, after an unincorporated town in Santa Cruz County, California. Nice font, dude. Source: CNBC
Amazon will soon be rolling out biometric technology at Whole Foods stores that allows shoppers to pay for items by scanning the palms of their hands. Shoppers will have to connect a store card to their palm, but then paying for goods will be as simple as a hand wave. The technology, dubbed Amazon One, debuted in Amazon Go stores, with over 3 million uses as of July 2023. The future, it turns out, is in the palm of your hand. Source: CNBC
Immigration's effect on the United States’ workforce has been a political football for years in Washington, D.C., but what about inside local businesses?By Ari Kaufman
of where that talent is or how they are pursuing careers for U.S. organizations.”
As the globalization of workforces becomes more common, the H-1B visa program applies to companies wishing to temporarily hire noncitizen workers in occupations that often require highly specialized knowledge and qualifications. The intent of those provisions is to help employers who cannot otherwise obtain such skills among U.S. citizens.
But while the benefits are clear, compliance with the law is key. Any time a company or individual considers pursuing a candidate that has a work visa, or is applying for one, it also should consult an immigration attorney. The rules and regulations around work visas can be confusing.
There are various types of visas with different uses.
Central Minnesota employers agree that it’s important to understand what type of work visa the candidate or applicant has, as well as what the expiration date is.
“As an employer, know the commitment you are making to this candidate,” explained Chad Coss, vice president of human resources at Nahan Printing in St. Cloud. “Work visa processes and applications can be very lengthy and costly, which creates a significant expense for an organization. You’ll want to ensure the expense, resources,
and time put forth has a return on investment.”
Hiring a candidate on a work visa can be a “tremendous asset to an organization," Coss said, especially if someone has a specialized skill set for which it is difficult to hire. “There are talented individuals who have great skill sets, who can reside anywhere in the world,” he said. “To compete for talent, some organizations need to get outside their traditional talent pool ‘zones’ and find the talent they need to move their businesses forward, regardless
Senior Director of Talent Solutions at CentraCare Brent Bultema advises employers to do their research and have documentation ready when submitting an application, especially if they're involved in a lottery process. "It can be a short window of time and very competitive. Preparation may enhance your chances," Bultema said. "Be sure to know what fees are the responsibility of the employer and those that are the responsibility of the employee or hire. This will help to avoid any surprises that may arise for either party."
Bultema also recommends investing in legal assistance, especially lawyers with immigration experience or specialization. "They can help you in facilitating the process, providing guidance and helping to avoid mistakes," he added.
Rachael Sogge says her struggle with the immigration process has been “far from easy.” But the St. Cloud native and owner of Eyecon graphics — a local marketing agency — doesn’t want this to deter business owners from trying. The H-1B visa employee she hired as a digital marketing specialist has been a valuable employee who has helped build Sogge’s company.
Some of the requirements Sogge had to meet when hiring
“There are talented individuals who have great skill sets, who can reside anywhere in the world.”
–CHAD COSS, NAHAN PRINTING
her employee included spending money to run ads for the job and proving to federal government entities that "there is no one else in our area qualified to do her job. So why didn’t I give up?” Sogge asked. “Not only is the business relationship worth it, but her vision, passion and dedication to her career are important. We were two people fighting for what we firmly believe should be, regardless of how hard and ridiculous the process is.”
A former schoolteacher and historian, Ari Kaufman has worked as a journalist in various roles since 2006. He has published articles in a dozen newspapers and written three books.
Threads of opportunity
In early July, social media platform Instagram released a new app called Threads. A Twitter rival, Threads allows users to share text updates of up to 500 characters, and other users can join in on the “threads” of conversation. Users can log in with their Instagram account and automatically follow the accounts they were already following on Instagram. It has quickly become a place for brands to thrive, allowing open conversations between branded accounts and individuals. Adoption has been quick, with over 100 million users in just five days, but the sustainability of active users remains to be seen.
For those who love social media, though, it’s definitely #WorthCheckingOut.
The Economics of Pickleball
Is pickleball the great equalizer? Cities are assessing the economic impact as the sport’s popularity continues to rise.By Allison Bily, MS and Lynn MacDonald, Ph.D
and resources from other needed public projects.
Pickleball is he fastest growing sport in the United States. We have been inundated with headlines that show both benefits and challenges associated with this newly popular sport. According to the 2023 Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) Pickleball Participation Report, pickleball boasted an estimated 36.5 million players age 18+ in the U.S. between August 2021-August 2022. Players between the ages of 18-34 account for 28.8 percent of U.S. pickleball players—the largest group of players. This new pickleball obsession points to potential business and local development opportunities for cities.
In 2016, the 100 largest cities in the U.S. had a combined 420 pickleball courts. By 2021, the number of courts across those same cities had reached 2,090. In Minnesota, as of 2022, there were 207 places to play pickleball offering 1,071 courts. According to USA Pickleball Places 2 Play website, St. Cloud makes the list of “top cities” in Minnesota to play pickleball. While pickleball players are eager to have increased access to courts and opportunities to play in their communities, not all residents are as enthusiastic. The rising number of public pickleball courts has led to some concern that investment in pickleball takes away funding
While researchers have not spent much time looking specifically at pickleball, they have analyzed the impact of investment in urban parks. A research team led by University of Waterloo Professor Jeffery Wilson found “evidence linking urban parks to health outcomes is strongest in three key areas. These include physical health improvements, such as higher levels of physical activity; mental health improvements associated with exposure to nature; and improvements in respiratory symptoms and cardiovascular disease linked to reduced exposure to air pollution.” Wilson’s research offers evidence of the improved health and satisfaction from an increased investment in parks.
Recreational activities have shown additional economic benefits as well. A team of economists led by Raj Chetty looked at determinants of economic connectedness, which is the degree to which people across different racial, political, and socioeconomic groups interact with each other, and in turn, how that impacts upward income mobility. Using Facebook data, the team looked at interactions between those of high socioeconomic status (SES) and low SES across different group settings including schools, neighborhoods,
workplaces, religious groups, and recreational groups. They found that recreational activities bring different people together more than other activities, and this economic connectedness leads to higher future incomes for those of low SES. While there are multiple contributing factors to explain this effect, a major factor seems to be that a higher degree of economic connectedness results in better mentorship and greater access to information and job opportunities. Pickleball’s relatively low cost and easy ability to learn has attracted players of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds, seemingly offering fertile ground to enhance upward income mobility.
