Page 1

IMPACT

SWIFT

2019

POPE

STEARNS

BUILDING FOR THE

FUTURE

IN KANDIYOHI COUNTY

MEEKER

CHIPPEWA

and beyond YELLOW MEDICINE

RENVILLE


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IMPACT | 3


WELCOME TO

IMPACT TABLE OF CONTENTS 12 18 24 30 36 46 52 60 68 78

Education Agriculture Business & Industry Food Trends Arts & Entertainment Health Care Sports & Recreation Religion Shopping Tourism

impact

im·​pact | \ ‘im-,pakt \ Definition of impact 2: the force of impression of one thing on another : a significant or major effect the impact of science on our society an environmental impact study Merriam-Webster Dictionary

STAFF WRITERS / PHOTOGRAPHY Tom Cherveny Carolyn Lange Shelby Lindrud Anne Polta

Linda Vanderwerf Erica Dischino Sharon Bomstad

CONTRIBUTING WRITERS Steve Baake Aaron Backman Rob Baumgarn Jill Bruns Jackie Burggraff Teri Dinesen Matt Feuerborn Beth Fischer Joe Haen Cal Knudsen Mike Kutzke Bob Leukam

Kelly Magnuson Missy Majerus Jennie Marcus Justin Mattern Carissa McDonald Sarah Norbie DeAnn Rothstein Alise Sjostrom Jason Stewig Melissa Streich Shelly Vergin Jordan Zeller

PUBLISHER: Steve Ammermann EDITOR: Kelly Boldan MAGAZINE EDITOR: Sharon Bomstad AD MANAGER: Christie Steffel DESIGNER: Sara Slaby

A publication of West Central Tribune, OCTOBER 2019 2208 W. Trott Ave, Willmar MN www.wctrib.com 4 | IMPACT

Willmar is a regional center for both Kandiyohi County and west central Minnesota, offering employment opportunities and more for a much larger area in and surrounding Kandiyohi County’s geographic borders. This publication takes a look at the many innovative, cutting-edge businesses, industries and services across the region – many leaders in the areas of manufacturing, health care, education, arts and agriculture. Finding new ways to combat the low unemployment rate in the region – consistently below the national average – the region has experienced a growing diversity over the past decades, adding to the overall appeal of the region. Our focus on the diverse arts, entertainment, shopping and food/drink establishments are a draw for area residents and visiting tourists alike. Finding the more unique, some less mainstream, forces in these sectors, we showcase a way of life here in Kandiyohi County and beyond. Individually, these entities are strong, but together, they create an impact.


A look at what impacts west central Minnesota Moving forward into another decade and beyond

A

s we prepare to turn the calendar on a new decade – 2020 is just around the corner – we decided to take a look at our communities here in west central Minnesota and reflect on what impacts the area and what makes this a great place to work, live and play – as well as what will carry us into the next decade and beyond.

WORK

The west central region is largely built around agricultural-based commerce in the world of business and industry. Farmers raise and ship everything from small grains to dairy, beef and turkey around the world. Likewise, the region’s manufacturers produce equipment used to harvest those goods, again serving farming communities around the world, helping to ease the laborious efforts of farmers and all those involved in the agriculture industry. Due to a declining number of adults in the workforce, jobs in many of those areas have brought in a diverse population, adding to the region’s cultural flair. In a recent visit to the area, Steve Grove, state commissioner of the Department of Employment and Economic Development, said: “The way this community has embraced its growing workforce, its immigrant workforce, and is navigating those challenges is really a model for the rest of the state.”

6 | IMPACT

LIVE

Everything from our educational systems to our health care systems impact the lives of people in the region, as do available foods, shopping/ retail, arts and entertainment, and sports and recreation. Religion also plays a role in the daily lives of many residents across the area, as does available housing.

PLAY

The number of organized sports clubs continues to grow in Kandiyohi County and beyond, as is evidenced by the growing activity surrounding soccer, curling and disc golf, just to name a few. Recreation is important year-round, ranging from ice fishing, cross country skiing and snowmobiling to swimming, camping, biking and hiking. Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center and Sibley State Park are just two of the notable facilities available in Kandiyohi County, in addition to a number of other county parks, state parks and recreational areas across the region. West central Minnesota also offers a great deal in the way of tourism, drawing people from outside the region to enjoy our lakes, rivers, prairies, parks and more. All of these assets are what will continue to impact our communities and take us into the next decade and beyond.


WORK | LIVE | PLAY IMPACT | 7


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EDUCATION 12 | IMPACT


Lifelong educational programs

serve the region

W

ith local school districts providing day care for infants and area community colleges providing classes for students of all ages, there are cradle-to-career, or even cradle-to-grave, educational opportunities in the region. Both are needed to meet the needs of rural communities, where a shortage of day care providers and a shortage of skilled employees has strained families, businesses and whole communities. A 2017 report by the Center for Rural Policy and Development indicates there is a severe shortage of licensed day care facilities all across the state. According to that study, 74% of Minnesota households with children under the age of 6 had all parents in the workforce in 2016. But from 2006 to 2016 the number of licensed in-home family child care providers decreased by 30% statewide. Communities in west central Minnesota have been struggling to fill the gap of an estimated 2,476 licensed child care spaces as more and more home day care providers close. Many area school districts now provide some type of child care during the school year for all ages, as well as summer day care for school-aged kids. But at least two school districts – Benson and Montevideo – are using their resources to respond to the day care shortage by operating fullservice, year-round licensed child care centers for infants and children through sixth grade. With the help of a voter-approved bond, the Benson School District is currently in the process of building a new child care center that will be connected to the elementary school. This will allow the program to move from its current location in unused

classrooms in the district’s old junior high building to a new facility. Business sponsors and individual donations are helping to fund construction of a new YMCA child care facility that is underway in an unused portion of a mall in Spicer. When it opens this winter it will help fill – but not solve – the child care void in Kandiyohi County. As communities work together to respond to the need for child care so parents can go to work, community colleges are responding to the needs of students – and employers – as they design programs to help students and businesses succeed. The rising cost of a four-year education, and the toll college debt takes on students, has made community colleges an increasingly attractive option for people starting out on a career path. The annual tuition for a year at a Minnesota community or technical college, like Ridgewater College in Willmar or Minnesota West Community and Technical College in Granite Falls, is less than $6,000. By contrast, tuition for a year at the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities is nearly $15,000. Smaller class sizes, more individual attention from instructors and – oftentimes – the ability to live at home while attending community college can provide students with an affordable option. Community colleges are also able to respond to the needs of local businesses by tailoring programs to train students for specific needs. And, as more people work well into their retirement years, attending a community college can be an attractive way to acquire new skills for jobs that evolve with new technology and demands. IMPACT | 13


Q&A: RIDGEWATER COLLEGE Kelly Magnuson, vice president of advancement & outreach / executive director of foundation Missy Majerus, interim liberal arts/ transfer program dean Mike Kutzke, dean of instruction Matt Feuerborn, (not pictured) dean of instruction

Q:

What are the new challenges and opportunities for colleges striving to ensure future student success?

A:

The students we have walking our halls and logging into our classes are more diverse than ever. We have high school students who have earned college credits, students with four-year degrees returning for technical education and students with children and fulltime jobs. Our students have a lot of things on their plate in addition to attending college. Our faculty and staff understand that and are here to support all of our students. Students attending Ridgewater College are entering college at a time when the skills they will have as graduates are in high demand. Employers are clamoring for well-trained employees. Our faculty members tell us they have employers reaching out for names of students who will be graduating so they can get a jump on hiring Ridgewater’s graduates.

Q: There are many new faces in the Ridgewater

administration and staff. What impact will this have on students and programs?

A:

Under the leadership of President Craig Johnson, the college is actively re-evaluating structures, processes, programs offered, delivery of programs and student experience from the student lens. The goal is to create a more engaging, connected and supportive college environment in which our students will thrive. As a college we realized that there was a desire and need to constantly challenge the status quo in the ways we serve students. These new faces and newly created positions will be key players in helping all of Ridgewater College’s students be as successful as possible.

Q:

How is Ridgewater College meeting those challenges and responding to opportunities?

Q:

Why should students consider attending a community college?

A:

A:

If future students want to have a greater chance of landing a great job and are interested in an excellent education at a lower price, then community college is the place to be. Students who attend community college realize a huge cost-savings: 39% of our students graduate with zero debt as compared to the national average of $29,800 in student loans. Ridgewater offers both a liberal arts education and technical education. Research indicates almost half of all students who earn a bachelor’s degree first enroll in a community college. For students who are interested in a shorter career path, our technical degrees are taught by faculty who have worked in these industries and share their passion for their careers with their students, giving them real-life experiences to take with them when they graduate. Students can get started on a career in one to two years, learning skills that lead to good-paying jobs. The faculty and staff at Ridgewater College are not only invested in the success of the courses they teach or the area in which they work, they are also invested in the communities we serve and the residents of those communities.

Ridgewater College works hard to understand and meet the needs of all. Students are assigned an adviser who works with them to set up an academic plan, ensure they are taking the correct classes and discusses class loads for each student during their learning journey to assure that they can meet their educational goals and attend to their lives outside of Ridgewater College. In that same vein, Ridgewater works closely with employers to make sure that we are responsive to their needs. Our technical programs have advisory groups who help shape the learning outcomes of our graduates.

Q:

What changes have been made in academic programs at Ridgewater to meet the needs of students and employers?

A:

Ridgewater College prides itself on providing students alternatives wherever possible. Students have multiple education delivery options which allows for flexibility. The variety of course delivery options allows students to choose how they learn best, as well as what works best for their current personal and professional circumstances. As a college, we continue to invest in new technology assuring that our students enter the workforce prepared for success. Many courses offer collaborative learning opportunities, giving students a chance to work together with technology to discover new ways to understand others’ views and insights. 14 | IMPACT


Q:

What is the history of Discovery Kids Child Care Center, which is operated by the Benson School District and currently located in the junior high building?

Q&A: SHELLY VERGIN & CARISSA MCDONALD

A:

Safe B.A.S.E. (Before After School Environment) started in 1994 providing after-school and non-school days care for schoolaged children. In September 2015, we rebranded to Discovery Kids when we added extended learning care for preschool children ages 34 months and up. In September 2017, we added infants and toddlers to our program. We are currently located in the junior high building where there is one infant room, two toddler rooms and a 3-year-old preschool room located on the first floor. Our 4-year-old preschool room and schoolage room are on the second floor. Our program has grown tremendously since 2015. We are licensed for 30 children in our school-age classroom, 20 in our 4-year-old preschool room, 20 in our 3-year-old preschool room, 14 in our older toddler room, 14 in our younger toddler room and 16 in our large infant room.

Q:

What type of community partnerships are needed to operate Discovery Kids?

A:

When the Benson community began looking at the day care shortage in 2016, we were very fortunate to have a large number of business and community representatives. Several of these individuals continue to be supportive through an advisory council, which serves as a sounding board for the center. Four of these entities also provide financial support. The city of Benson, Swift County Benson Health Services, the Robert Sonsteg Foundation and Benson Public Schools have all committed to help cover operational expenses for the first five years of operation.

Community Services program director at the Benson School District, Discovery Kids Day Care Center director

Q: Construction is underway for a new Discovery Kids center. What will it look like and how will it operate?

A:

The new center will be added onto our Northside Elementary School. As part of the early childhood area, we are joined with early childhood education and a kindergarten classroom. Kindergarten, Head Start, School Readiness and voluntary pre-kindergarten classrooms will be on the east side of the center. Discovery Kids’ infant room will be in the center while our other rooms will be on the west side of the addition. Discovery Kids staff are very excited to be going to a new facility, having us all together on one floor and the classrooms having smartboards in them. Teachers are excited to incorporate this new technology into the daily schedule.

Q:

What are the benefits of having a day care center located in a school building?

A:

It is beneficial for Discovery Kids to be in a school building because we can work more closely with early childhood education. This can help streamline lesson planning and lessen frustration for teachers and children as they learn and grow. It also helps in transporting the children to the early childhood education classes. Once we are all in the same area, it will be a simple walk to get them to where they need to go. This helps by making a safe and secure transition for the children as they grow and move into kindergarten.

Q: What has been the community response to Discovery Kids?

A:

The community has been very supportive of our endeavor. We received many donations from businesses and community members. Initially, there was some concern of whether the school should be responsible for providing child care. However, Benson Schools feels education starts at an early age and this allows us to provide education opportunities from birth through age 18.

Q:

What are the long-term plans for Discovery Kids and the challenge of meeting day care needs in Swift County?

A:

Finding a tuition rate that a family can afford, while meeting the center’s financial needs, is a challenge. Discovery Kids will continue to provide child care where children can learn and grow physically, emotionally, intellectually and socially. In our daily schedule, each age group will have sensory development, motor development, language development and social interaction. We offer the flexibility for the day-to-day change of a busy family lifestyle and will continue to meet the needs of every family that comes our way. IMPACT | 15


Fast Facts:

#

EDUCATION

of community colleges in Minnesota

30

RIDGEWATER COLLEGE,

WILLMAR & HUTCHSINON

RANKED

Current enrollment: 4,492 Student-teacher ratio: 1:21 Average student cost per year: $5,591 for tuition and fees per year for 30 credits

#1 among Minnesota Community colleges

Percentage of students who receive financial aid: 69%

18th out of 871 community colleges nationwide

Percentage of students who find jobs immediately after graduation: 95%

Source: 2020 Best Community Colleges in Minnesota published by www.niche.com

Source: Ridgewater College

CHILD CARE IN RURAL

MINNESOTA Growth in center-based child care in metro communities grew, offsetting the loss of family child care providers.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2014, about 74% of Minnesota households with children under age 6 had all parents in the workforce – the third highest in the nation.

