Economic development is a difficult activity. Especially here in southern, rural Minnesota.
Let’s face some facts.
The economy, overall, is not in great shape. The State of Minnesota’s dire budget problems is pretty fair proof of that.
And, out here in good, old rural Minnesota, things ain’t so great, either.
Luckily the farmers had a pretty good year, because a lot of our economy still revolves around agriculture, here in what is affectionately termed ‘out state Minnesota.’
Sure, there are still pockets of activity. The Twin Cities. The strip from St. Cloud down through the cities to Rochester.
The larger cities still have a grip on some economic development. But the smaller towns often seem to be losing their grip on whatever they once had that passed for economic development.
I hate to be too gloom and doom, but sometimes reality sets in.
Take Faribault County, for instance. We have some nice manufacturing firms scattered about. A few in Blue Earth, a couple in Winnebago, some in Wells. A few have closed their doors, or moved on. But there are still some good ones left.
We could sure use some more, though.
As Travis Keister of the Faribault County Economic Development group told the Blue Earth City Council Monday night, it is all about jobs.
He’s right. Without them, we lose population and everything declines from there.
Getting those jobs is no easy task. Every small town — and bigger ones, too — is out there scratching for the same tidbits we are. And all of them are willing to do whatever it takes to get them. Tax incentives? You bet. Build them a new building? Of course.
Faribault County is surrounded by three bigger fish — Fairmont, Mankato and Albert Lea. A lot of potential business is going to be gobbled up by them before this county even gets close enough to make its pitch.
Does that mean we should abandon all hope, and abandon all economic development efforts — because they might be futile?
But, it probably means taking some risks. It may mean thinking of some different ways to grow business here. Or looking at different types of businesses, which may not be the old tool and die factory.
What it certainly means is a concerted effort is needed — by the whole county working together.
I agree with the former Go Minnesota directors who said it will take a countywide effort to do any type of positive economic development.
Oh sure, each city can have its own EDA committee, working on local projects, trying to help existing businesses.
But, for any type of big development, it is going to take an entire village — or in this case, an entire county.
It’s time to put territorial boundaries aside and decide to work together as one.
Because the alternative is continued decline.
Is the FCDC the answer? Hard to tell at this point in time. So far, they haven’t been able to get backing from across the county and without it, real success is going to be difficult to find.
I hope the City of Blue Earth gives them one more year to see what they can do.
But, I also hope the other communities in the county also give them support, so that they actually will be able to accomplish something.
No easy task.