There are a variety of economic benefits that come from outdoor recreation and proximity to parks. As additional research becomes available and the long-term growth of pickleball becomes more clear, cities will have to decide if it is worth the investment and if so, to what extent. Pickleball’s fast-paced growth and attraction to large numbers of young people presents new business and economic development opportunities. We don’t know what the future of the sport holds, so get out there, meet people, work on your dink shot, and stay out of the kitchen.
Residential Building Permits
Compiled by Shelly Imdieke, St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce Totals
Commercial Building Permits
Sources: Building departments for the following cities: St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids, Sartell, Waite Park, St. Augusta, and St. Joseph.
BY THE NUMBERS
What’s in a park?
Local parks provide many benefits. They raise the standard of living in many neighborhoods, and directly impact community health and wellness, equity and conservation. They’re also big business. In 2019, the National Recreation and Park Association conducted a study on the economic impact of local parks across the United States.
$218 billion the economic activity generated by U.S. parks 1.3 million jobs supported by parks
$68 million labor income generated by parks employment
$5.2 million the economic impact of parks in the state of Minnesota
Read more in our annual Growth Guide found on page 40.
ONE KIND OF A
240 33rd Ave. S St. Cloud, MN 56301 (320) 774-1500
Business Description: Blacklight Adventures is an indoor family entertainment center that includes a laser tag arena for up to 20 players at a time, a family-friendly escape room, laser maze, party rooms, arcade and virtual reality experiences.
Number of Employees:
11 part-time and 2 full-time employees
Chamber Member Since 2019
ay and Tina Mrozek love what they do. They are both fiercely passionate about family and bringing generations together to make memories. They are devoted to staff who thrive under their leadership. They seek opportunities to innovate and challenge the standard at every turn. They are true entrepreneurs to the core, and they are dedicated to the St. Cloud area community. And they do it all in the name of having fun together, which is the best motivator of all.
“Working in kid’s ministry, we saw how often families are naturally
going in separate directions, whether it’s school, work, sports, even church itself,” Tina said. “Families are pulled apart for so many reasons, and we need them to come together more than anything.” When they designed the attractions of their company, Blacklight Adventures, they kept in mind activities that all ages and abilities would be able to enjoy, instead of leaving parents sitting on the sidelines. For the last four years, they have helped families enjoy immersive, unforgettable experiences together.
In 2009, Tina was working in human resources for a local property management company, and Jay had a
Jay and Tina Mrozek, owners of Blacklight Adventures, offer trend-busting family fun for all generations.
TINA MROZEK, 43
Owner, Blacklight Adventures
Hometown: Monticello, Minn.
Tech High School, St. Cloud State University, Masters in Human Resources from the University of Phoenix
DeZURIK, INH Properties, kids ministry, and currently also owns and operates HR Dynamics
Best Business Decision:
“From the very beginning we promised ourselves that we weren’t going to rely on just Tina and Jay.” – Tina
JAY MROZEK, 41
Owner, Blacklight Adventures
Hometown: St. Cloud, Minn.
Tech High School, Central Lakes College in Brainerd, St. Cloud State University
Work History: Operations management and kids ministry
Family: Two sons, Brady and Blake Hobbies: Playing games with family, visiting the cabin in Fort Ripley, fishing, reading, and camping
FUN FACT: Jay and Tina are high school sweethearts –they met at Tech High School in 1997
career in operations management, when he joined Tina on a business trip to Nebraska with their 7-month-old son. One evening, they decided to check out a local mall, where they stumbled upon a blacklight family entertainment center. “There were painted two-byfours, it was nothing special,” Jay said.
“The people that were working were super personable, and it was just a fun and memorable experience,” Tina said.
On the drive back from Nebraska, they couldn’t stop thinking about how St. Cloud could benefit from that kind of family entertainment. When they got back into town, they attended a class offered by the Small Business Administration (SBA) about how to start a small business that helped them create a business plan. It looked like it was really going to happen. Life had different plans.
“Both of our sons have a seizure disorder, and with our first son, Brady, it was really bad at first,” Tina said.
“That just put everything on hold.”
They spent a solid three years trying to figure out how to help him. Not only that, but when their second son, Blake, came along, he also started experiencing the same symptoms at 13 months old.
After years of stress and worry, genetic testing finally uncovered that the brothers shared a mutated gene that causes seizures in childhood. “That consumed our whole life for years,”
Tina said. “It just changed everything.”
The good news? There is a 70 percent chance that they will grow out of it as they get older, and both boys have been seizure-free for over two years.
In 2010, Jay went back to school to earn his degree in elementary education. Coincidentally, their church
was searching for someone to lead the kids program, and Jay fit the bill. “I was volunteering with him there quite regularly,” Tina said. It didn’t take long for them to extend Tina a job offer as well. “So I ended up leaving my career of 15 years, which was hard because I absolutely loved it.” Tina and Jay worked together at the church for several years. In August of 2018 they decided it was time for something new.
“I think Tina and I both knew at our core that someday we wanted to be our own bosses and bet on ourselves,” Jay said. They found their original flash drive, dusted off their old business plan, and decided to give it a try. Working with the Small Business Development Center and SCORE (Service Corp of Retired Executives) mentor Dennis Miller, they updated their plan and got ready to go for it. “It was a strong, fast, hard 11 months,” Tina said. They both took on parttime jobs while preparing to open Blacklight, with Tina doing substitute teaching in
“We are fortunate to have a team of really creative people,” Jay Mrozek said. He and his wife Tina own Blacklight Adventures in St. Cloud. When it comes time to brainstorm for a new escape room theme, they come together to bounce ideas around and talk about all the possibilities. They keep a running list of ideas that they can reference when it’s time to start thinking of a new theme. Often the team will enter these brainstorming sessions with one theme in mind, and then end up with something completely different by the time they are done.
Inspiration for Crash Landing, their newest escape room, came from a cool prop that they saw. They also draw inspiration from customer ideas, videos and photos online, or unique puzzles they want to incorporate. “We try to do two completely different styles and audiences in each room,” Tina said. By offering different themes, they can appeal to a wider audience who like different things.
“We try to have one grounded in reality,” Jay said, “and then we try to have one that’s a little more out there.”