In Greater Minnesota, centerbased capacity increased by 5,039 spaces but in-home family child care capacity decreased by 20,400 spaces for a net loss of more than 15,000 spaces.

Between 2006 and 2015, the number of licensed in-home family child care providers decreased by 27% across the state, creating a loss of 36,500 spaces.

The population of zero to 4-year-olds in Minnesota is projected to stay steady, at about 355,000, for the next 50 years, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center. Source: Center for Rural Policy and Development

16 | IMPACT


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IMPACT | 17


Region’s agriculture helps feed the world

F

or over 161 years, since Minnesota has been a state, and certainly long before, agriculture has been the lifeblood of its southern half. Some of the most prolific farmland is located in and around the Willmar Lakes Area. Counties including Kandiyohi and Renville often rank toward the top in agriculture production, for both crops and livestock. The region helps not only feed the state and nation, but the world, with many countries purchasing agricultural products from west-central and southcentral areas of Minnesota. The farms also provide a livelihood for thousands of people. For many, farming has been the family business for generations. In 2019 eight farms in the region were named Century Farms by the Minnesota Farm Bureau and the Minnesota State Fair. Four others achieved Sesquicentennial Farm status, meaning they’ve been a family owned farm for 150 years. Many national and international seed companies call the area home, with several located along U.S. Highway 212 in Olivia, the Corn Capital of the World. Companies including Remington Seeds, Mycogen Seeds, Hefty Seed Company, Thurston Inc. and Becks either grow or supply seed for farmers across the country. Farmers grow crops for companies including Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative and Green Giant as well as for ethanol and animal feed producers. Others grow and sell their own produce. Farmers markets are a great place to buy farm fresh vegetables, eggs and meat. There are a variety of livestock producers and meat processors in the region, including nationally known brand Jennie-O Turkey Store, Revier Cattle Company and Christensen Farms. There are egg producers like Rembrandt, shrimp farms including TruShrimp and even an alpaca ranch called Open Prairie Alpacas. Minnesota is home to 170 agriculture cooperatives, more than any other state in the country. It also brought in the most cooperative sales at $18.4 billion in 2017. Twelve of the nation’s

18 | IMPACT

top 100 cooperatives are located in Minnesota, including No. 49 First District Association of Litchfield, No. 73 Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville, No. 89 Meadowland Farmers Cooperative of Lamberton and No. 94 United Farmers Cooperative, based in Winthrop. Agriculture doesn’t just mean crops and animals either. A variety of agriculture-based businesses call the region home. In Willmar the MinnWest Technology Campus houses businesses including Nova-Tech Engineering and Prinsco, while others such as Select Genetics and RELCO are based in and around the Willmar Industrial Park. Fagen Inc. of Granite Falls builds ethanol plants while Sparboe Co. LLC of Litchfield produces dried eggs. Agriculture education is another important aspect of the area’s agriculture focus. From K-12 to post-secondary, students have the opportunity to learn about agriculture and everything it touches. With the ever-changing face of technology, especially in agriculture, students need to learn a wide range of skills to help them be successful. Colleges including Ridgewater College and Minnesota West Community and Technical College offer agriculture programs, as do larger schools such as Southwest Minnesota State University. Agriculture students can then take those skills they learn and apply them in a host of jobs. Those who decide to farm the land or raise animals will still need to know about technology, as many farm implements like tractors and combines are full of amazing technology to make farming more cost-effective and efficient. No matter how much the industry changes or what new technologies or science are brought in, there will always be a need for agriculture. And as long as there will be a need for farmers to produce the food, the Willmar Lakes Area and the surrounding counties and communities will remain rooted to the land and what it can produce.


AGRICULTURE IMPACT | 19


Q&A: JASON STEWIG Renville County West, FFA instructor

Q: What does an ag teacher teach? A: I teach a lot of shop classes such as welding, woodworking,

mechanics, home repair and basic electricity. Since I am in Renville County, I also teach a lot of plant-based classes such as Intro to Agronomy (a concurrent enrollment class with Ridgewater) and we run our own greenhouse as well, where students learn about horticulture plant production and business management. I also teach classes concerning natural resources, small- and large-animal science and ag business management. Since I like to build things and there is also a huge demand for skilled workers, I also teach drafting, computer-aided design and drafting, and advanced manufacturing using some of our newer technology, such as a CNC-controlled plasma cutter, laser engraver and 3D printer.

Q: How has ag education changed? A: I would say technology has been a driving force in how

agriculture and agriculture education has changed. Technology has changed how we produce crops and raise animals, it helps producers become more efficient in terms of their time and money, and really helps to limit the amount of damage that is done to the environment. Agriculture has become very tech-driven, from the use of drones, to tractors and sprayers that steer themselves across the field. Students need to learn about and understand them as they will be working with these new technologies when they get out in the working world. Technology has also changed the manufacturing world drastically. Our school, like many others, has made investments to bring some of these new technologies in so students can learn how to work them.These are skills our students are learning today to help them survive tomorrow in the world.

Q: Why do you think it is important for ag education to be

Q: What do you see as trends or possible changes

Are ag-related classes just for those students interested in farming or does it open up different career opportunities?

A: I see technology still playing an important role and as

Agriculture is so much more than just farming. What people don’t realize though, is agriculture is looking for not only people to raise the product, but they are looking for welders, carpenters, mechanics, electricians and drivers, as well as veterinarians, scientists, geneticists, lawyers, accountants, sales people, communications, photographers, marketing people, food scientists, environmental consultants, web design. Options such as working with the Department of Natural Resources, golf course superintendents, landscape architects/installers and landscape maintenance, or forestry are all careers that ag education can get students started in. There are many opportunities and options for people, and it all starts with basic fundamental understanding of what exactly is agriculture, and understanding that it is much more than just driving a tractor to raise crops or working with animals.

coming to ag education?

teachers we need to incorporate those technologies into our teachings. I also see a trend where we will be teaching students more hands-on skills. Industry is having a hard time finding workers today. I see the role of ag education as us teaching the students the skills they need, that could get them a good-paying job right out of high school if they so desire. We will always need leaders, and that is something ag education is very good at. It gives our students opportunities to become great leaders through programs like FFA. In order to do that, not only do they need to develop leadership skills, but they need the hands-on skills as well to understand what their people are going through.

20 | IMPACT

offered in schools?

A:

This will teach people to not be so dependent on others, but to be able to go out and create, fix and grow their own things, but also provides potential careers for themselves. Agriculture provides much for everyone, regardless if you live in the country, a small rural town or the big city. People need to understand that their food is not made in the grocery store, or that the clothing stores do not have people in the back room making their clothes from scratch back there. I think it is also important to recognize that agriculture is very important to Minnesota’s economy. We are one of the top 10 ag-producing states in the United States.

Q: A:


Q&A: CAL KNUDSEN

Q: Please provide some brief background about Haug Implement. A: Haug Implement is a fourth-generation John Deere dealership that

Haug Implement Company, integrated solutions manager

was founded in 1918. Originally located in Pennock, the company moved to Kerkhoven in 1960, and relocated in 1972 to the current location in Willmar. In 1996 a second location was purchased in Litchfield.

Q: In general, how has

agriculture equipment and machinery changed over the years?

A:

Q:

How do these new machines make farming more efficient?

Agricultural equipment has changed significantly over the years. The early farm equipment being almost entirely man-powered or horsedrawn has grown into sophisticated equipment with advanced technology throughout. The introduction of the Global Positioning System (GPS) to consumers accelerated technology forward in the agricultural world.

A:

Q: How big of a role

A:

do computers play in today’s big farm machinery?

A:

Computers play a huge role in many aspects of the farm today. Small standalone computers, commonly referred to as “displays,” are used in many tractors. Displays grant machinery the ability to do many amazing things like steer themselves. A planter or sprayer using “section control” will stop applying automatically if you drive over areas that have already been completed, as well as changing rate to reduce inputs where possible. More recently, equipment can talk to each other in the same field using wireless communication as well as share data and settings with other devices.

Q: How have farmers adapted to high-tech machinery? A: Many farmers in this area have adopted technology heavily, are

very forward-thinking, and have seen substantial benefits from utilizing technology. AutoTrac is the most commonly adopted technology, for good reason. This may sound simple, but the benefits that come with AutoTrac are plentiful. It can reduce the number of passes needed to till or plant a field with less overlap and less compaction. Technology reduces operator fatigue and lets them monitor implement performance both through the display and watching the tool itself to make sure there are no issues.

Aside from the fact that these new engines run stronger and cleaner than ever, applications can be performed at higher speeds. Prescriptions are another great example of that. Prescriptions are written for these tools so that planters, sprayers, and even tillage equipment, will apply less (or dig less deep) where it is not needed. This reduces the amount of seed, chemicals, compaction or even fuel needed to perform the task and can increase the amount of yield those poor soils were able to produce.

Q: As farmers try to be more environmentally conscious, how do today’s farm machinery and equipment assist with that?

Tractors themselves are more efficient than ever. Today’s engines are using less fuel, producing more power, and running cleaner. Some engines have reduced harmful emissions by 80 percent. Precision farming practices are also better for the environment. Section control, like I mentioned above, can save a lot of resources. Chemicals themselves have been developed that keep drift low so it stays where it is needed without spreading to other areas where it could cause harm. Sprayer technology changes at a rapid rate all the way down to the design of the nozzles themselves. New ways have been developed on hardware to further reduce potentially harmful chemical drift. These solutions also give growers the ability to monitor their overall performance so they can improve it.

Q:

What are some of the more popular types of farm machinery in this area?

A:

The primary crops in this area are corn, soybeans, sugar beets and alfalfa. Row crop tractors outnumber all the rest, being able to carry out the greatest number of different tasks. Articulated and track tractors are common tillage machines. Their weight distribution is key for traction when it comes to pulling heavy tillage equipment through the field. Combines harvest corn and soybeans, as well as other specialty crops found in the area like edible beans. Hay equipment has changed: Some farms are baling less and chopping hay instead, using hay cutters, mergers and choppers. Sugar beets require different equipment, usually pulled by a row crop tractor. They use “toppers” to remove the leaves and stems from the beet and “lifters” to pull them out of the ground when harvested.

IMPACT | 21


Fast Facts:

AGRICULTURE 1,220

FARMS LOCATED IN KANDIYOHI COUNTY 455,854 acres 374 acres average size of farm 95 percent of Kandiyohi County farms are family farms $97,497,000 net cash farm income 88 percent of farmland in Kandiyohi County is used for crops

APPROXIMATELY

8,817

total producers in Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Meeker, Renville, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties

22 | IMPACT

KANDIYOHI COUNTY is the third largest producer of poultry and eggs, third for sheep/goats/ wool/mohair/milk and second for aquaculture RENVILLE COUNTY ranks first in grains/ oilseeds/dry beans/ dry peas, second in vegetables/melons/ potatoes/sweet potatoes, third in hogs and pigs and first in sheep/goats/wool/ mohair/milk SWIFT COUNTY ranks sixth in the state for poultry and eggs production MEEKER COUNTY ranks fifth in poultry and eggs production, seventh in horses, ponies, mules, burros and donkeys and fourth in cultivated Christmas trees, short rotation woody crops Overall, RENVILLE COUNTY ranks third in the state for market value of agricultural products sold, Kandiyohi County ranks eighth. Source: 2017 Census of Agriculture, USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service


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BUSINESS & INDUSTRY


Agriculture, health care strong across the region

A

griculture is the backbone of the region’s economy, but the region’s economic health is balanced by robust sectors including manufacturing, health care and social services, and retail. To get a measure of their importance, consider that manufacturing provides 21 percent of the jobs in the counties of Kandiyohi, Renville, Meeker and Sibley. Many of the region’s non-farm jobs in the manufacturing sector have a direct connection to agriculture. Atwater, Benson and Granite Falls are home to major ethanol plants, thanks to the region’s productive corn farms. Jennie-O Turkey Store is one of the region’s largest employers, processing turkeys raised in the region. The Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville employs approximately 375 full-time workers and an additional 475 seasonal employees processing sugar beets into sugar. First District in Litchfield produces a wide range of dairy products using milk produced both in and outside of the region. The region’s manufacturing sector includes many firms with a national and international impact. Loftness Manufacturing in Renville County produces large equipment used in agriculture and the logging industry across the county. Likewise, the Case IH facility in Benson produces cotton pickers, floaters and sprayers used throughout the U.S. In Willmar, RELCO builds and installs dairy and food processing plants around the globe. Economic development directors and industry leaders in the region are keeping a close eye on the health of the agriculture economy. It’s been hurt by low commodity prices resulting from trade wars. Industries in the region face another challenge: A tight labor market. In the five counties of the Upper Minnesota River Valley, including Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine,

there has been a steady decline and aging of the workforce, resulting in fewer available workers. The region’s population has declined by 14 percent from 2000 to 2017. Willmar and Kandiyohi County have benefited from the arrival of immigrant workers from Latin America and Africa. In Kandiyohi, Meeker, Renville and McLeod counties, there has been a domestic out-migration of 5,570 people in the years 2010 to 2017, according to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. During this time, the region enjoyed a positive in-migration of almost 1,600 additional residents from international sources, it reported. The region also benefits economically from a culture of entrepreneurialism. Consider the five counties of Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine. Small businesses employing fewer than 10 employees account for 78 percent of the businesses in the region, and employ 3,386 people, according to the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission. The region’s health care and social services sector is the second-largest source of employment, followed by retail. With an aging population, it is projected that the health care and social services sector will remain a major employer for years to come. Economic development directors in the region point to the availability of workers, affordable housing, and child care services as critical for the region’s continued economic growth. Infrastructure needs are also on the top of their agenda. Area counties have been actively working to upgrade the region’s transportation network. The ongoing effort to develop Minnesota Highway 23 into four lanes between Willmar and St. Cloud remains a priority. Southwest Minnesota is the only region in the state lacking a fourlane corridor to metropolitan markets.

