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Pioneer Viewpoints: A louder voice for rural Minnesota

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The board of Greater Bemidji is expected to vote soon on whether to join a new statewide group that says it will provide an outlet for rural Minnesotans when it comes to economic development issues.

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The Greater Minnesota Economic Development Partnership was formed this summer, ironically at the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities conference in Bemidji. The group aims to bring together cities, businesses and nonprofit organizations to better advocate for jobs and investment in greater Minnesota.

The board should get behind the effort. Any time citizens in greater Minnesota (read, not the Twin Cities) can have a greater voice in how economic development policy, funding and promotion are formed is a good thing.

"I've argued for quite some time that the state of Minnesota simply doesn't have a rural economic development strategy," Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji, told reporter Bethany Wesley last week. "We need one."

The Twin Cities long has had various lobbying groups, such as the Metropolitan Council, and many of them work together on long-term economic development goals, such as for tax policy, infrastructure spending and job creation or job training funding. And when those ideas come to fruition, it's the metro area that benefits.

Dan Dorman, a former state legislator who also is head of the Albert Lea economic development authority, is heading the Greater Minnesota Economic Development Partnership. As a former legislator, he knows the impact lobbying can have on policy decisions.

Better shaping those decisions to benefit all of Minnesota and not just the metro area is a good idea, locally and statewide. A more robust economy outside the Twins Cities not only helps local economies, but it also sends money back to St. Paul.

Another benefit of the partnership also can be simply another outlet for Bemidji to get its name out there. Companies, in-state or out, that are looking to expand or relocate to a Minnesota community surely will be on the partnership's radar. The partnership can be another way for Bemidji to showcase what it has to offer a prospective business or industry.

Food facts

Two meetings this week will discuss the Bemidji Community Food Shelf in particular and hunger in general. As Bethany Wesley reported on Sunday, use at the local food shelf has seen a nearly 12 percent increase in visits from the same time period in 2012. And overall, since 2010, the food shelf has seen about a 70 percent increase, officials said.

One way the food shelf is looking to increase its inventory is through its garden project, which could provide fresh produce for food shelf clients. The first meeting of the week will discuss the garden and how to make it a reality. That meeting is at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the food shelf, 1260 Industrial Park Drive SE.

The second meeting is a more general look at the issue of hunger in our society. Titled "Looking Towards the Future: Hopes, Dreams and Concerns," organizers want to expand on the food shelf garden project and talk about overall business operations of the food shelf. People are asked to bring a food dish to share. The meeting is set for 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at Calvary Lutheran Church, 2508 Washington Ave. S.

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