The whole process – from ideation to construction – is a team effort. “Tina will come up with a concept, like it’d be really cool if this did this,” Jay said. “And I want to figure out how to make that work, so we are a really great team that way.” Tina’s parents are both involved in the planning and construction, as is Tina’s brother Dakota, who is a full-time employee at Blacklight Adventures.
As far as implementation of the new room goes, there is some testing involved. “We have a couple test groups that come
through,” Jay said. They typically have a group of the same people try every room as the “control” group, and then they’ll recruit friends and family to test it out as well. It’s important to have different people test it out, instead of the group that makes it. “When you’re the people that make it, you can get out of the room in three minutes,” Jay said.
Not only does Blacklight Adventures manage the two on-site escape rooms, it also has fully themed mobile escape rooms that you can rent for parties and other gatherings. They find a thrill in offering experiences beyond their static rooms. “In order to capture the mind of a child, you have to capture the heart first,” Jay said. They are big believers that, if you can get children engaged with something they love doing, then you can teach them a thing or two. Plus, kids think differently than adults. “Sometimes kids do better at certain puzzles that adults struggle with,” Jay said.
“That sense of pride and accomplishment when they did something – we love it,” Tina said.
“We know the time you have with your kids is limited,” Jay said. “We help families capitalize on their moments together by having a shared experience – one that you walk away from with memories.”
Tina and Jay Mrozek visit a family entertainment center in Nebraska
The Mrozeks develop a business plan for a family entertainment business
Jay and Tina leave their jobs and start working on the Blacklight Adventures business plan again
JUNE 28, 2019
Blacklight Adventures opens
Blacklight Adventures is forced to shut down for a total of five months due to COVID-19, then run at 25 percent capacity for 18 months
Blacklight Adventures adds a second escape room
Blacklight Adventures adds a Virtual Reality Lounge and a Laser Maze; the Mrozeks hire their first full-time employee, Tina’s brother Dakota
The Mrozeks begin offering Bazooka Ball as a mobile option
The Mrozeks enhance their mobile options with Mobile Escape Rooms
The Mrozeks promote a part-time manager, creating their second full-time position
Sauk Rapids and Jay doing some commercial painting. “Tina would be teaching, then after third period she’d have to run out to the parking lot because the contractor was there with tile samples,” Jay remembers. “It was a fun, wacky year. I liked it.” Blacklight Adventures opened on June 28, 2019.
As the Woody Allen saying goes, “If you want to make God laugh, tell Him about your plans.” Eight months after opening their doors, the pandemic set in. Blacklight Adventures was forced to completely close for five months, then operate at 25 percent capacity for 18 months. Like they do, though, the Mrozeks found a way to make the best of it. The shutdown gave them a chance to step back and evaluate what was working and to do some training and updating. “When you go through that as a challenge, any other challenge after that is honestly not that big of a deal,” Tina said.
LASERING THE TRENDS
Blacklight Adventures may not be one-ofa-kind in the attractions they offer, but when it comes to the experiences they provide, they are. They’ve found success in bucking the industry norms and blazing their own path. Take, for example, their staff. “The trend in the industry is to lower the number of staff you need and make everything automated,” Jay said. Data told
them that the least amount of interaction that staff has with the consumer, the lower the cost to the business. “We’re the complete opposite.” They focus instead on providing great interactions with their staff and customers making it part of the whole experience. “Thankfully the attractions we have chosen lead right into that,” Jay said.
That desire to build loyalty and relationships shines through in many ways. “It’s also a trend in the industry to be a birthday party factory,” Jay said. They strive to be the opposite so that their customers don’t feel like a number. They have increased their party times to longer than what the standards suggest and have gone down to one party room, so parties aren’t competing for space and time.
Another thing you’ll notice immediately upon entering Blacklight Adventures is the welcoming look and feel. That’s very intentional, with their goal to be “bright and clean and not over-the-top vibrant,” Tina said. They’re fighting the stereotype that family entertainment centers are dark, loud, and not always clean-feeling. They even have their arcade vendors lower the volume of their games so it’s not so overwhelming.
Blacklight Adventures is at capacity within the walls when it comes to attractions, but that hasn’t stopped Jay and Tina from innovating. They offer mobile Bazooka Ball, which is like paintball without the paint (and pain) and are able to bring it to most locations or occasions. Recently, they also started offering mobile escape rooms that you can rent for parties and other gatherings. There are two tents available with four walls that are completely themed, and props that go along with them.
Above all, they simply want to help all families make memories. “We’ve been told by people that we should up our prices,” Jay said. But they don’t plan to, and that’s by design. “If you have a price point that is affordable and you give a good experience, they’re going to come back.” Plus, the lower prices allow families to try more than one thing when they visit. “For us, it’s those relationships more than the dollar coming in. That’s way more enjoyable.”
A DREAM TEAM
True to their mission of providing an all-encompassing experience for their guests, Tina and Jay are the first to tell you that their employees are incredible. They are friendly, compassionate, hands-on, and they care about the mission of Blacklight Adventures. Especially telling is the fact that they’ve had very little turnover – even with a relatively young staff.
Part of that might be attributed to the All In program that Tina and Jay implemented a few years ago. The program allows staff members to recognize one another when they see someone going above and beyond. “If you think of poker, when you go all in, you’re leaving nothing left on the table,” Tina said. It has been so rewarding to see not only staff delivering unforgettable experiences, but also their coworkers seeing and recognizing it in
each other. “To us it’s the best when we get a review and our staff is mentioned by name,” Tina said.
Through the process of starting Blacklight Adventures, Jay and Tina have realized how important it is for business owners to surround themselves with people they can trust, seek advice from, and who are able to do the tasks that you’re not as skilled at. “Just because you’re a business owner, you do not have to know it all,” Tina said. She stresses the importance of realizing your weaknesses and hiring out for those tasks. As time has gone on, they have both gotten better at giving up control of every little detail within the business. “Hire awesome people and just allow them to be awesome,” Jay said. “Share your philosophy, and trust that they’ll do it.” They are also not afraid to ask other business owners for help and advice, because no business challenge is completely unique.
Ask Jay and Tina what their favorite part of their business is, and they’ll tell you that it’s a moment they never even get to see. It’s that moment when a family leaves Blacklight Adventures after a fun experience and they’re talking in the car ride home, over dinner, or a week later about all the fun they had. They’re reminiscing on when grandma was the MVP of laser tag, or when a staff member went above and beyond to make their experience exceptional. And they’re counting down the days until they can come back. “Even though we don’t get to see that moment, we hope it’s happening,” Jay said. “Because that’s what being in family entertainment means to us – it’s those moments and those memories made each and every day.”