IMPACT | 25


Q&A: JORDAN ZELLER Economic Development Agency, Renville County; executive director

Q:

The state and national economies are seeing sustained growth. How is Renville County doing?

A:

The opportunities for new value-added industries and businesses are bright in Renville County, and we continue to work on diversifying our local ag economy.

Q: Manufacturing, retail, and health care and social

services are also important components of the county’s economy. How are these sectors doing, and what growth opportunities do you see going forward?

A:

Manufacturing continues to be strong. Renville County has a solid cluster of manufacturing businesses. Some of our larger manufacturers include Schweiss Doors and Loftness Manufacturing. Businesses I’ve recently visited with tell me they’re doing well, and we’re currently working with several manufacturing businesses looking at starting or expanding in Renville County. Anecdotally, from my conversations with them, Renville County seems to be winning out over other locations because of our people – our workforce skills and work ethic aren’t found in many other places – as well as our affordably priced buildings and land, and pro-business focus. Retail continues to have its ups and downs, just as this industry is seeing all across the country. We’re seeing specialty businesses that have both a local storefront along with an online presence selling regionally, nationally and globally doing well. Health care is doing well. About four years ago, Renville County Hospital & Clinics completed and moved into a new hospital along U.S. Highway 212 on the east side of Olivia. RC Hospital has seen a significant increase in patients coming in recently, and the RC Clinics, in Hector, Olivia and Renville, also are doing well. We’re also seeing growth and collaboration in senior health care with a new assisted living facility being constructed in Bird Island and Bethesda partnering with the city of Olivia to manage Fairview Place.

Q: The availability of employees, the need for

child care and affordable housing are often cited as challenges in many areas. How is Renville County addressing these needs?

A:

The availability of a skilled, agile workforce, quality child care and affordable housing is an issue for Renville County, just as it is nearly everywhere else. When we hear businesses looking for quality employees, we point them to partners such as Central Minnesota Jobs & Training Services and the CareerForce Centers. We’re lucky to have both Minnesota West Community & Technical College and Ridgewater College nearby; both have strong customized

26 | IMPACT

training programs that can help businesses with specific training needs for their employees. Child care is also important to business, and we have several shining stars when it comes to quality, affordable child care, including the Bird Island Fun House, Little Lambs Learning Center in Danube, the Franklin Cougar Cub Daycare and Little Stangs Learning Center in Buffalo Lake. Our Renville County Housing Redevelopment Authority/Economic Development Authority Business Innovation Grant program has awarded several grants and our business loan program has assisted with upgrades to privately owned child care businesses. Affordable housing is also an issue – it’s difficult to attract a workforce without a quality, affordable place for them to live. Several Renville County cities are working on new housing development projects, and we’re planning to conduct a county housing study this winter to help define housing needs and serve as a tool and catalyst for future development. Renville County HRA/EDA also has a variety of financing tools to assist with housing.

Q:

Where do you see the best opportunities for economic growth in the county?

A:

In an ever-changing world we see unlimited potential for economic diversification and growth in Renville County’s largest industry – agriculture. Renville County has some of the best soils anywhere, and we see potential for greater yields and the growing of new types of crops and everything that goes along with that, from new inputs and equipment to the processing of those outputs. We’re also home to many ag science industry businesses. There is a lot of opportunity for businesses in all sectors in Renville County. We have a skilled, agile and available workforce and land and buildings at reasonable prices. We have great transportation infrastructure – all 10 of our cities are located on either U.S. Highways 212 or 71, and Minnesota Highway 19, and are served by either the Twin Cities & Western or Minnesota Prairie Line railroads. Renville County also has attractive business incentives and assistance programs for new, expanding or relocating businesses, and an enthusiastic economic development team that is excited to connect you to resources and help guide you through the process. Please feel free to call us at 320-523-3656 to get things started.


Q&A: AARON BACKMAN Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission, executive director

Q:

The state and national economies are seeing sustained growth. How is Kandiyohi County doing?

A:

Kohl’s store ($3.0 million) in the Kandi Mall in the former Kmart area. Kohl’s is slated to open in October. Target is undertaking a $1 million renovation project to be completed in October. The Co-op Credit Union recently constructed a new 4,400-square-foot $800,000 facility. In 2020 the EDC anticipates another Kwik Trip will be built in Willmar and other retailers will consider locating next to Kohl’s.

Q:

Overall, Willmar is having a strong year. The city has issued over 400 building permits with a construction value of around $47 million. In the category of commercial/industrial projects, the largest is Ziegler Caterpillar at $14.6 million. In institutional projects the largest is the Child & Adolescent Behavioral Hospital at $8.7 million. In housing, there is currently $15 million in projects under construction, with the possibility of more yet this year. The most notable housing project is 15th Street Flats, a $9.3 million, 47-unit, multi-family facility near Lakeland Drive. Other housing projects include Sunwood Apartments ($2.0 million) and Unique Opportunities ($7.0 million) – both market-rate, multi-family housing projects. There are also 17 singlefamily homes under construction. Probably the most exciting project outside of Willmar is Bethesda’s new campus in New London. This $16 million senior housing complex will include independent living, enhanced assisted living and memory care units. This 100,000-square-foot campus will be located off state Highway 23 and north of the ACMC Clinic on Peterson Parkway. Site work was expected to commence in September.

Manufacturing, retail and health care and social services are also important components of the county’s economy. How are these sectors doing, and what growth opportunities do you see going forward?

Q: Agriculture is important to Kandiyohi County. We have

The number one challenge for most businesses today is securing skilled workforce. The EDC partners with CareerForce, Ridgewater College, Central Minnesota Jobs & Training Services, Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce, KDJS/River 97.3, etc. and other entities on regional job fairs. The EDC also partners on workforce training initiatives. Other challenges are the cost of health insurance, access to adequate child care and keeping up with technology.

industries serving our farm producers as well as processing the production from our farms. How are these industries doing as low commodity prices adversely affect our producers?

A:

In contrast to Willmar’s economy, agriculture in Kandiyohi County is not seeing sustained growth. However, there have been positive developments: Bushmills Ethanol near Atwater expanded its facilities and annual production from 65 to 100 million gallons. The EDC encourages diversification in the agricultural sector. We helped secure a $107,550 USDA Rural Business Development Grant for Simply Shrimp near Blomkest, south of Willmar.

Q: As a regional center, we enjoy the diversity of retail, health

care, social services and tourism industries. Are we seeing growth in these sectors, and if so, do you anticipate continued growth in the years ahead?

A:

Most definitely yes and yes. Last summer two Kwik Trip stores opened in Willmar on First Street and U.S. Highway 12 in Willmar. Each of those stores represents an investment of $5 million-plus by the company. Also, in August 2018, Little Crow Resort opened in the Spicer-New London area. That $7.8 million project includes a 51-room Grandstay Hotel, a 300-seat event center and the 80-seat Little Crow Tavern & Grille. In retail projects in Willmar, the largest this year is the new

A:

The EDC continues to assist manufacturers to locate and expand in Willmar. We are working with several manufacturing/production-related business prospects. We are on the short list for several Minneapolis businesses interested in expanding or relocating here. In terms of mental health services, Woodland Centers is experiencing a continual increase in requests for service, and is seeking additional staff. The current farm crisis has caused increased need for counseling services.

Q:

What are the biggest challenges facing our local businesses and industries in the coming years?

A:

Q:

What are the biggest infrastructure needs to address to benefit our economy in the years ahead?

A:

A significant infrastructure need is for further transportation improvements to assist this region’s agricultural, manufacturing and distribution sectors. Improved highways enhance safety and access for many commuters who come into Willmar each day, the general public and tourists traveling to the lake regions. The EDC has been active with the Highway 23 Coalition, pursuing funding for a continuous four-lane connection from Willmar to I-94, and for other improvements up and down the Highway 23 Corridor. BNSF, Minnesota Department of Transportation, Kandiyohi County, Willmar and the EDC are partners on the Willmar Wye project, a $48 million railroad bypass project on the west side of Willmar.

IMPACT | 27


Fast Facts:

BY REGION

BUSINESS & INDUSTRY

28 | IMPACT

Finding workers is one of the major challenges for employers in Region 6W. The five counties saw the labor force shrink from 25,466 workers in 2000 to 23,781 workers in 2017. Workers are mobile. In the five counties of 6W: – 13,929 workers both lived and worked in the region in 2015. – Another 4,343 drove into the region from surrounding counties for work. – That is compared to 8,093 workers who lived in the region but drove elsewhere for work. Incomes in the region lag behind the state. In region 6W, the median household income was $51,651 in 2016, compared to $63,217 in the state.

REGION 6E

INCLUDES THE COUNTIES OF KANDIYOHI, MEEKER, MCLEOD AND RENVILLE Region 6E has seen an out-migration of 3,990 more people moving out of the region than into it during the years 2010 through 2016, but an in-migration of 1,600 additional residents from international sources has helped make up for the loss. The region is home to 5,125 foreign-born residents, or about 4.4 percent of the population. The availability of workers is a significant issue for employers in the region. The number of workers has fluctuated, from 64,305 in 2014 to 65,697 in 2015 and down again to 65,316 in 2017. The median hourly wage in region 6E in 2018 was $17.56 for all occupations, compared to $20.07 in the state.

REGION 6W

INCLUDES THE COUNTIES OF BIG STONE, CHIPPEWA, LAC QUI PARLE, SWIFT AND YELLOW MEDICINE The median hourly wage in region 6W in 2018 was $16.86 for all occupations, compared to $20.07 in the state. Region 6W was home to 1,542 businesses providing 17,348 jobs with a total payroll of $654 million in 2017. The largest employers in Region 6W are health care and social assistance, manufacturing, and retail, in that order. Health care and social assistance provides one in five jobs in the region.

Incomes in the region lag behind the state. In region 6E, the median household income was $56,006 in 2016, compared to $63,217 in the state. Workers are mobile. In the five counties of 6E: – 38,717 workers both lived and worked in the region in 2015. – Another 16,125 drove into the region from surrounding counties for work. – That is compared to 21,314 workers who lived in the region but drove elsewhere for work. Region 6E was home to 3,443 businesses providing 53,976 jobs with a total payroll of nearly $2.2 billion in 2017. The largest employers in Region 6E are manufacturing, health care and social assistance and retail, in that order. Manufacturing accounts for 21 percent of total jobs in the region.


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Region’s food industry is more local, more diverse

W

est central Minnesota helps feed the world, but the region also feeds itself with a food industry that has become increasingly local and diverse. From food production to dining out, the menu has expanded to embrace grass-fed beef, organic dairy, made-to-order pastries, global cuisine and much more. A study carried out in 2009 by the Center for Small Towns at the University of Minnesota-Morris estimated that west central Minnesotans spent $354 million a year on food, mostly on food produced outside the region. The study also found a demand for local food but a shortage of products and infrastructure to meet the demand. A decade later this pattern shows signs of change as local food begins taking root. Casual dining, fast food and the grocery store still rule as the main sources for how most people eat on a daily basis. But compared to even a decade ago, there are more options, giving consumers more opportunities to feast on something new and different and creating a promising niché economy for entrepreneurs in the world of food. In Willmar, the restaurant scene includes Somali, Hispanic and Asian and an awardwinning brew pub. Other restaurants around the region specialize in homegrown cuisine and authentic barbecue. A new breed of entrepreneurs is carving out a place for specialty products – artisan breads, Instagram-worthy cakes and cupcakes for weddings and birthday parties, and more. And there’s no shortage of coffee and the many ways to prepare and flavor fresh-brewed coffee. Many small-scale producers have been in the market for years, particularly in meat production and processing which historically has been one of the strongest segments in the local food economy. But the circle is widening with new enterprises such as strawberry farms, honey production and communitysupported agriculture. The past decade has even brought the birth of a new industry. The idea that vineyards could be planted

30 | IMPACT

and wine could be produced locally at one time seemed like an impossible fantasy, yet the region today has a small but thriving wine industry. Hinterland Vineyards and Winery in Clara City boasts several medals from the International Cold Climate Wine Competition. Glacial Ridge Winery near Spicer began life as an apple orchard and has branched out to include wine production, concerts and special events. Microbrewing has found a home at the Foxhole Brewery in Willmar and Goat Ridge Brewing in New London, as well as a number of budding brew pubs across the region. A 2018 analysis by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development estimated that southwestern Minnesota accounts for nearly one in four of the state’s food manufacturing jobs. Ensuring that the bounty reaches every table remains a challenge for the region. Median incomes in west central Minnesota are lower than the state average and many of the region’s residents, especially in small towns, lack convenient access to food that is fresh and affordable. Creative efforts are happening to reduce the impact of these so-called food deserts. There has been growth in the community garden movement, especially in Willmar, enabling people to produce and harvest their own fresh food. Farmers markets are finding ways for individuals receiving food assistance to buy food at the market. Other innovative projects include greenhouses that grow produce year round and partnerships that bring the bounty of community-assisted agriculture to households in need. Trend-watchers predict that consumer demand for fresh and local will continue to fuel the development of local food systems and the economy that surrounds local food systems. Within the restaurant industry, the number of restaurant and food service jobs in Minnesota is projected to grow 8.6 percent by 2024, according to the Minnesota Restaurant Association. The association estimates that for every dollar spent in the table service segment of the economy, $1.99 is contributed to the overall state economy.


