Liz Olson, president of the Menahga Civic and Commerce Association, and Mayor Patrick Foss are working hard to identify barriers to business expansion and growth.
Retain & Gain
Menahga sets aside smokestack chasing to focus on the companies that already call it home.
By Lawrence Schumacher | Photography by John Linn
Patrick Foss had a vision for Menahga. When Foss became mayor of the town of 1,306 residents in Wadena County, his top priority was to attract new businesses. “I came into office asking, ‘What do we have to do to get some smokestacks in this town?’” he said. It turns out Foss was asking the wrong question. As he began talking with economic development specialists in the area, the conversation shifted beyond landing new businesses to creating a climate that encourages the retention and expansion of Menahga’s existing companies. “Existing businesses are the real key to the success of any small town,” said Dan Frank, the senior program manager for economic and community development at the Initiative Foundation. “They already are invested in and care about the community. Given an opportunity and some local encouragement and support, they’re more likely to invest in future growth. And if they are more
established business owners, they may also have a vested interest in seeing a younger entrepreneur have an opportunity to buy and run their business as they look at retirement.” In fact, up to 86 percent of new jobs are created by the companies that are already doing business in the community, according to Michael Darger, the director of the University of Minnesota Extension’s Business Retention and Expansion Strategies program. The program helps communities and community leaders work together to identify barriers local businesses face as they try to survive and grow. The Initiative Foundation has sponsored scholarships to the program since 2011. “Effective business retention doesn’t happen by accident; it requires specific activities and plans, and the University’s BR&E program helps develop those skills,” said Frank. One of the first partial scholarships the Initiative Foundation offered was to Foss and two dozen other Menahga community CONTINUED ON PAGE 42
40 Initiative Foundation Quarterly ifound.org