SHOOT FOR THE STARS
From the early days of ideation to the present day need for even more space, Blacklight Adventures has proved to fill a need for family fun in the St. Cloud area. Owners Jay and Tina Mrozek work well as a team, operating on a foundation of trust and mutual adoration for each other’s skill sets. They’ve also managed to build a loyal team of staff and advisors who root for their success and deliver on their vision. Jay and Tina have broken the mold of family entertainment centers with Blacklight Adventures. By offering clean fun that isn’t overstimulating, an experience that focuses on the individual, and a staff that enhances every customer interaction, they have successfully created a place that brings families together to create lasting memories. Their success earned them the title of 2023 St. Cloud Area Emerging Entrepreneurs of the Year by the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce.Emily Bertram is the director of marketing and communications at the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce and editor of Business Central Magazine.
“ If it’s an idea that you’re passionate about, and you feel in your bones and your soul that it’s something viable for you to do, then you should do it and not let other people talk you out of it.”
THE CONVENIENCE FACTORBy Alicia Chapman
Convenience is often an essential factor in how consumers make buying decisions. The last few years have compelled local businesses to evaluate their procedures and even add new innovative solutions to enhance the customer experience.
Consumers constantly look for ways to save time. Dennis Host, vice president of marketing and communications at Coborn’s Inc., sees this in the grocery industry. “More and more consumers today are doing a lot of their shopping online,” Host said. “Who would have ever thought that you would grocery shop online? But it became a thing and ramped up considerably in early and mid-2020 as the pandemic hit.”
Host said Coborn’s was grateful it already had a good online platform set up before the pandemic so it could easily transition. Now, even with consumers back in the grocery
stores, the company still sees a lot of demand for online grocery shopping.
“In most of our locations, you can select between either home delivery, curbside pickup, or our grocery shopping experience in the store,” Host said. “But if you are a time-strapped young mom or professional, or on your way to the lake in the summertime or whatever, you can do your grocery shopping online in 15 minutes and hit the button. So that whole convenience of time-saving is a tangible and practical way for people to take advantage of what we offer in that space of making your life simpler.”
Banking is another industry focused on finding ways to make life easier for its customers. Most banks now offer mobile banking, mobile deposits, and one-stop bank locations.
“We’re always encouraged to be curious about new possibilities to create an innovative approach to do
something that might enhance our customer experience,” said Ryan Coye, senior vice president of retail banking at Gate City Bank. One of the things Gate City Bank focuses on is anticipating its customers’ needs and how to solve a problem early on.
In addition to adding convenient bank products, Gate City Bank works to be accessible to its customers. All of the local branch locations are inside a Coborn’s or Cash Wise grocery store, which are locations many of their customers already visit. “Nowadays, people seem busier than ever,” Coye said. “So if you have an opportunity to provide convenience by something as simple as where you’re located, I think it makes sense to explore that. The best location for any business is where the customers are.”
Little Sister Bake Shoppe owner Megan Johnson understands the importance of being where the customers already
are, since she doesn’t have a brickand-mortar storefront. “I am flexible about where I meet for customer pickups,” Johnson said. “I do a lot more pop-up shops than someone in a brick-and-mortar store would just because I don’t have those daily sales. So I try to make myself available; otherwise, I’m not at the front of people’s minds.”
Johnson also started offering cookie kits, where customers can decorate pre-made cookies at home. She heard about customers who wanted to make and decorate cookies with their children or families but didn’t always have all the supplies at home. Or they would start the cookies and their children would lose interest by the time the cookies had baked and cooled and were ready to be decorated.
“It’s something creative and fun and easy to do that doesn’t make too much of a mess,” Johnson said. “And those cookie kits are always really,
Convenience is one of the biggest reasons consumers do business with a company.
really fun to do. You still get a mess out of it, but you don’t get as big of a mess as you would if you had to make the cookies from scratch yourself. So I take care of the really messy part, and you get to do the fun part.”
Like Johnson has learned, sometimes the best convenience is just being available and flexible. Coye knows just how frustrating it can be to get ahold of an actual person when calling a business. So many times, you get an automated voice messaging system when you just want to talk to a person. All Gate City Bank branch office phone numbers are listed on the website and answered by a live person.
Going an extra step and investing in the customer experience to make something convenient can make a big difference. It’s something Coborn’s Inc. sees. “We’ve invested back into our stores to stay current and relevant and deliver,” Host said. “Grocery shopping can, in many ways, be a chore. But we’ve tried to make it fun and experiential through the look of our stores, and certainly training our people to be knowledgeable and helpful and friendly.”
Meeting customers where they are is part of providing good customer support and convenience. “I think we always want to be where our customers are and meet them at that place,” Host said. “So whatever they need, whenever they need it, however they need access to us, we’re there. And that’s in physical store operations. It’s in online shopping. It’s on our website, and access to information. It’s through our rewards program. It’s through our mobile app where customers can track their order. They can clip digital coupons. They can click on their rewards progress. All of those things are designed as convenience tools to meet the customer where they’re at.”
Host anticipates many businesses, including the grocery industry, will continue to use technology to add convenience for the customer. Digital shelf tags are one of the new things Coborn’s is testing to continue adding shopping ease and convenience. Right
now, employees are printing out all the price updates and sales and hand-placing them under each item. Having digital tags would allow the store to update prices faster and more accurately.
Using technology through digital shelf tags and self-checkouts allows businesses to use their human resources in places where they are better fitted. For example, employees can help customers find products or fulfill an online shopping order instead of changing out paper shelf tags.
It's essential to keep customers top of mind when determining how to add convenience to your business. Coborn’s’ Host outlined some questions to consider from a business perspective:
What are your customers looking for?
How are you able to adapt to the ever-changing needs of customers?
How can you provide the best quality service to meet their needs in a convenient way?
How do you make it easier for your customers to do business with you?
After you’re able to attract customers, how do you build loyalty to keep them coming back?
And don't be afraid to make mistakes in the process. It's nearly impossible to make some of the big changes without making some mistakes. Learn from those mistakes and move on.
“Sometimes it’s easier to just do it the way we always did it rather than adapt and adopt new ways of thinking and implementation and execution,” Host said. “But I’m always encouraged by seeing entrepreneurs and new young business owners who are willing to try things and take risks. And I think that’s an important piece of
the entrepreneurial spirit to accept failure and build on what you learned from those missteps and mishaps.”