FOOD TRENDS IMPACT | 31


Q&A: ALISE SJOSTROM Redhead Creamery, Brooten; co-owner and CEO

Q: What inspired you to start your business? A: I am back on the farm where I grew up. I knew I wanted to

be involved in agriculture in some way and raise my family in this setting. I visited a farmstead cheese plant in high school and that was my “aha” moment. I knew I wanted to make cheese. I took cheesemaking courses and did some internships. That was the start for where we are today.

Q: How would you describe your brand? A: A big part of it is that we make small-batch hand-crafted

cheese. We pay a lot of attention to flavor and detail and quality. We’re also farmstead. We produce and collect our own milk that goes into our cheeses and we do everything onsite from beginning to end of the production process. There are getting to be more farmstead cheese operations in Minnesota but there still aren’t many. Our product really has started to gain attention. We gained a couple of awards this year with our St. Anthony cheese, which has been exciting for us.

Q:

How is your rural location working out for your business?

A:

We’re not even in Brooten so we’re really off the beaten path. Being rural and a bit remote was something that we worried about at first. But I think the experience of finding us is often what people get a kick out of. A lot of what people are looking for when they visit us is the full experience – seeing the cows, seeing the milk, seeing how the cheese is made and knowing where it came from. They can find that here and it adds to the fun that we’re out in the boonies.

Q: What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome?

A:

We have challenges on a daily basis. There are always struggles for any small business in trying to get to that sweet spot of scale and what our customers want. Finding good employees to help make sure things run smoothly is a challenge. In the summer we have interns and part-time help to keep us going but when they go home in fall, then we feel it again. It’s always a challenge for us to scale with the right amount of people. Marketing is important. We’re always trying to gain customers, keep customers and regain customers. And of course it all has to work – the finances and the scale of production. I do almost every aspect of the business so I stay very busy.

32 | IMPACT

Q: What has been the most rewarding aspect? A: I have kids of my own, and just in this last year they’re getting old

enough where they think they can help. Seeing that happen has been fun for me. It’s really fun to see them starting to take an interest in what we do. It’s also really humbling to see the community support and the people who come out to our shop. We have a lot of support locally and we appreciate it so much!

Q: Where do you see yourself five years from now? A: It’s hard to say. We hope to continue to be growing and hopefully

have a couple of full-time employees to help keep things rolling if we want to be gone for a day. We’ve seen that the agritourism aspect of what we do is in high demand and growing. We’re in the phase right now of figuring out how we improve that and keep it going.


Q&A: SARAH NORBIE Cakes ’n Sweets by Sarah, Atwater; founder and owner

Q: What inspired you to start your business? A: I have always loved to bake and be creative since I was very young. I

watched my mom create cakes growing up and she encouraged and taught me to bake. I knew that I wanted to stay home with my kids but also still contribute financially to our family so one day I started a Facebook page named “Cakes n Sweets by Sarah” for fun. Slowly and steadily my side hobby of making cakes for fun for just friends and family has now become more of a consistent weekly business. I love to be able to create a cake or treat for someone and see the joy that it brings them. It’s a great artistic outlet for me to decorate the baked goods and it also gives me the chance to experiment with new recipes.

Q:

Tell us a little bit about your business model. What have the benefits been with the pop-up model?

A:

I have a permit from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture called a cottage food license to allow me to sell products out of my home kitchen. I am not an inspected kitchen with full licensing but this opportunity allows for smaller, home-based people such as myself to work the amount we want to and is convenient for my current busy life with four children. Having more of a pop-up model is great for allowing me to control the amount of orders I take and how often I want to be busy.

Q: Who are your customers and how do they find you? A: I started originally with just friends and family ordering and would give

away lots of samples and cards to spread the word. Posting pictures on social media has greatly helped to allow for local members of the community to hear about my cakes. Currently, I mostly take orders from people on my Facebook page or phone calls from people who have heard through word of mouth about me and are looking for a specialty baked good for a party or event.

Q: What have been some of the challenges you’ve encountered, and how did you overcome them?

A:

I think finding balance between family life when you work out of your own home and work life is very challenging. I do not get to go somewhere from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and drop off my four kids at day care, and so there are days when I am baking for events it can be very crazy. It also is challenging to try to figure out how to establish “hours” of business since I do not have a storefront that I work from. Sometimes I will get messages at 10 p.m. at night asking for information about ordering or on a Sunday. Weekends are very popular for events and parties which definitely affects plans. I try hard to balance the challenges with lots of planning weekly, coffee and late nights so I don’t interrupt time with my kids a lot because they are only young once. I am trying to also learn my limit on orders so I don’t overwhelm myself. I want to make sure I am enjoying what I am baking and doing my best on each order as well. If I get booked with orders, I always love to refer people to other local bakers that I have heard of. Supporting small and local businesses is what keeps a town and the families in it going strong.

Q: What has been most rewarding? A: My absolute favorite is to hear from children

or customers how much they loved their cake/ cupcakes and when I get pictures shared that show that! It’s also been fun to look back on pictures of my cakes from when I was younger and to see how I am improving with practice. My favorite event to cater right now are weddings and getting the privilege to create custom wedding cakes for couples.

Q:

Where do you see your business five years from now or 10 years from now?

A:

I may at some point look into opening a storefront when my youngest, who is 6 months, is in school. Or I have also thought about getting a food truck. Who wouldn’t love to have a food truck around Willmar that sells gourmet cupcakes and desserts?! Ideally my younger sister who went to school for pastry would come and join me in my baking adventure. Someday I also would love to compete on the television show “Cupcake Wars” just for a challenge and learning experience! I guess at this point, I will just keep my mind open to ideas and see where my love for baking takes me.

IMPACT | 33


Fast Facts:

FOOD TRENDS

Fast food and casual dining dominate the restaurant scene in west central Minnesota but there’s a growing specialty niché for food that is locally grown and locally prepared.

MINNESOTA 10,681

dining and drinking establishments in 2018, according to the Minnesota Restaurant Association.

275,900

people employed collectively in the industry, or 9 percent of the state’s workforce

$10.7 BILLION in estimated sales for the year.

Over the past three decades, new immigrants from Mexico, Central and South America, Africa, Southeast Asia and elsewhere have brought new flavors and foodways to west central Minnesota and diversified what we eat. Although rural Minnesota helps feed the world, many rural communities qualify as food deserts with low retail access to healthy food. A 2017 study by Wilder Research and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis ranked Minnesota among the 10 worst states based on the share of the population that lacks access to healthy food.

INADEQUATE NUTRITION 34 | IMPACT

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE FOODS MOST MEANINGFUL TO MINNESOTA PALATES? Thrillist, a tracker of national food trends, includes these on their list:

HOTDISH LUTEFISK BARS SPAM AND THE JUCY LUCY

a ground beef burger containing a core of molten cheese.

Continues to be an issue across the region. Public health surveys indicate a large proportion of the food that’s consumed is high in added sugar, sodium and fat and is commercially produced.


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36 | IMPACT

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT


Arts have positive impact on the community

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est central Minnesota’s vibrant arts community can provide something for nearly everyone’s interests. The area is dotted with museums, artists’ studios and community theaters. The music scene includes community bands, orchestras and choirs as well as some popular rock, bluegrass and country bands. The impact this has on area communities is clear in the way people are drawn to events like studio tours, concerts and music festivals. A 2017 study of rural arts organizations by the National Endowment for the Arts found a number of positive effects from arts and entertainment. The study found that the presence of arts organizations and events can help boost civic leadership. Organizers of rural events tend to rely on customer feedback more than those in urban areas, and they attract higher levels of out-of-town attendance. Examples of events that can draw people from a wide area include studio tours like the Meander Arts Crawl and the Lakes Area Studio Hop. The Studio Hop, a two-day annual event in June, offers tours of participating artists’ studios in the Kandiyohi County area. The Meander, covering several counties west of Kandiyohi County, is a three-day event held in early fall. Surveys have indicated that visitors travel to the Meander from throughout Minnesota, South Dakota and seven other states. Visitors to such events are likely to spend money in communities for food, gas and other items. Studio tour visitors also often purchase art. A big draw on the entertainment scene is Rockin’ Robbins, a series of outdoor summer concerts at Robbins Island Regional Park in Willmar. Joe Haen of the Dam Jammers Band of Olivia, which has played at Rockin’ Robbins, said he hopes to see an increase in events like it. Haen said entertainment options are on the rise in the area, which he feels is a good trend. “People love music, and every community could benefit from more of it,” he said. Noteworthy community theater venues include The Barn Theatre in Willmar, the New London Little Theatre and Central Square in Glenwood. They attract visitors year-round for plays, musicals and other events. Many communities have made a commitment to public art with murals and special projects. In Willmar, local artists’ work covers electrical boxes at major intersections, and several public buildings have large murals honoring the area’s history. Another type of public art is found in Granite Falls, where a series of statues in a small park in front of the Yellow Medicine County Courthouse honors male and female veterans in the 20th century. A National Endowment for the Arts study indicated that in 2015, the arts generated $26.6 million in local government revenue and $100.6 million in state government revenue in Minnesota. The same NEA study indicated that local impact in southwestern Minnesota was $130,000 to local governments and $570,000 to state government.

IMPACT | 37


Q&A: JOE HAEN Dam Jammers, band member

Q: What is your band’s history in the area?

A:

We assembled this group in 2012 based on a crazy idea to play rock music on folk instruments. I had a banjo, Brian Weis found an old stand-up bass and we were on our way. We thought maybe we’d play a show at the Olivia Liquor Store some day, if they’d have us. Then it developed into something much bigger. Once we added our frontline, Jeff Hinderks (vocals and acoustic guitar), Brooke Eischens (vocals and mandolin) and Dan Knapper (vocals and fiddle), their talent turned the group into something I never anticipated. Since then we’ve been gigging about one to two times per month. We all hail from the Renville County area originally, so we started with some bars and events locally and slowly branched out. As much as we’d love to play every weekend, we found this pace keeps us energized and excited to play when the time comes.

Q:

Has the community been supportive of its local talent?

A:

Absolutely. We wouldn’t be doing this without the support of the venues, town festivals and music lovers in our area. If you love music, and want more live music, you need to get out and support these businesses and events when they offer it. Some of the local bars here took a chance on us early on, and we’ll always be grateful for that. I honestly never expected people would react this kindly to our music. Playing a Guns & Roses song on a banjo is considered blasphemous to many people.

38 | IMPACT

Q: How would you describe the overall entertainment scene in the area? What are some of its strengths?

A:

I feel that it’s on the rise. The craft breweries and wineries have helped to breathe a bit of life back into the music scene. And what Willmar has accomplished with Rockin’ Robbins has been truly amazing to see. Hopefully, more towns can follow suit. People love music, and every community could benefit from more of it. If you build it, they will come!

Q: What are some of the larger

events you’ve played in recent years?

A:

There’s been so many fun ones over the years. Most recently, the Beer, Bands & Bacon Festival in Hendricks comes to mind, just because I love all those things so much. In January, we got to play right on the ice on Green Lake for Spicer’s Winterfest celebration. It was an amazing turnout there in the frigid weather. We’ve played some very memorable weddings over the years too. Drummer Jon Hunter adds, “Playing the Horseshoe Bar in Lake Lillian was a dream come true for me.”

Q: When you aren’t performing,

what sorts of entertainment do you and your band members enjoy in the area?

A:

I asked the band for some input on this one. These are the answers I received: Drummer Jon Hunter: Hook the ring on the string at Goat Ridge Brewery. Singer Brooke Eischens: The Yoga Loft is a tiny slice of heaven and Mary Beth Neal is a goddess. Banjo picker Joe Haen: I spend much of my free time at the Olivia Golf Club with my family, although my scorecard does not reflect it. Bassist Brian Weis: I enjoy spending time at the lake with friends and family, relaxing and shooting the breeze.


Q&A: JACKIE BURGGRAFF New London Little Theatre, board of directors

Q: Your Little Theatre building was once condemned. How did your organization bring the theater back to life? How long did it take?

A:

The Little Theatre was built in 1921. It was originally built to be used as an auditorium as the school was close by. Over the years it has been used not only as an auditorium and a gymnasium but also used as a movie theater, The Rialto, and as a community theater. The New London-Spicer School District rented it for many years for their speech and drama events before the Center for the Performing Arts was built onto the high school (which opened in the spring of 2018). In June of 1986, Harold Young of New London proposed to the school board that they trade the theater for “Old Gray” which was the commonly used name for the old school. In 1997, the Fire Marshal deemed it not fit for occupancy. At that time the city of New London asked for and was given a grant of $25,000. It was a matching grant, and a benefit along with donors were used to attain the additional $25,000. Many improvements have been made to make it to what it is today. A steel roof, insulated exterior, carpeted lobby, bathrooms – just to mention a few of the updates that have taken place.

Q: How does a relatively small

community like New London benefit from an active theater’s presence?

A: The theater has brought some vitality to

this small lake community. We have people that come to see productions from a 100-plus-mile radius. Some are people who have performed in past productions. We have people from 19 different counties and they might be artists or they might be patrons. We have shops and restaurants that benefit, as well as gas stations and local hotels.

