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2012 Annual Report: The race for people and jobs

BEMIDJI - The word "change" has virtually become a buzzword.

Not just for Bemidji and Beltrami County.

It's on the tip of the tongue for everyone who talks about virtually any substantial subject matter: politics, government, health care, business, economics and communications, including who and how we do it.

And with change comes a new set of challenges.

Dave Hengel, executive director for Greater Bemidji, knows the challenges well.

Greater Bemidji, the organization focused on economic development in the area, is faced with branding issues and getting the word out about Bemidji's strengths.

"It's an easy story to tell if you have the money to tell it," Hengel said.

A recent grant application, if approved, will make telling Bemidji's story easier, he said.

Never has telling the story been so important.

The Bemidji area, Hengel said, exports its talents. The community, through organizations like Greater Bemidji, must find ways to retain talent while recruiting new businesses and expanding the job pool.

He cites a change in people's priorities, spelled out in "The Coming Jobs War," a recent book penned by Gallup Chairman Jim Clifton.

"Humans used to desire love, money, food, shelter, safety, peace and freedom more than anything else," Clifton wrote in the book, which was profiled in a Gallup Business Journal article. "The last 30 years have changed us. Now people want to have a good job."

Hengel said that's why Bemidji needs to place top priority on job creation, growing its services and amenities, and attracting new people while retaining its youth.

He said economic development teeters between the race for people and the race for jobs.

"Once people have a job, good things happen," said Hengel, adding that economics drive quality of life investments. "Jobs and people are intertwined... Companies will go where there are people."

Inside today's Pioneer, a special section has been devoted to business and people. "Industries of Impact" is the focus of the newspaper's traditional Annual Report.

In it, the newspaper looks at industries - both traditional and emerging - that make up the Bemidji and Beltrami County economy, and the people who work behind the scenes.

One of the challenges facing Bemidji is providing potential employers with hard and fast data reflective of the community and its demographics.

The Village at South Shore, along the banks of Lake Bemidji, uses research from ESRI, which compiles market information based on historical data and projections for future growth.

Bemidji's market profile includes population numbers within 30-, 40- and 50-mile radiuses. In 2010, there were 100,245 people living within a 50-mile radius of Bemidji.

In terms of economic development, Hengel said Bemidji relies on providing the right type of market data to potential employers - both to show workforce numbers and enough people to support those jobs.

Further, the ESRI profile shows slow, sustained growth for the area, and consumer spending by household.

The numbers help support Hengel's goal of rebranding Bemidji as more than a tourist destination.

"Until people are here, they don't have the perception we need," he said. "People think of us as a small, rural center for tourists."

Tourism plays a large role in Bemidji's economy. But today's special section also shows there are other industries - including education, health care services, retail and manufacturing - employing thousands of area workers.

And while tourism provides a traditional backbone to the region's economy, many of those other industries have driven changes in Bemidji. Educational and workforce experts said changes will continue with globalization of markets and the economy.

Two recent additions to Bemidji's higher education institutions can attest to the changes locally.

From 2000-03, John Centko was dean of manufacturing, information technology and transportation at Northwest Technical College when it had five campuses in Bemidji, East Grand Forks, Moorhead, Detroit Lakes and Wadena.

In June, Centko took over duties as provost at NTC in Bemidji.

"I see a significant change in the feel and look of the community," said Centko, adding he plans to focus on growing local talent and fostering the partnerships between education and employment.

Martin Tadlock arrived in June as provost and vice president for academic affairs for Bemidji State University.

Tadlock also has prior ties to BSU, where he was dean of the College of Professional Studies and School of Graduate Studies from 2001-06.

One of the immediate changes Tadlock noticed upon his return was "the growth of the city."

He expects changes at BSU and within the city to help position the area for major change.

As those changes play out, Hengel said he is committed to telling the Bemidji story and reshaping the perception of those who don't live here.

"It's our biggest challenge right now," Hengel said.

Steve Wagner

Grand Forks Herald Editor Steve Wagner can be reached at 701.780.1104 and He joined the Herald in April 2013, and previously worked as editor at the Bemidji (Minn.) Pioneer and in several roles -- including news director, investigative reporter and crime reporter - at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. His reporting experience includes coverage of Dru Sjodin's disappearance and the federal death penalty case for her murderer, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., along with several investigative projects. In his spare time, Wagner is an avid runner and occasionally writes about his experiences on his blog, Addicted to Running.

(701) 780-1104