Many businesses work in what Coye described as commoditized industries. “There’s a dozen different places to get a burger from, for instance. There’s a lot of different places to bank. But at the end of the day, it’s all about the customer,” Coye said. “If you make all of your business decisions with the customer experience in mind, I think you’re going to stand out and have success because your customers have a strong relationship with you.”
Alicia Chapman is a freelance writer and owner of Bluebird Creative LLC, a content writing business specializing in helping small businesses share their stories.
YOUR FULL-SERVICE SOLUTIONS PROVIDERS
As a full-service marketing agency, we don’t just take your order. We listen to your business goals and get to know you in a way that provides real value in the form of strategic planning, creative ideas, and effective results. That’s more than marketing.
It's essential to keep customers top of mind when determining how to add convenience to your business.
Learn the FACTS about the University and how we’re focused on the future.
TAKING ON A CHRONIC BUDGET DEFICIT
At St. Cloud State, the cost to teach our students is more than our revenues. In the past we’ve made difficult decisions along the way with cuts and reorganizations. We’ve filled in budget gaps with reserve funds. But that’s a risky way of running a university. And we want to be able to get on strong financial footing now, so that we can invest in areas of growth for the future.
HIGHER EDUCATION IS CHANGING AND SO IS SCSU
We are taking bold steps to face our challenges head on. This means balancing tough decisions with finding areas for investment to grow enrollment.
We’re bringing you the facts and a way to show your support.
80% of recent program reductions have FEWER THAN 3 STUDENTS ENROLLED.
75% of our students ARE ENROLLED IN 35 PROGRAMS.
Students are showing us what they want out of their learning experience.
We owe it to St. Cloud State, our alumni, current students, and community to address the chronic condition of our structural deficit, so that we can get back to doing what we do best.... staying focused on the success of our students. #IStandWithSCSU
WE ARE FOCUSING ON PROGRAMS THAT ARE IN DEMAND and meet workforce needs and industry trends.
Young professionals bring new ideas and skills to the workplace.
of millennials are actively engaged at work when they believe the culture of their organization is inclusive. (Source: Deloitte)
Younger generations are increasingly more diverse – only 56 percent of millennials in the U.S. are white. A more diverse workforce can bring fresh perspectives, enhanced creativity, and more inclusivity in the workplace.
51 percent of young managers and professionals say they have worked for their employer for three years or more. (Source: PEW Research, 2022) Investing in talented young workers can lead to long-term growth, which can ensure the sustainability of a company as it relates to succession planning. 53 percent of millennials not in IT
departments said one of their first three ways to solve a digital technology issue would be to look for an answer on the Internet. (Source: Gartner Research) Young professionals are digital natives. They have grown up with technology and are comfortable with using it in daily life and in the workplace.
Employing people in their 20s and 30s is a great way to bring new energy, ideas and talent to your team. Here in Central Minnesota, there are many young professionals who are changing the face of business.
BUILDING UPON A STRONG FOUNDATION
K Johnson Construction is preparing the next generation
Erik Johnson grew up in the concrete business, but wasn’t sure that would be his career path. After spending three years with the company, he is excited to continue the legacy his father has created.
Erik graduated from Sauk Rapids High School in 2012 working construction in the summer after school with his dad. After playing juniors hockey and finding his path at Gustavus, where he
continued to play hockey while studying business management, Erik began laying the foundation for his future career.
early 2020 as an estimator and project manager, Erik moved into his current role as Vice President in 2022. Erik has many drivers in his career, but seeing the company grow and succeed is the biggest – though the emphasis is put on the workers completing the manual labor in the field to get the job done right.
kjohnsonconst.com • 320.255.9649
6870 Hwy 10 NW • Sauk Rapids, MN 56379 ––––––
Delivering quality from the ground up
After a short stint with Blattner Company, and working for an electrical contractor in the Cities, Erik approached his father about working for him at K Johnson Construction. Joining the company in
Erik has two goals, to be a valuable resource for the employees in the field focusing on quality – a driving factor for the company’s success. His second goal is to showcase what the company does, emphasizing their skills as a leading innovator in concrete/masonry.
Erik's wife Tessa, runs Harvester Square Event Center, located at 539 East St. Germain Street, St. Cloud. The event center opened in July of 2023. •
ALL NOWBy Vicki Johnson
What once was considered by some to be a place for college-aged adults to party is experiencing a rebirth. No longer defined by its stereotypes, downtown St. Cloud is enjoying a resurgence in arts, culture, fine dining, hospitality, and commercial businesses.
Drive down East St. Germain Street or walk along Fifth Avenue, and it’s almost as if the vibe of the downtown region – geographically defined from St. Cloud State University to St. Cloud Hospital and U.S. Highway 10 to Cooper Avenue – is palpable. It is a breath of fresh air that both the city and the greater St. Cloud region is welcoming with open arms. And it is starting to gain the attention of residents and business owners alike.
“Buildings that I would have anticipated staying vacant for
Great developments are taking place in downtown St. Cloud, and stakeholders are working hard to keep the momentum going.
long periods of time, the Netgain building, the Aria building, aren’t sitting on the market for very long,” said Doug Boser, president and CEO of St. Cloud-based Inventure Properties. “There really aren’t a lot of buildings left open.”
Within the past year, several new businesses have opened in downtown St. Cloud including Iron Street Distillery and Blue Goose Speakeasy. New businesses and attractions such as Oblivion CoffeeBar & Mercantile, Tequila Town, The Boil, and Great River Children’s Museum are also slated to call downtown St. Cloud home within the next 18 months.
Coupled with the city’s commitment to pursuing a $100 million bonding request from the Minnesota Legislature in 2024, downtown’s postCOVID story of revival and reinvestment is just getting started. “Our commitment to downtown is very strong,” said St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis. “It is absolutely critical for the region to have a healthy, vibrant, and safe downtown.”
BUILDING A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
For years, the focus on building a sustainable downtown – at least from a city planning perspective –was to attract office workers. More people working downtown meant more people going out to lunch at local restaurants and shopping at local retailers, which ultimately resulted in a strong, vibrant downtown. However, several major events during the past five years really challenged that assumption, according to Cathy Mehelich, St. Cloud economic development director. “We had the loss of Herberger’s in 2018. That was a huge retail anchor. Then in
2020 we had the Press Bar fire that impacted that whole block of Fifth Avenue. And of course, COVID.”