Q:

Q: How does the theater contribute to the arts community in the New London area?

A: The board of directors is a very welcoming group. We are open to ideas

that can contribute to the furtherance of artistic expression. We try to collaborate with the different artists who make up our community and area. We so very much need people who are interested in donating their time, talent, energy and/or money. If there is something you would like to have happen at the Little Theatre, we would very much appreciate your involvement. Join with us and help us to celebrate the 100th birthday of the Little Theatre in 2021.

What type of support do you receive from the community for the theater’s activities?

How does the theater contribute to the overall arts and entertainment scene in west central Minnesota?

A:

A:

As a member of the New London Merchants Association, we receive endorsement from the businesses. We are aided in selling tickets and in their giving of information about the Little Theatre to the visitors who are new to the area. The merchants also buy advertisements which we display on our new jumbo screen before the productions.

39 | IMPACT

Q:

As an all-ages venue, we host events geared toward kids, teens and adults. We present movie screenings, music concerts, story shows and seasonal performances like our Halloween Haunted House and Dickens Christmas events. We also have used the theater for kids’ activities, all-ages art workshops and photograph displays as well as artist exhibitions. Our history as a community playhouse continues to draw local actors annually. Looking ahead we will be focusing on nurturing the creation and presentation of original work and expanding into supporting and hosting other sectors of our community. New board chair Bethany Lacktorin contributed to the final question.

IMPACT | 39


Fast Facts:

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT THE ARTS ARE IMPORTANT TO MINNESOTA CITIZENS

67%

of Minnesotans have attended an arts activity (at a theater, auditorium, concert hall, museum, gallery) within the past year

60% of Minnesotans are involved in the arts, by doing some creative activity like singing in a choir, doing woodworking or needlepoint, writing poetry, or painting in their everyday lives

95%

of Minnesotans believe the arts are an important or essential part of the overall education of Minnesota children (e.g., classes in music, writing, dance, art, and drama) Source: Minnesota State Arts Board

40 | IMPACT

THE ARTS ARE IMPORTANT TO MINNESOTA’S ECONOMIC VITALITY

The arts attract businesses, visitors and new residents, and encourage consumer spending, all of which result in increased tax revenues. Cultural offerings enhance the market appeal of an area, encouraging business relocation and generation of new jobs. The arts in Minnesota have over $1 billion in economic impact annually. There are over 30,000 artists in the state of Minnesota and more than 1,600 arts organizations. Attendees at nonprofit arts events spend an average of $22.87 per person, not including the price of admission, on restaurants, parking, hotels, etc. In Minneapolis, arts organizations spend $171 million; audience spending

adds another $98 million for total artsrelated spending of $269 million. In St. Cloud, arts organizations spend $4 million; arts audiences spend another $5.8 million for total artsrelated spending of $9.8 million. The arts drive tourism, an increasingly important industry in Minnesota. Travelers who come from other areas for arts-related tourism also spend money on shopping, parking, lodging and food. Cultural tourists spend more money per trip than the average traveler — $614 per trip versus $425. Five of Minnesota’s top tourist attractions are arts organizations: the Walker Art Center, Guthrie Theater, Ordway Center, Orchestra Hall, and the Children’s Theatre. Source: Minnesota Arts Board

SOUTHWEST MINNESOTA ARTS COUNCIL SMAC grants totaled nearly $600,000 over the 18 counties it served in fiscal year 2019. Organizations and individuals in Chippewa, Kandiyohi, Lac qui Parle, Meeker, Renville, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties received a variety of grants with a total of about $263,000. Operating support for organizations and their facilities and development: $48,800 Support for art projects and project developments: $125,000 Support for arts in the schools and for youth: $25,400 Support for developing and established individual artists: $76,370 Source: Southwest Minnesota Arts Council


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When it comes to recycling, convenient locations are near your home and workplace. At times of relaxation, trails, parks and campgrounds are there to explore. Whether operating programs that keep communities safe or providing emergency services during a disaster or protecting children at risk of abuse, counties are at the foundation of what makes our state great. Take a closer look at your county and you’ll find that 24/7 we are working for you.”

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Region adapts

to multitude of health care changes and challenges

C

hanges are taking place within health care in west central Minnesota, prompting new strategies and new ideas as communities prepare for the future. One major force is an aging population. In Minnesota, the number of adults 65 and older is projected to double between 2010 and 2030. This demographic shift, never before seen in state history, is altering the rural workforce, transportation and housing, creating challenges for how communities should respond but also offering opportunities for services that meet the unique needs of this population. Another significant trend is the movement of health beyond the four walls of a clinic or hospital and into communities where people live, with special attention to the gaps that exist for older adults, people of color and individuals who are low-income and/or have a disability. Mergers and affiliations have brought new names to the region’s health care landscape in just the past few years, realigning business relationships and creating opportunities for new partnerships and new models in delivering care. Communities are looking at how they can successfully meet the multiple challenges they face. It has meant getting innovative. Prairie Five Community Action Council launched a mobile community center this year to bring meals, internet access, telemedicine and more to rural residents of Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine counties. It’s the first of its kind in Minnesota and is designed to help keep older adults in their home communities as long as possible. Senior housing and transportation have become a focus of community planners and decision-makers. In Willmar, Bethesda Health and Housing pioneered a campus concept that unites short-term and long-term skilled care on a single campus, with amenities such as a cafe, town center and

46 | IMPACT

a wellness center that create places for connecting across generations. Nonprofits such as Atwater Area Help for Seniors are mobilizing volunteers to help meet the needs of rural seniors for rides to the doctor, grocery shopping and social outings. Efforts to promote health at all ages have extended into communities with fitness centers, farmers markets, community gardens and biking programs. A long-term initiative in Willmar, known as Healthy Together Willmar, is exploring ways to improve health and promote health equity for the diverse communities that make up a growing share of the population. Hospitals and clinics continue to be vital players in the regional economy, contributing important services that enable people to be healthy, as well as providing employment and boosting quality of life. New names and new alliances have emerged in the past few years, however, altering the landscape and positioning communities for a different future. The merger in 2018 of Affiliated Community Medical Centers and Rice Memorial Hospital into Carris Health, a new nonprofit subsidiary of CentraCare Health, has had a region-wide impact on services and health care alliances. Construction of a new multimillion-dollar Carris Health campus in Redwood Falls is underway and new technology has been rolled out to integrate patient electronic medical records, provide telemedicine care and even allow e-visits via an app. For some communities, such as Granite Falls and Olivia, the strategy is to seek new partners that will enable them to continue offering local care. And some of the region’s smallest hospitals still hold independent status while branching out into senior care and outpatient care. More challenges and opportunities lie ahead as the region deals with a potential shortage of health care workers and crafts ways to successfully adapt to ongoing change within the health care industry.


HEALTH CARE IMPACT | 47


Q&A: JILL BRUNS Renville County Public Health, administrator

Q:

What do you see as the strengths and assets of health care in west central Minnesota?

A:

We have a history of strong commitment to education and quality schools. Many people have health insurance, compared to the rest of the country. We have quality health services. Our unemployment rate is lower than the national average. Our crime rate, compared to urban counterparts, is lower. We recognize that our growing demographic diversity – including racial and ethnic diversity, as well as an aging population – is an opportunity as we move into the future. Many of our faith communities are active in social justice work. We have a strong tradition of industrial and agricultural innovation and community philanthropy. Our communities actively work to promote belonging, including city and county celebrations. We have great city and county parks, as well as wide open spaces, to provide opportunity for people to get outside, be active and enjoy time with one another throughout the year.

Q: How would you describe the health of the community?

Are people mostly healthy? What are some areas where they may not be faring as well?

A:

Two-thirds of children in Kandiyohi and Renville counties have experienced at least one adverse childhood experience and one in eight have experienced four or more ACEs. The adversity we experience as a child can affect our response to stress, triggering long-term changes in our brains and bodies and leading to health problems and unhealthy coping. By 2035, the projected 60-and-older population in Kandiyohi County is expected to be 31%, while for Renville County, the projection is over 34%. This demographic shift will slow workforce growth and increase the demand for government and other support services. Teen vaping has skyrocketed and methamphetamine has made a comeback. While rates for teenage binge drinking and cigarette smoking have declined, there is still concern about teenage use and adult abuse. Smoking remains a leading cause of death in the nation and state, thus efforts need to continue to reduce smoking rates across all populations. Residents of Kandiyohi and Renville counties see health care as an important problem. This includes the total cost of health insurance and co-pays, prescription drugs, choosing care, and government benefits like Medicare and Medical Assistance. Dental and mental health access were also noted specifically. Mental illness and well-being are the No. 1 overall issues for both counties: 28% of adults in Kandiyohi and Renville counties stated that their mental health was not good for 1-9 days of the month. Between 26-30% of our high school students felt sad or hopeless for two weeks or more in the past year. Mental and emotional health struggles can place significant strains on relationships, affect the ability to learn, work and be physically active, and can lead to self-harm.

48 | IMPACT

Q:

What are the most pressing challenges your agency faces in achieving the best health possible for your community?

A:

Decades of study on what impacts health show that the policies and processes that shape the daily circumstances of our lives creates health. Only about 10% of our health is dependent on the health care system. Our individual behaviors are overshadowed by a much larger set of economic and social forces put into action by policy decisions at every level of government. The perspective that health is dependent on the individual prevents us from making the kinds of changes in our communities that would generate good health: policies that assure all children thrive, equitable educational and job opportunities, shared power and decision-making, access to health care, affordable housing, multiple transportation options and unpolluted environments.

Q:

What do you see as the most promising opportunities for improving community health?

A:

For years, many health industries have focused on individual behavior change as a means of improving health. We are familiar with the advice to eat right and exercise to impact our weight, blood pressure and sleeping habits. Without discounting the role of the individual, studies show that the circumstances of our lives — in particular where we live — play the largest role in our health. Where we live determines our options and influences our choices no matter how wellintentioned or motivated we may be to “make healthy choices.”

Q: If you could pick one or two strategies to implement right now, what would they be?

A:

Community partners and interested individuals from each county met several times this past year to review local data and provide input on top health issues. These community conversations led to the identification of our top health priorities. As communities, we will be implementing strategies to address the three top areas: mental illness/well-being, adverse childhood experiences, and alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.


Q&A: JENNIE MARCUS

Q: Tell us about Copperleaf and the services you provide. A: Vista Prairie at Copperleaf provides assisted living services, memory

care and care suites for older adults. Residents are served by a 24-hour staff, on-site nursing services and an emergency response system, along with our great culinary service, innovative activities and transportation service. Copperleaf’s Assisted Living apartments serve seniors who value their independence, yet want access to affordable personal care and supportive services. Our 55 one- and two-bedroom apartments are designed for seniors who want a social environment with few responsibilities but with easy access to senior care services. Memory Care Suites provide a long-term option for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia. We offer 20 studiostyle apartments with private bathrooms, designed to allow residents to maintain independence in a secure, nurturing environment. Copperleaf’s Care Suites are designed as a private neighborhood with common spaces for those requiring the highest level of senior care. Care Suites provide a temporary option for individuals recovering from surgery or illness or who need enhanced assisted living services.

Q: Where do you fit into the overall spectrum of services for older adults?

A:

Our mission is built around two words, compassion and joy. We provide a lifestyle that older adults tell us they want. This includes compassionate care, delivered by a professional and dedicated staff, and a joy-filled environment where residents and families enjoy a full life. A smile, a caring touch, a warm embrace are all examples of the compassionate care that residents receive. Our resident assistants have a genuine concern for those around them and are creative in how to brighten someone’s day. We are like a small neighborhood. Everyone knows and cares about each other. Copperleaf is a place where people do fun things together. We offer many programs and activities including movies, culinary club, music and cards to satisfy our residents’ wide range of interests. We also host regular excursions such as dine-outs, shopping and casino trips. Our community offers spacious areas such as around our grand piano, grand loft, movie theater, pub room and exercise room for people to congregate and share joy. Our location on the north end of Willmar is near Robbins Island Regional Park. In addition to the handy park access, our landscaping includes patios, ponds and raised garden beds, treating visitors and residents to an inviting outdoor environment.

Vista Prairie at Copperleaf, Willmar; executive director

Q:

Who is your target population and what are their needs?

A:

We serve older adults and their families. Our 24hour staffing provides a continuous level of care that includes health supportive services, activity programs focused on daily life skills and assistance with personal care. Copperleaf’s individualized service packages allow residents to receive the level of assistance that best fits their needs. Our range of apartment styles makes it possible for each person to bring “home” with them as their needs for assisted living change. Memory care offers guided daily living activities designed to awaken the senses and provide social, physical and emotional support. In our care suites, individual service plans are specifically designed for each resident to receive a higher level of care in a smaller living unit.

Q: What are some of the greatest challenges in your industry?

A: We see three major issues.

With the rising challenge of seniors with limited financial resources, other funding sources, public and private, will need to be developed industry-wide to meet the rising needs. Providing safe and high-quality services is a priority. The Leading Age Safe Care for Seniors program is a formal declaration of our promise to treat people with the dignity and respect they deserve. In our tight labor market, we need to find, train and compensate people fairly to serve our residents.

Q:

What are some of the opportunities and innovations you see for the future?

A:

Innovations include a rounding physician, so that when residents are ill they do not need to leave their home to go to the doctor. We are currently developing a restorative exercise program for residents who have had a recent physical decline. We have a Veterans Wall and recently developed a Flag Memorial Garden. We see opportunities in community education on aging well. We work with the West Central Dementia Awareness Network to bring education to the community on dementia and expand resources for aging well. We see opportunities to prepare for the needs of the (baby) boomer generation and to incorporate technology. We also have fundraising opportunities: We’re currently seeking donations to buy a trishaw bike so we can take residents on excursions in the park.

IMPACT | 49


Fast Facts:

HEALTH CARE When it comes to how healthy we are, not all Minnesota counties fare equally. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s annual rankings placed Lac qui Parle County eighth-best on the list in positive health outcomes in 2019.

MEEKER COUNTY CHIPPEWA COUNTY KANDIYOHI COUNTY SWIFT COUNTY YELLOW MEDICINE COUNTY RENVILLE COUNTY

#22 #31 #34 #60 #63 #66

Numerous factors are weighed for the rankings, including socioeconomics and community resources.

50 | IMPACT

Health care is one of the largest sectors of the regional economy. In Kandiyohi County, approximately

ONE IN EVERY FOUR TO FIVE JOBS IS IN HEALTH CARE.

Some of the job categories in highest demand in the region are in health care support: personal care attendants, home health aides and medical assistants. There’s also growing demand for health care administrators and managers. According to the Minnesota Hospital Association, in 2017 Minnesota hospitals and health systems contributed nearly $5.2 billion in programs and services to benefit the health of their communities. Services ranged from tobacco cessation and weight loss to medical research and education of the future health care workforce. The challenge of sustaining the rural health care workforce has led to a greater focus on interdisciplinary care. Patient care increasingly is delivered by teams that include physician assistants, nurse practitioners, dental therapists and other allied professionals in addition to physicians.

A 2017 Minnesota Rural Health Association survey lists

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52 | IMPACT

SPORTS & RECREATION


Sports, recreation

add to overall well-being

A

community’s sports and recreation activities can contribute to the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of a community, according to many experts. In the words of Willmar Parks and Recreation Director Rob Baumgarn, “They help instill discipline, teamwork, healthy habits, cultural diversity and social interaction within the participants.” Youth involvement can “assist in their overall well-being and make them a well-rounded young individual.” In west central Minnesota, opportunities abound and go far beyond the broad array of sports offerings at area high schools and community colleges. As the area moves into the next decade, options for sports and recreation keep growing. Soccer has been a growing sport in the area in recent years, spurred by immigrants from countries where the sport is very popular. Soccer is a yearround activity in many communities, too. When the weather turns cold, leagues move indoors and use school gyms. The city of Willmar is currently considering developing pickleball courts. As new interests develop, area communities are sure to do what they can to meet the demands. County parks in the area offer camping, swimming, boat ramps and other amenities. City parks offer a variety of activities, including disc golf courses, tennis and basketball courts and access to trails. Willmar’s Robbins Island Regional Park has a Destination Playground which was designed by children. The city also has a bike-rental program with racks at several of its parks. The Glacial Lakes State Trail is popular with visitors. It’s located on a former Burlington Northern railroad

grade and is paved for 22 miles between Willmar, Spicer, New London, Hawick and the Kandiyohi/Stearns county line. The trail provides access to lakes, towns and businesses along its route. In the summer, many communities are involved with town baseball teams and a variety of summer programs, including organized educational and recreational activities for children at community parks. Swimming is popular at area beaches and pools. Several communities have outdoor pools, with the communityoperated Dorothy Olson Aquatic Center in Willmar being the largest. In the winter, hockey takes over, with hockey arenas in the area busy from morning to night with youth hockey, high school teams and adult skating. Willmar is also home to two teams offering college-level baseball and developmental youth hockey — the Willmar Stingers of the Northwoods League and the Willmar Warhawks in the North American 3 Hockey League. Northwoods League players are college-level baseball players with NCAA eligibility remaining who spend their summers playing in the league. The Warhawks, a more recent addition, are a youth developmental team. The league works to prepare young players for college hockey. State parks offer hiking trails, fishing, swimming and camping for the novice or experienced outdoors people. Naturalists lead educational programs and nature walks. The parks also offer some stellar birdwatching and a wide variety of native plants and flowers to enjoy and photograph. Terri Dinesen, manager of Lac qui Parle State Park near Watson in Chippewa County, calls her park “a quiet place to get exercise, enjoy the great outdoors, swim, fish and otherwise add to the quality of our lives.”

IMPACT | 53


Q&A: TERI DINESEN Lac qui Parle State Park, manager

Q:

What types of recreation are available at Lac qui Parle State Park?

A: The most common activities at the park are:

Fishing: Lac qui Parle Lake is popular for both shore fishing and by boat. Camping: Lac qui Parle State Park is one of only four campgrounds in the Minnesota State Park System with full hookups. The amenities are the full range from rustic group camping to full hookups and three camper cabins. The park is also authorized to offer five seasonal sites for which there is a drawing system for the opportunity. Birding: Lac qui Parle State Park is nestled into the much larger public land base of the Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area which has been determined to be an important birding habitat for waterfowl and for prairie birds.

Q:

What activities are most popular in summer? In winter?

A: Fishing, camping, birding, hiking and exploring in summer.

Cross country skiing, snowshoeing and ice fishing in winter.

Q: Where do your visitors come from? A: All over the state and also from out of state. The majority

of our campers are from within our region. Our group camps are popular with overnight visitors from all over the state.

Q: How does our area benefit from the presence of state parks?

A:

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers does not offer overnight camping; however, hundreds of shore fishermen visit every weekend to fish the Lac qui Parle dam. Lac qui Parle State Park offers overnight facilities of all types to accommodate visitors to our area. Our overnight visitors spend an average of $25 per person per day in our local area for gas, groceries and other items. The park offers a quiet place to get exercise, enjoy the great outdoors, swim, fish and otherwise add to the quality of our lives. Lac qui Parle State Park and the larger Lac qui Parle Wildlife Management Area provide habitat for the unique prairie plants and animals who require a largely treeless landscape to thrive.

Q: What is your favorite park activity? A: I like cross country skiing, kayaking and photographing

blooming prairie flowers and grasses.

54 | IMPACT


Q&A: ROB BAUMGARN

Q:

What are the most popular activities your department offers in summer? In winter?

Willmar Parks and Recreation, director

A:

The most popular activities we offer in the summer are T-ball, kinderball, baseball and softball for all ages. We have several adult and youth leagues that we oversee. They are staple sports and tend to have a lot of participants every year. In the winter, basketball, hockey and wrestling are the popular activities for all ages and populations. We provide a wide range of activities from open gun range times, to pickleball and open curling.

Q: What ages do your programs reach? A: Our programs are designed for anyone ages 3 to 65-plus. Our ages are so diverse due to the wide variety of programs we offer. Ranging from Sports Sampler for 3- to 5-year-olds, to adult softball leagues which bring in an active older adult population ranging from mid-20s to 65 and older.

Q:

Do you believe the community’s diversity is represented in the activities you offer?

A:

We try to offer activities that will appeal to a wide range of interests. We have seen an increase in diverse populations in some of our recreation activities. The public is always welcome to bring ideas forward that would be of interest to our community.

Q:

How important to the Willmar community are the operations of your department?

A:

We provide basic fundamental skills for the youth, as well as more advanced programs for the elementary to high school age group. We believe that participating in recreational activities are building blocks to a healthy lifestyle, and are essential for the members of the Willmar community to flourish together.

Q: What do sports and recreation opportunities offer to any community?

A:

Sports and recreation play a big role in every community. They help instill discipline, teamwork, healthy habits, cultural diversity and social interaction within the participants. We are very grateful to have good staff members that care about our youth so much that they want to help assist in their overall well-being and make them a well-rounded young individual.

IMPACT | 55


Fast Facts:

SPORTS & RECREATION MINNESOTA’S STATE PARKS

BY THE NUMBERS

MOST VISITED STATE PARKS IN 2019: Gooseberry Falls – 756,704 visitors Fort Snelling – 558,926 visitors Itasca – 478,146 visitors Tettegouche – 478,146 visitors

67 State parks

Split Rock Lighthouse – 394,972 visitors

9 Recreation areas

OLDEST STATE PARK:

9 Waysides 4,382 Total campsites 227 Horse campsites

Itasca State Park, established April 20, 1891 Sibley State Park is celebrating its 100th birthday in 2019. Source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

103 Group camps 97 Water access sites 950 Archaeological and historic cemetery sites 600 Buildings on the National Register of Historic Places

STATE PARK STATISTICS 9.7 million average visitors each year, mostly day use 19 percent visitors from other states and countries 1.1 million average number of campers each year Average party size of Minnesotans visiting a state park 2.8 The median age of Minnesota visitors 51 Median age of Minnesota population 38 Age range of visitors: 46% 41 and older; 23% 19 to 40; 8% teens; and 24% children Source: Minnesota Department of Natural Resources

56 | IMPACT

Five most popular high school sports in Minnesota

GIRLS

Volleyball, 16,379 participants Track and Field, 16,039 participants Fast-Pitch Softball, 13,240 participants Basketball, 12,088 participants Cross Country, 9,130 participants

BOYS

Football, 25,010 participants Track and Field, 17,050 participants Baseball, 13,778 participants (includes girls) Basketball, 13,725 participants Soccer, 9,419 participants Source: Minnesota State High School League 2015-16 annual report


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Trend of new churches

starting small, growing being repeated

W

hen Norwegian immigrants settled in northern Kandiyohi County in the late 1850s, pioneer children were baptized in dugouts or log cabins by a circuit preacher who rode a horse from settlement to settlement in the vast, undeveloped areas of Minnesota. In 1868, the settlers living around Norway Lake formed a Norwegian Lutheran congregation, hauled logs from their groves, built a small log church on the prairie and hired a pastor who was born in Norway and educated in America. Services were conducted and hymns sung in the language of their homeland. By 1875 the number of settlers and church members expanded and eventually six new, bigger church buildings and congregations grew from that little log church to become part of a major Lutheran synod. The story of new churches starting small and growing is being repeated again today. New churches are popping up in closed school buildings, vacant shopping malls and warehouses throughout rural Minnesota. Some new churches share worship space with businesses or schools that aren’t open on Sundays. Most of the new growth is happening in evangelical Protestant, non-denominational churches that don’t function under an umbrella synod. While that growth is exciting to people of faith, the overall number of Americans attending church is declining. The decline is primarily because attendance at mainline Protestant and Catholic churches is decreasing. According to a 2015 report from the Pew Research Center, Christians still make up about 70% of the American population, but that’s an 8% decrease from 2007. The report indicates the decrease is primarily because there’s been a 3.4% decrease in people going to mainline Protestant churches and a 3.1% decrease in

60 | IMPACT

people going to Catholic churches. During that same timeframe, the number of people who are not affiliated with any church increased 6.7%. The number of non-Christian churches has remained stable or is growing in the U.S., according to the Pew report. Jewish membership has seen little to no decline in numbers. The number of Muslims increased half of a percent since 2007 and makes up about 1% of the American population. Mosques are now found in rural communities like Willmar, which is host to an active mosque located in a former elementary school building. A 2010 U.S. Religion Census indicates that while the number of mainline Protestant church members is decreasing, the number of non-denominational evangelical Protestant churches is growing. The Open Door Christian Church is an example of that kind of new church. Less than 20 years old, this congregation started out as a Bible study in a coffee shop, moved to a warehouse in the industrial park in New London and two years ago purchased a 71acre Bible camp that had closed where the congregation now meets for contemporary services and a variety of events. Catholic Church membership has also decreased in the U.S., according to the Pew report and Religion Census, but it remains the largest denomination in the U.S. Members of rural Minnesota Catholic churches, who may attend traditional Mass at older, stately church buildings, have adjusted in response to a shortage of priests and resources by working together with churches in neighboring towns. The Catholic churches in Brooten, Belgrade and Elrosa that operate as a three-parish group is an example of this trend. Church leaders of all faiths say churches must continue to evolve to meet the changing needs of their members and their communities where a growing number of people do not attend church.


FAITH & RELIGION

IMPACT | 61


Q&A: BOB LEUKAM Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa Catholic Churches, parish business administrator

Q: What are people looking for from their church today?

A:

A place where they can feel comfortable at their own level. Not everyone comes to Mass without “baggage.” Some people carry a heavy load and they need a place to bring this to. We need to let them know they are in the best place they can be right now – and that is attending Mass and receiving the Eucharist.

Q:

How can the church meet the unique needs of elderly members while also attracting young people and families?

A:

Nothing makes me happier than seeing children come to church. I am a grandfather and have 11 grandchildren … nothing makes me happier than seeing these youngsters come to Mass. Most of the elderly I have encountered feel the same way, I imagine that all aches and pains of the day disappear when a child sings to Jesus. We also need to have all our churches handicappedaccessible on the entry doors as well as space for them in the congregation. This means that we don’t push them off to a corner out of the way but remove some pews so the elderly can sit with family even if they are wheelchair bound.

Q:

How is your parish responding to the shortage of clergy in rural Minnesota and making use of existing resources, like church buildings?

A:

Q:

Overall, fewer people are attending church now than in the past. How can churches respond?

A:​ By praying together as a community for the people who decide

not to attend any church. Through this prayer people will respond. They might not come to your church but will attend somewhere, and at least to check it out, and that is where the second item comes in. Hospitality. When people come to check out a service, it is ever so important that they feel welcomed. No matter where they came from, they are in the church and the people are this church. They need to feel like this is a place they want to come back to, bringing their family and friends. This hospitality can never be underestimated. It needs to be genuine – not overdoing it but respectful, so when they leave, they remember it all day. The gospel needs to be reflected upon in the homily. This is what people will remember. If the Gospel is just proclaimed with no reflection on it in the homily, then it won’t linger in their hearts for the week after until they come back again.