Mehelich said downtown’s survival during the pandemic was due in large part to the strength of the small business community. However, battle scars are still present.
While large employers like Capital One and Stearns County – both of which have significant footprints downtown – have seen some of their workforce return to the office since the height of the pandemic, Kleis said those numbers are still not where they once were. “It doesn’t seem like these employers will be fully reverting back,” Kleis said. “So, if we don’t have the employees downtown like we use to, it was clear to us that if downtown was going to thrive, we needed to do something different.”
In December 2022, city leaders hosted a summit on the future of downtown. There, Kleis announced the city’s “bold and aggressive plans” to revitalize the area, including creating a taskforce. Part of the goal with the taskforce, Kleis said, was to put together a bonding proposal focused on walkability and connectivity, redeveloping several existing buildings, and repurposing and redeveloping several parking lots. But the immediate purpose of this proposal is to develop market rate housing within the downtown area. “We want to bring 1,000 housing units to the downtown
area within the next five years,” he said.
According to Kleis and Mehelich, having residents live downtown will begin a ripple effect of positive changes, which ideally will manifest itself into substantial public as well as private investment. “We need to bring people downtown,” Kleis said. “Communities that prioritized housing in their downtowns, like Fargo for example, have been very successful, especially during COVID.”
Mehelich agrees. “Offices will not lead the growth in the downtown. Housing will,” she said.
With city officials turning their primary focus to bringing marketrate housing options to the downtown area, the small business community is currently leading the charge on shaping the downtown as a destination hotspot. “Without
a strong downtown, there really isn’t much of a city,” said Ray Herrington. “And the only way to ensure a vibrant and fruitful downtown is to make sure there is enough to do.”
Herrington is no stranger to the downtown St. Cloud business scene, owning both 7 West TapHouse and Pioneer Place on Fifth. In addition, he recently opened Blue Goose, a speakeasy on Fifth Avenue.
As owner of Pioneer Place, Herrington said it was hard to sustain the historic theater by relying solely on live shows. And with the growing popularity of speakeasies in places like the Twin Cities and Stillwater, Herrington thought Blue Goose would be a welcomed attraction to the region. “To me, Blue Goose was a missing piece of the puzzle,” he said. “It was something that we didn’t have that others did.”
“Our commitment to downtown is very strong, it is absolutely critical for the region to have a healthy, vibrant, and safe downtown.”
—DAVE KLEIS, MAYOR OF ST. CLOUDIron Street Distillery
Across the river, John Martens also felt it important to bring something new to St. Cloud. Together with business partner Kevin Johnson, Martens recently opened Iron Street Distillery in the historic 539 building on East St. Germain Street. “When I began talks with Kevin, we felt that we didn’t want to just bring another brewery to the area,” Martens said. “We wanted to do something different. We wanted
to be the first distillery in St. Cloud.”
Specializing in custom madefrom-scratch cocktails crafted with distilled-onsite spirits, Iron Street, along with its upstairs neighbor Harvester Square event center, is seeking to redefine the East Side. “One of the biggest challenges we face is the perceived reputation of the East Side,” Martens said. He hopes the presence of the new business will be just the boost the eastern side
of downtown needs. “If people see that we [Iron Street Distillery] are having success, they might want to put down their roots here, too,” Martens said. “Success breeds success. And if people are coming here and seeing what we are doing, it just opens up more opportunities for this corridor.”
PILLARS OF SUCCESS
Whether the lead for the downtown revitalization and reinvestment effort comes
from the city or the business community, both can agree that for this to work, there needs to be action on both fronts. Bridging that gap is the Downtown Alliance.
Lead by Board Chair Bob Johnson, recently retired executive director of the Paramount Center for the Arts, the Downtown Alliance has outlined three pillars to assist in supporting both the city’s and the business community’s short-term goals and long-term visions: Safety and Perception, Occupancy; and Experience. Each pillar has both quick wins, but also strategies for longterm growth and development for
Continued on page 44
“Success breeds success. And if people are coming here and seeing what we are doing, it just opens up more opportunities for this corridor.”
—JOHN MARTENS, IRON STREET DISTILLERY
What began with the Downtown Summit in December 2022 is driving rapid change in downtown St. Cloud from a central hub struggling through a pandemic to a thriving urban core centered on walkability.
250 people gathered at the summit at the River’s Edge Convention Center to learn about trends from Chris Leinberger, a top urbanist in the country, and the vision of Mayor Dave Kleis for downtown St. Cloud, both east and west of the river. The Mayor’s Downtown Taskforce has been busy finding funding and turning it into meaningful projects designed to build a downtown where business and housing thrive.
AN EXCITING TIME FOR DOWNTOWN ST. CLOUD
The revitalization momentum is building
Sixteen projects have been awarded funds from that grant to date, resulting in more than $14 million in private investment, several already underway or complete.
Six months prior to the summit, the Initiative Foundation was awarded funds from the MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) for the Main Street Revitalization Program. $1.5 million of that was earmarked for St. Cloud on a matching basis for projects that offered substantial renovation of vacant space, expansion and new construction downtown. Those applying for the funds, facilitated by the City’s Economic Development Authority, had a minimum match requirement of seventy percent.
Sixteen projects have been awarded funds from that grant to date, resulting in more than $14 million in private investment, several already underway or complete. In addition to Exterior Improvement Program sponsored by the City’s Economic Development Authority, the difference is already noticeable. From a new awning at Dolcie’s downtown to Harvester Square Event Center on the city’s east side. More than a dozen new restaurants and stores filling vacant spaces, along with upgraded facades, provide visible beautification throughout downtown.
But the Mayor hasn’t stopped there. The need for investment in underlying
infrastructure to further connect downtown walkability will be needed.
This is the basis for the $100 million bonding request that has been submitted to the State. The vision for this money is to connect the downtown over Highway 23 to Lake George, the railroad tracks on the northside, and the glorious Mississippi River. It would provide the funding to overhaul older buildings that require substantial renovation to make them usable in today’s modern environment. Should this funding come to fruition, imagine a vibrant, safe area that has the ability to attract and retain young professionals to live and work downtown and enjoy the beautiful assets that already exist.
The vitality that once existed in downtown St. Cloud is on the precipice again with dedicated individuals working to find the funding and the willing participants to bring this vision to fruition. It truly is an exciting time for downtown St. Cloud. •
Interested? To explore development & redevelopment opportunities in St. Cloud, please contact Cathy Mehelich or Mayor Dave Kleis
CLEAN ENERGY CLEAN ENERGY
We’ve installed a quarter of all renewables in America, making us the country’s leader in building renewable energy — a distinction made possible by the integrity, grit and expertise of our employees and clients.
the region. With the Experience Pillar, for example, the Alliance seeks to host fun events that draw people from the freeway and bring them downtown.
From debunking misconceptions about the safety of downtown to working with existing businesses on marketing strategies, the Alliance has big dreams for the future of downtown St. Cloud.
In addition to the work the Alliance is doing, Mehelich’s office helped several downtown businesses secure roughly $1.5 million in state funding through Main Street Economic Revitalization Program grants –ultimately leveraging $16 million in
private investment for projects like business expansion and exterior improvements.
With a new look, a new plan, and some new hopes for the future, downtown is ready for its true test of success – community patronage. “We’ve all done a really good job,” Herrington said. “But we need the support of the area’s residents. We need to support the people making the effort. We need to start realizing that downtown is a necessity. And to do that, we have to do everything to support our locally owned businesses.”
It’s a place where innovators and renewable energy enthusiasts come together to harness the power of wind, advance sustainable practices, and elevate their impact on the world.
Area cities have park-specific initiatives on their dockets for 2023 and beyond.
Southside and Lions Parks will see $500,000 in improvements to lighting, landscaping and seating in 2023 thanks to a state grant.
The city will seek state bonding for the Mayhew Creek Park Project, which would create a multipurpose recreational facility on 80 acres next to the high school.
The newly re-opened pedestrian bridge serves as a public way to enjoy the Mississippi River through lookouts and fishing opportunities.
The city has secured funding through a state bonding bill to improve parking at The Ledge Amphitheater.
In the 2022 election, St. Cloud residents passed a referendum funding improvements to St. Cloud parks. Improvements include:
• Maintenance to buildings, trails, and green spaces
• Initiatives for cleaner and safer parks
• Better access to parks and recreational facilities for all abilities
• New buildings and amenities that improve the enjoyment of existing parks
At W. Gohman, we have been creating environments where people work, play, and learn for more than 70 years. From renovation and historic rehabs to large and technically complex projects, our mission is the same: to create beautiful, functional gathering places that bring people together. Because it’s not just an office.
It’s our future.
It’s not just an office.GENERAL CONTRACTOR | CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT | DESIGN/BUILD | BUILDING + REMODELING Blattner Energy Avon, MN
THE IDEAL CHOICE
Come in, We’re Hiring
It’s still a worker’s market these days, especially in certain career fields.By Luke Greiner
Despite rapid and broad changes in the economy and labor market following the COVID-19 pandemic, most occupational changes so far have been minimal. Though many occupations are now able to work from home and serve customers remotely, the actual function of most jobs has remained unchanged. That said, longterm changes in our economy will continue to shape the labor market for decades and understanding job growth and job demand is imperative for proper planning.
Many education and workforce development organizations place a large emphasis on job growth to direct current planning goals, and rightfully so. Knowing what areas of our economy are expected to grow is important. However, current demand and needs should be considered with just as much significance. The reasons become evident when looking at the top 10 most in-demand occupations in Central Minnesota.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development’s Occupations in Demand results were updated in July 2023, providing a list of the highest
Let us build your needs.COMING SOON - LINO LAKES, MN NORTH POINTE GARDEN ESTATES
Most In-Demand OCCUPATIONS IN MINNESOTA
a Fast Food and Counter Workers
L 10.9 % | Openings*: 16,345
b Home Health & Personal Care Aides
L 23.3 % | Openings: 16,403
M -9.2 % | Openings: 13,457
d Retail Salespersons
M -2.9 % | Openings: 10,708
e First-line Supervisors of Retail Sales Workers
M -7.0 % | Openings: 2,485
f Registered Nurses
L 5.9 % | Openings: 3,800
g Laborers and Freight, Stock, & Materials Movers, Hand
L 5.2 % | Openings: 5,209
h Janitors and Cleaners, Except Maids & Housekeeping Cleaners
L 5.7 % | Openings: 6,197
i First-Line Supervisors of Food Preparation & Serving Workers
L 16.5 % | Openings: 2,883
j Heavy and TractorTrailer Truck Drivers
L 4.1% | Openings: 6,959
*Growth rate and 10-year job openings
Source: DEED’s Occupations in Demand
demand occupations in each region of the state. The top two most in-demand occupations in Central Minnesota are fast-food workers and home health aides (HH)/personal care aides (PCA), due to large numbers of existing employment and open vacancies. Both occupations are also projected to grow faster than average (+5.0 percent) in the region over the next decade.
YOUR TRUSTED PARTNER IN ARCHITECTURAL EXTERIORS
As masters of commercial HVAC, roofing and architectural exteriors, we’ve been building trusted partnerships for five generations. From quality installation to exceptional service and support, we’ll help you protect and prolong the life of your investments.
2023 Growth Guide
In contrast, the third, fourth and fifth most in-demand occupations – cashiers, retail salespersons, and first-line supervisors of retail sales workers – are actually expected to see job declines over the same period. However, even if they don’t grow, they will still have thousands of job openings due to labor market exits and retirements from existing workers.
What does this mean for companies, workers and the organizations that help provide skill training? Basically, the overwhelming size of some occupations will require large numbers of workers to fill the plentiful job openings projected over the coming years. This pushes demand higher for the occupation, while also providing excellent opportunities for workers.
Just because an occupation isn’t expected to grow doesn’t mean it’s a vanishing occupation. In fact, employers might be increasing the quality of an occupation, but decreasing the number of jobs by augmenting the most tedious, dangerous, or repetitive tasks with technology.
Job seekers and career counselors should look beyond the growth rate when considering what occupations provide opportunities now and in the future. Current demand is important, since most workers probably don’t care if there is projected to be 3 percent less employment in a decade, but they do care about the quantity of openings available today and if the occupation is and will be in demand in a year or two.
Luke Greiner is a regional labor market analyst at the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).