Area Catholic Churches, or ACC, will help our parishes grow. It’s not about closing buildings, like businesses do, we’re not a business. As long the church practices the three “H’s” Hospitality, Hymns and Homilies, there is no reason to believe that any of our churches will close, rural or otherwise. ACC is allowing us to share resources and save on staff numbers needed to run just one parish, but maybe they can help with three or more parishes. Also, there is technology space that can be shared, as maybe one building has room for religious education, and one building is set up for retreats, etc. We need to pray for our priests, we need to pray for our deacons, we need to pray for our families, that they stay open to idea of one of their children being called to religious life. Focus on coming to the Eucharist, and then go out and build disciples.

Q: What roles will churches play in the lives of their members and communities in the future?

A:

The church is the people, the people are the body of Christ, and these people will play a huge part in the future of our communities. If these people focus on the Eucharist more than themselves, then our church buildings will be filled to the brim. Includes St. Donatus in Brooten, St. Francis De Sales in Belgrade and Saints Peter & Paul in Elrosa

62 | IMPACT


Q&A: STEVE BAAKE

Q:

Overall, fewer people are attending church now than in the past. How can churches respond?

Open Door Christian Church, pastor

A:

Churches exist in a competitive marketplace and healthy competition is good. The reality is churches today have to compete with many other activities and interests. That’s not a bad thing. In my experience, while people may be less dedicated to churches or to religion, they are more spiritually hungry than ever. The greatest strength the Christian church has to offer is the unchanging truth of the life, death and resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ. The Bible talks about Jesus being “good news.” People are incredibly hungry for good news that makes a real difference. People can tell in a heartbeat if we are simply trying to please an audience or if we really believe the message we proclaim. How do we respond? By staying close to the simple basics of teaching God’s word as it is presented to us in the Bible.

Q:

What are people looking for from their church today?

A:

People are searching for the same answers and the same sense of authentic connection that people have been searching for since the beginning of time. Our short history as a church tells us that people want biblical truth, real hope, a sense of connection and belonging to something bigger and more significant than the struggles, stress and pressure of the world we live in. Each of those deep desires finds fulfillment through a relationship with Jesus and his church. People want to know and experience God in an authentic and personally relevant way.

Q: How can the church meet the unique needs

Q:

Your church is less than 20 years old and started out as a Bible study in a coffee shop, moved to a warehouse and is now located at a former Bible camp purchased by the congregation. What are the challenges and opportunities for a young, growing church in rural Minnesota?

A:

People have a lot of stereotypes. It’s one way we try to make sense of the world, but sometimes it gets in the way of the truth. Because our church is not part of any denomination, some people struggle to understand where we fit into their grid of religious categories. I understand that. I’d love to have those people come experience our church for themselves. Each Sunday we say, “Here are three things you will always find at The Open Door Christian Church: Our messages come straight out of the Bible. We are people of prayer, and we’d love to pray with you. And we love to worship together.” Those three simple things are a compass heading for us. Perhaps the biggest challenge and opportunity is to stay true to being exactly who God has called us to be.

Q:

What roles will churches play in the lives of their members and communities in the future?

A:

We love thinking about this question! We see a trend of churches being a part of their community in a new way rather than as isolated gatherings within the community. We are committed to be a congregation that lifts up the culture we see Jesus representing – one of love, service and devotion to Him. We know people want biblical messages relevant to their everyday lives. Healthy, growing churches are going to be looking for ways to serve the world around them. The church of the 21st century is going to look a lot more like the church of the first century as we see in the New Testament book of Acts. Why? Because after he rose from the dead, Jesus told his disciples, “As the Father sent me, so I am sending you.” We have the great privilege of imitating Jesus by speaking truth and showing real love to the world around us.

of elderly members while also attracting young people and families?

A: Old or young, we all have deep needs. We live

in a world that is constantly separating us by age, race, income and a hundred other measures. The church needs to connect people across generations and demographics. Bottom line, we need each other. One of the greatest sources of wisdom and Christian experience is held by the church’s more elderly members. Deep, caring relationships provide a way for one valuable generation to pass the baton to the next with grace, wisdom and love, and we pursue those connections in a very intentional way. I am so humbled and encouraged when I look out and see a vibrant mix of all kinds of people – infants through the very old, teens, single adults, families, the financially well-off and those who are struggling economically, people of different races. It’s a beautiful picture of God’s artistry and love for this incredibly diverse world.

IMPACT | 63


Fast Facts:

RELIGION ROLE OF RELIGION IN US ALMOST 8 IN 10 IDENTIFY WITH A RELIGION

74% 5% 21%

THE

TOP FIVE LARGEST DENOMINATIONS ARE:

Catholic Church

68 million members

Southern Baptist Convention 16 million members

United Methodist 7.6 million members

identify with a Christian religion

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints 6 million members

identify with a non-Christian religion

Church of God in Christ

5.5 million members (Source:National Council of Churches, 2012 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches)

have no religious identity, an increase from 15% in 2008 Christianity is the largest religion in the U.S., 70% of population

53% 72%

say religion is “very important� in their lives

The Catholic Church is the largest denomination Non-Christian faiths, (Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, other world religions), 6% of population

say religion is losing its influence in U.S. society (Source: 2016 Gallup Poll)

64 | IMPACT

Protestants (including denominations such as Methodists, Lutherans, Pentacostal and Evangelical churches) have the largest number of members

Unaffiliated, including atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular, 23% of population (Source: Pew Research Center)


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SHOPPING 68 | IMPACT


No matter how you shop, you can do it until you drop

P

robably no industry has been more impacted by the internet and technology than retail. Whether it is Amazon, smartphones or the changing interiors at area shopping centers, how and what we buy has definitely evolved over the years and most likely will continue to do so. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there was $1.3 trillion in retail sales in the first quarter of 2019, with $137.7 billion coming from online sales. The yearly national total in 2018 was approximately $3.8 trillion, so it is obvious Americans like to shop. In the local region, shoppers have a variety of choices, from the Kandi Mall in Willmar to unique boutique stores in towns such as New London and Litchfield as well as dollar discount and thrift stores throughout the area. The big-box stores still have a sizable presence in Willmar and other larger towns, though the last few years have brought changes. Stores have closed or gone out of business completely – Sears, Herberger’s, Payless Shoes – while others have moved in, including PetSmart and Hobby Lobby. The biggest retail news to hit the Willmar Lakes Area is the arrival of Kohl’s, which is scheduled to open in early October in the Kandi Mall. Boutique stores are a draw as well. In addition to the well-known shopping experience along state Highway 9 Northeast in New London, there are also unique clothing and home decor stores in Willmar, Litchfield, Granite Falls and others. Repurposing old furniture, clothes and jewelry is popular business, and items can be purchased in a variety of places. Since the Great Recession in 2008, thrift stores and discount dollar stores have been a popular option for those on a budget – or just looking for a good deal. Dollar General has opened several new stores including in Renville and Hector, which join

locations in many of the small towns in the region. Thrift stores can also be found throughout the area, providing not only low prices but an everchanging shopping experience. There is also an uptick in stores having some sort of online presence. Approximately 10.2 percent of all retail sales in the United States come from online shopping, and that number continues to grow, according to the Census Bureau. Many small businesses at least have a Facebook account to reach the online audience, while other businesses operate a specially designed website to fit their online needs. Larger box stores are increasing the ways they do business online and in store. For example, the newly remodeled Target in Willmar has improved its order pickup area, to make it easier for online shoppers to pick up their purchases. As the need for websites and e-commerce strategies increases, so do the business opportunities for web design and marketing firms. Such companies not only help design websites for clients, but also help construct an e-commerce plan for those businesses, to help them be successful online. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, the region that includes Kandiyohi, McLeod, Meeker and Renville counties, has approximately 467 retail establishments, providing jobs for around 6,269 people, the thirdlargest employment sector. While there has been some loss of jobs with the closure of some businesses, retail overall continues to be an important part of the regional economy. While retail continues to change as the years go by, there doesn’t seem to be any fear Americans will stop shopping. It’s how they shop that continues to change. IMPACT | 69


Q&A: DEANN ROTHSTEIN DeAnn’s Country Village Shoppe, owner

Q: ​

How did DeAnn’s Country Village Shoppe get started?

A:

​Thirty-some odd years ago I, my husband and our six children made and did many craft shows. I started my own business doing home party shows. When Litchfield was down two gift shops, my husband found me a building and said now or never. We cashed in an insurance policy and the rest is history.

Q:

What do you think are the reasons you have been successful and in business for so long?

A:

​​We have just started our 29th year in business in downtown Litchfield. Some of our success has come from our loyal customers who come from all over. Some we only see once a year as they come home from another country. We do everything possible to accommodate our customers the best we can. To the point that, last year, I had to sell the dress right off my back. Our constantly changing inventory and displays are a definite asset.

Q:

​How has your business changed as the overall retail industry has changed?

​A:

​We have been through the heights of the collectibles to the lows of the economy and now the struggles of internet shopping. Of course, I’m not a fan, especially when I see our customers become friends and almost family. People are moving away from the social aspect of being out and about and running into their friends and neighbors. We have expanded our business a few times from owning one building to two. Featuring many different ideas to now having a quilt shop with hundreds of bolts of fabric, notions, patterns, all because some customers talked me into carrying thread when the Ben Franklin store closed.

Q: ​How have you implemented online shopping or the internet into your business?

A: ​​We do have a website and we do plenty of

social networking through Facebook. We do fill some orders that way, but it’s nothing like the personal touch and getting to know new people.

70 | IMPACT

Q: ​How do you decide what goes into your store? A: ​​We attend the Minneapolis gift mart, along with the Atlanta and Las

Vegas winter gift shows. Some companies we do through in-store reps. I shop for things I like based on prices, needs and quality. Sometimes I may not even like a product, but it has some of my customers’ names written all over it. Many times the styles and fashions predict much of this, like HGTV.

Q: ​

Why do you still want to do this work? What makes it special and enjoyable?

A:

​​I truly love my job and now work with my husband every day. The people I have met along the way are priceless. Our customers, employees and reps from market have become close friends. My employees deserve so much credit. They each bring some wonderful talents to our business. We have met what has become two of our dearest friends, they started out consigning in our store, since then they opened their own store in New London. Best part of the year is spending a week at market with them. It’s great to be able to bounce things off of each other and discuss business stuff, as well as family. Many reps tell us we have a very unique relationship.

Q: ​

What do you think the future will be for DeAnn’s and other stores like it?

​A: ​Retail in our type of business is very challenging right now – tariffs,

economy, weather – all play an intricate part of surviving. My husband feels like if small stores can weather the closing of so many big-box and chain stores, people will come back to the experience and satisfaction of shopping small towns again. Of course our biggest personal challenge will be next year’s road construction through downtown. God has truly blessed us with many gifts and talents and being able to share that with others is such a blessing. Our motto when we started out – DeAnn’s Country Village where every gift is special and every home unique.


Q&A: JUSTIN MATTERN

Q:

Tell me a bit about the history of E*Tap and the services your company offers.

E*Tap Marketing, founder

A:

E*Tap Marketing was started in 2000 to fill a local need for website development, search engine optimization and e-commerce services. While the technologies and tactics used in each of those areas has changed dramatically over the years, they still remain the core offerings of our business today. The majority of our clients are within Kandiyohi County but we also have clients scattered in numerous states from coast to coast.

Q: How has the changing retail

landscape changed your business?

A:

Mobile access to the web has been a large contributor to the growth of online shopping. Nearly everyone has instant access from anywhere to browse and research every product or service they are interested in. As a result, we have seen a shift in how websites must cater to providing relevant information in a consistent manner. Regardless of whether a site offers online purchasing capabilities, it is important to provide as much valuable content as possible in an organized fashion. If a potential customer doesn’t find the information they are looking for, they are going to move on very quickly. Developing sites to meet these requirements and to make them available on a variety of platforms (desktop, tablet, phone, etc.) has been an evolving process.

Q: What goes into creating

a retail website?

A:

Not all retail websites necessarily have online purchasing available. Additional planning considerations are required for those that do have some type of shopping cart system. A number of factors come into play such as shipping requirements, tax rates, geographic availability, and laws that could potentially regulate particular products. All of these things need to be considered along with making sure that you develop a site structure that is easy to navigate and searchable. There are also system backend concerns such as order management, customer care, sales tracking and reports, re-marketing programs, accounting integration and more. Some websites may have a relatively simplistic system while others can grow incredibly complex. We customize each platform to our clients’ needs; therefore, no two systems are alike.

Q: Are there certain trends

or new technology in regard to retail web design?

A:

Both trends and technologies are constantly changing and there is an expectation to balance the proper use of what is current without becoming too quickly outdated. For instance, integration of social media platforms is a key component for most websites today. Different platforms have their own purpose and not all of them are necessarily the right fit for every business. It’s important to evaluate each business on what they offer, how far they intend to reach and who their target audience is.

Q:

What are retail customers looking for in the website of a business?

A:

Information should be wellorganized and in an aesthetically pleasing format. They want to see a reputable company with ease of content accessibility and be able to get past anything on the website that they may not be interested in. Ultimately, they want to be able to conduct their business through your site, if at all possible.

Q:

What advice do you give retailers looking at going online for the first time?

A:

Be informed about what your customers are looking for and what your competition is doing. Be prepared to plan, along with your developer or marketing team, in order to prioritize your online needs.

Q: How important is having a successful e-commerce strategy for a business?