Bradbury Stamm Construction
Manea’s Meats Expansion
The Manea’s Meats expansion will add 12,122 sq ft of new meat processing space, with an additional 1,923 sq ft of second level office space to the existing facility. The space will provide a larger meat processing area, and the old meat processing area will transition into a larger cold storage area. The expansion will also provide additional space for smokehouses for the meat processing facility. bradburystamm.com
Sleepy Eye Apartment Homes
Sleepy Eye, MN
New construction, additions, or remodels. Let us build your needs!
To view DEED’s Occupations in Demand results, visit BusinessCentralMagazine.com
Building a Better Tomorrow
For 115 years, Blattner has been proudly building the infrastructure of America. Our history started with constructing the nation’s railroads, highways, bridges, dams and mines, and today we’re leading America to a clean energy future. The 450+ wind, solar and storage projects we’ve built are generating enough clean energy to power more than 15 million homes annually. With nearly 7,000 employees as we grow from our headquarters in Avon, Minnesota to project sites across the country, we’re honored to say our heart and heritage are still in Central Minnesota. blattnercompany.com
Ever-expanding could easily be the motto of Central Minnesota. Explore these snapshots of some of the area businesses and see what new projects are coming to the region.
City of St. Cloud
City of St. Cloud: Economic Development Authority City Hall - St. Cloud, MN
The St. Cloud Economic Development Authority (EDA) stands ready to work with you as your first-stop for business development assistance.
Services offered: Site selection for large or small business; Business start-up, expansion & relocation resources & financing; City development & permit assistance www.ci.stcloud.mn.us/ economicdevelopment
• COMMERCIAL HVAC
• ARCHITECTURAL EXTERIORS
• SERVICE AND SUPPORT
Lift 320-251-8640 MCDOWALLCO.COM
Building Design+Construction, Architecture Giant CSI National Firm Award for Environmental Stewardship Great Place to Work-Certified™ 100% Employee-Owned ESOP jlgarchitects.com
W Gohman Construction
New Fabrication Shop & Office
Lift Tech Marine, producer of advanced boat lift motors, new fabrication shop and office is a pre-engineered Nucor metal building with a wood framed office and administration area connected. The modern entrance design required a zoning adjustment from 10% to 15% allowable coverage to create an accent color for the angled black entry element and recessed corner detail.
Interstate Business Center St. Cloud, MN
General Contractor: Rice Companies, Inc.
Rice Companies completed the Interstate Business Center, an industrial/flex building in South St. Cloud’s growing, premier industrial park. Rice Real Estate Services is now leasing space in the building which is conveniently located off I-94 at Opportunity Drive. The property features modern design, space versatility and quality construction. RiceCompanies.com
Blattner Energy Expansion Avon, MN
W. Gohman assisted in expanding Blattner Energy’s headquarters building in Avon, Minn. The 72,466 sf new building addition adds 135 new offices and work stations, multiple collaborative group spaces, parking lot expansion, 10 new conference rooms, catering kitchen, work lounge, recreation spaces, A/V labs and a new auditorium. This building addition was safely tied into an existing, fully occupied building with the least amount of disruption to daily operations. In addition, W. Gohman was able to maintain Blattner’s current sustainable energy efforts and fortify their existing and new facilities for future growth.
MONICA VOTH, MANTRA SALON
Beauty Inside and Out
Monica Voth, owner of Mantra Salon, believes that real beauty comes from within.By Emily Bertram
How did you get started in the industry?
I always wanted to do hair, so I attended Regency Beauty Academy when it was downtown. When I graduated, I was living in Hopkins and working at a salon in St. Paul. I moved back to the area in 1997 and ended up working at Regis for about three years. Then I did booth rental for several years, and eventually put a salon in my basement. After a few years, I was ready to open a location. I knew I wanted it to be downtown; I’ve always liked the vibe and history of it. It feels like you’re more involved in the community. Three years into my lease, the building owners sold the property and we moved to our current location.
Why did you want to open your own salon?
Cosmetology is a femaledominated industry. As a single woman with three kids, I wanted to help women who want to raise babies on their own, or help them feel like they don’t need to stay in a relationship just for the second income – so they could do it on their own. I offer paid time off and retirement benefits, and I consider 30 hours a week full-time. My staff is able to earn time off by going to networking groups and working events.
Have you had any help as you’ve grown your business?
Absolutely. For example, our first location was in the Regency building and the building owner at the time, Matt Riley of Netgain, my parents, and two clients helped make that happen. Then when we moved into this location, my dad, and my friend, Brad Henrich, helped with the build-out.
Why did you open a boutique?
At the time when I was building out the salon, regulations said we had to have a sink in any room where we were doing a service. We couldn’t get plumbing into the area where the boutique is now, but I didn’t want to waste that space, so that’s how it got started. I wasn’t excited about it initially, but now I absolutely love it. It also allows our front desk staff to have additional income-driving duties.
What do you like best about being a business owner?
I like being able to learn more.
I learn from my staff all the time, and we are always doing training together to be able to offer more services to our clients. I have an awesome staff. They like the vision of Mantra, they appreciate getting tips on how to succeed in this industry, and they understand that they need to put in the work.
Hometown: Bismarck, North Dakota
School: Regency Beauty Academy
Hobbies: Listening to books on Audible and gardening
Children: Jenner, Noelle, Ruby Advice to other entrepreneurs: Get a business coach. My coach Oscar Valencia was a lifesaver. He held me accountable and pushed me to do better.
AT A GLANCE
Mantra Salon & Spa 811 W. St. Germain St. St. Cloud, MN 56301 mantrasalonmn.com 320-281-5769
Opened: 2012 Joined the Chamber: 2014
Business Description: offers a wide variety of services, including everything hair related, makeup, massage, facials, lash extensions, eyebrow services, body wraps, scrubs and masks, nails, waxing, and more.
Owner: Monica Voth
Number of Employees: 11
1996 // Voth graduates from Regency Beauty Academy in St. Cloud
1996-2008 // Voth holds positions at various salons including Rita Ambourn salon in St. Paul and Regis in St. Cloud, then does booth rental at Salon 505 and The Haircut Company in St. Cloud
2008-2014 // Voth offers styling services out of her home
2014 // Voth opens Mantra Salon and Spa at 912 Regency Plaza in St. Cloud
2019 // Mantra Salon opens in its current location at 811 W. St. Germain St.
save the date for our free conference:
Discuss the future of technology with experts. With sessions on security, AI, cloud, and more, leave feeling more confident leveraging technology to amplify your business.
join Network Center, Inc. in person or online for our biggest event of the year
Scan or visit netcenter.net/nvision