A:

In most cases it’s incredibly important. There are always exceptions and there is a great degree of difference based on business size, market penetration, industry served and the specific goals of each company. There is a growing expectation of being able to conduct business online, so the more that you are able to make goods or services available, the broader the reach that you’ll be able to have.

Q: Do you think it is possible in today’s

age for a business to succeed without an online presence?

A:

Yes. I’m still amazed at the number of hidden gems that flourish in the business world. However, just because there are exceptions to a rule doesn’t mean that the rule still doesn’t apply to the majority. In most cases having a current website can and should provide remarkable value to your business.

IMPACT | 71


Fast Facts:

SHOPPING 467 RETAIL ESTABLISHMENTS

IN KANDIYOHI, MCLEOD, MEEKER AND RENVILLE COUNTIES

6,269 jobs regionally

8 OF 10 American shoppers buy online, 15 percent buy online weekly

59% of shoppers 65 and older purchase items online

$154,687 in payroll regionally $770 million in gross retail sales in Kandiyohi County *Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development

$3.8 trillion in retail sales (minus auto and auto parts sales) in 2018 nationwide

ONLINE SHOPPING

$137.7 billion in e-commerce sales in the first quarter of 2019 nationally

77% of online shoppers between the ages of 18 and 29 use cellphones to shop online * Pew Research Center

*United States Census Bureau

APPROXIMATELY

70 DIVERSE BUSINESSES IN WILLMAR,

about 12% of the total

31 are East African

16,200

foreign-born entrepreneurs call Minnesota home

27 Latino

8 Asian

$289 million

in the state’s business income generated by foreign-born businesses

*Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission

72 | IMPACT


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Tourism is an economic driver for Kandiyohi County and region

S

igns advising motorists entering Kandiyohi County that this is “where the lakes begin” speak to just how much the county values tourism. It’s for good reason. Tourism accounted for more than $98 million in gross sales in Kandiyohi County in 2017, and provided 1,723 private sector jobs, according to Explore Minnesota. Its economic impact can be seen as well by the continued investments being made in the infrastructure that helps make this industry possible, such as the $7.8 million expansion this year at the Little Crow Country Club between New London and Spicer. Kandiyohi County’s natural resources, its vibrant arts community, its historical and agricultural attributes, and its growing hospitality industry are the backbone of the tourism industry. The Willmar Lakes Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is responsible for marketing the area. Sibley State Park is among the county’s biggest attractions. It hosts as many as 300,000 visitors a year. The county park system, private resorts, and attractions including Green Lake and Robbins Island Regional Park all help make the county a tourism destination for the region. Tourism is a multifaceted industry, and like Kandiyohi County, neighboring counties also realize economic benefits by tapping the resources they offer. To the west, four of the Upper Minnesota River Valley counties – Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine – market themselves together under the banner of Prairie Waters. Lac qui Parle Lake and the 22,000 acres of public lands surrounding it provide fishing and hunting opportunities that attract visitors from well beyond the region. The Watson Hunting Camp hosts and guides visitors from across the nation who come to enjoy the fishing and hunting in the area. The region’s small towns, historical sites and agricultural heritage are promoted, but the region also has major attractions by its own right. The Prairie’s Edge Casino Resort owned and operated by the Upper Sioux Community hosts thousands of visitors and provides some 300 jobs. Nearby, the Fagen Fighters Museum located at the Granite Falls Airport hosts visitors from around the country, and some from overseas. Explore Minnesota cited the museum as among the top three attractions for 2016 in the state. The Appleton off-highway vehicle park is another of the attractions that make the Prairie Waters area popular, and brings visitors from a wide area to the region. And by all measures, counties to the south, east and north of Kandiyohi County enjoy the benefits of tourism. Meeker County saw more than $19 million in gross sales associated with tourism in 2017. Pope County, home to the state’s seventh-largest lake in Lake Minnewaska, reported $15.7 million in gross sales.

78 | IMPACT


TOURISM IMPACT | 79


Q&A: MELISSA STREICH Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission, communications coordinator

Q:

What is the economic impact of tourism and recreation to counties participating in Prairie Waters?

A:

Attracting and retaining residents is key to the sustainability of the region. Before you become a local, you’re a visitor. Therefore, the impact of tourism and exposure of our region is substantial for recruiting new residents. Over the past couple of years, the scope of work for Prairie Waters shifted from only marketing the region as a tourism destination to also a great place to live, raise a family or start a business. Based on the Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission’s five-year assessment that was sent out to local elected officials throughout the five-county region, the top issue identified was marketing our communities/area to attract new residents, workers and families.

Q: What are the main assets promoted to attract visitors to the region? A: We strongly market our natural assets such as the open prairie, hunting,

fishing, rivers and lakes, off-highway vehicle parks, state parks. Along with unique assets such as boutiques, arts and history are the main draws to the area for visitors. Our way of life: such as slow-paced, no traffic or lines, low cost of living, being part of a community, low crime rate, broadband, smaller class sizes and more opportunities in sports for kids are a huge draw for new residents. And of course, our natural assets are a perk for the locals.

Q: What marketing strategies are employed to attract visitors? A: We have a core list of marketing materials we distribute as part of ongoing

outreach, along with new projects and ideas we launch each year. Materials are distributed by area Chambers of Commerce and travel information centers across the state, as well as the Mall of America. We promote our region on the Explore Minnesota state tourism website and send information to post-secondary schools and do mass mailings to help in recruiting employees. We maintain a website and active social media campaign, produce 10 videos to promote the region, and target our online advertise to reach people looking at real estate in the region. We maintain a robust mapping system online that has pin points for places to eat, stay, shop, or to enjoy our parks, arts and historical attractions.

Q: Where do the region’s visitors come from? A: Visitors come from throughout the state, and beyond. During the Meander

Art Crawl, nearly 50% of visitors come from outside of our counties, and 16% in 2018 came from out of state. In recruiting new residents, research by Ben Winchester, a research fellow at the University of Minnesota Extension Center for Community Vitality, suggests most rural Minnesota counties including those in Upper Minnesota Valley Regional Development Commission’s five-county region are really experiencing a “brain gain.” Statistics show that although our bright and talented youth are leaving for college, there is an influx of 35- to 44-year-olds that are coming into the region, bringing their education, experience, wealth and children. These data are what help drive our target market.

Q: What changes are you seeing in the tourism economy? A: People are really looking for experiences or unique shops rather than just

your standard shopping mall. Anything homemade, unique or farm-to-table and supporting local entrepreneurs is a trend we’re currently going through. When you can offer a location that is filled with natural assets and unique hidden gems, the economic impact follows with the purchase of food, gas, hotels, shopping, etc. You don’t need to have the Mall of America, or the biggest waterpark in the state: The key strategy is to market the unique things you can offer that those larger cities can’t.

Q:

Does building our tourism infrastructure provide benefits that improve the quality of life for all residents, and help attract new people to make this their home as well?

A:

Attracting and retaining residents is a key component for the sustainability of the region. Newcomers will fill jobs, start new businesses, populate the schools, become homeowners and taxpayers, and become new community leaders through our tourism and recruitment outreach. Relationships between employers, schools, health care facilities and local real estate agents are key to the overall success and sustainability of the program. These entities can benefit from one another by working together.

80 | IMPACT


Q&A: BETH FISCHER

Q:

What is the economic impact of tourism and recreation to the local economy?

Kandiyohi County Convention & Visitors Bureau, executive director

A:

​Travel and tourism is extremely important to the overall health of Kandiyohi County’s economy. It supports workers, businesses and families; creates jobs, expands our tax base and helps fund programs. It is the second-largest industry in our county, behind agriculture. Annually, tourism in Kandiyohi County generates $98,589,693 in gross sales and nets $6,380,173 in state sales tax. This economic activity supports jobs for 1,723 individuals in the leisure and hospitality sector in Kandiyohi County.

Q:

What are the main assets we offer in attracting visitors?

A:

Kandiyohi County is “where the lakes begin…” making the lakes one of our main assets that attract people to the area. With over 100 lakes in our area, people come to the Willmar Lakes Area to fish, swim, boat, kayak and enjoy our beautiful lake country. Green Lake in Spicer is one of the best recreational lakes in the state and we are fortunate to have it in our area. Others come to explore our scenic trails. We have miles of trails that allow visitors to bike, walk and hike throughout our area. Some of the favorite trails include the Glacial Lakes State Trail, the trails in Robbins Island, Eagle Lake Trail and the scenic road route around Green Lake. Along with the lakes and trails, we are home to a variety of great attractions, unique shops, festivals, events and outstanding sports and meetings facilities. All are important assets that draw visitors to the Willmar Lakes area.

Q:

What marketing strategies are employed to attract visitors?

A:

The Convention and Visitors Bureaumarkets the Willmar Lakes Area as a travel destination in over 50 different publications and media outlets throughout the Upper Midwest. We focus primarily on leisure travel, meetings and conventions, and sports business, enticing visitors and conference attendees to select our area for their next vacation or event. We attend several different sport shows and expos, allowing us the opportunity to visit firsthand with potential visitors to our area. We are very active on social media. Visitors and residents can engage with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest. We encourage people to connect with us by using #WillmarLakesArea. We also maintain a website, www.willmarlakesarea.com, that showcases all the things to do and see in Kandiyohi County.

Q:

Where do our visitors come from?

A:

We have visitors come to our area from all over the world, but the bulk of our visitors come from southern Minnesota, the Twin Cities metro area, Iowa, South Dakota and Nebraska.

Q:

What changes are you seeing in the tourismeconomy?

A:

Overall, tourism has held strong in Kandiyohi County. With the wet, late spring, we have experienced a later start to summer vacations this year.

Q:

Are there opportunities to grow our tourism economy, and what are they?

A:

Yes, we need to continue to invest in our tourism infrastructure and provide more things for people to do when they visit. Winter tends to be slower, so expanding on activities or events during these months is ideal. Another opportunity would be to increase the number of tournaments and conventions we host in the Willmar Lakes Area. If individuals are a part of an organization or association that hosts tournaments or conventions, please reach out to me: We would love to have them in our area.

Q:

Does building our tourism infrastructure provide benefits that improve the quality of life for all residents, and help attract new people to make this their home as well?

A:

Yes, definitely! They are so connected. It is a ripple effect. The tourism infrastructure draws people to our area, they enjoy the amazing amenities we have and it increases their likelihood of investing in business, purchasing a second home or moving to the area. Additionally, residents benefit as the substantial tax revenue that is generated from tourism funds roads, bridges, education, community festivals and the parks and trails in our area. Truly – everything starts with a visit!

IMPACT | 81


Fast Facts:

TOURISM $15.3 billion KANDIYOHI COUNTY saw more than

$98.5 MILLION in gross sales related to tourism in 2017.

TOURISM MAKES POSSIBLE

1,723

PRIVATESECTOR JOBS

IN KANDIYOHI COUNTY. Events like the 2018 Governor’s Fishing Opener provide invaluable exposure. Media stories on the 2018 opener in Kandiyohi County resulted in 2,518 media placements with an ad value of $1,171,165, and put stories about the area before an audience of

685,025,084

STATEWIDE, TOURISM GENERATED

IN GROSS SALES IN 2017, OR $42 MILLION A DAY IN SPENDING.

WESTERN MINNESOTA PRAIRIE WATERS HAS BEEN MARKETING THE REGION SINCE THE EARLY 1980S.

SUPPORTED BY CHIPPEWA LAC QUI PARLE SWIFT COUNTY YELLOW MEDICINE COUNTY AND THE COMMUNITIES OF

CLARA CITY MILAN, MONTEVIDEO DAWSON MADISON APPLETON CANBY CLARKFIELD BENSON GRANITE FALLS Information from Explore Minnesota and the Kandiyohi County Convention and Visitors Bureau

82 | IMPACT


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“The man who stops advertising to save money is like the man who stops the clock to save time.” - Thomas Jefferson

A

s the marketing manager at the West Central Tribune, I am a firm believer of that statement; as a manager, a wife and a mother of three, I also understand how valuable time truly is and also the importance of saving money and cutting costs. But the questions I would like to ask are: Are you cutting costs where you should be and saving time in the most effective way? I have spoken with many business owners, decision makers and so forth regarding their marketing. I commonly hear they either don’t have time, there is no one in the office to do the work, there is not enough in the budget and so on. This is why myself along with my highly trained sales team, strives in building partnerships with the businesses in our community by offering our expertise and ability to create you an effective multimedia campaign. By teaming up with our sales team, we help you every step of the way: ad creation, online placements, social media managing, video creation and much more. I am a firm believer in using frequent multimedia campaigns: print/online/ social media and to get the word out about your business products and services you have to offer our audience. Helping your business, product and service be the first thoughts on a consumer’s mind when thinking of your particular industry. Many consumers are unaware when they will need a business’s specific 84 | IMPACT

expertise. That is why myself and the sales team at the West Central Tribune strive at providing you the best frequency multimedia campaign to fit your budget. In order to ensure we are putting an effective campaign together, myself and the sales team are on an ongoing training program. With the ever-changing internet, social media, consumer purchasing and so forth it is important that our sales staff stays on top of the new trends in marketing, bringing our team to a higher level which will help bring your marketing campaigns to a higher level as well. Our marketing team is passionate about building a partnership with you and your business, while helping you build a relationship with our loyal audience. Thank you for all your continued support.

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IMPACT 2019: Building for the Future  

IMPACT: Building for the Future in Kandiyohi County and beyond - 2019

IMPACT 2019: Building for the Future  

IMPACT: Building for the Future in Kandiyohi County and beyond - 2019

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