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Bemidji welcomes Blandin Foundation

Every year the Blandin Foundation board of trustees visits a different part of Minnesota for the annual retreat.

Thanks to board member Jim Bensen, former Bemidji State University president and "Bemidji Leads!" chair, the Blandin Foundation came to Bemidji this week for its first time.

The Blandin Foundation's mission is to strengthen rural Minnesota. It focuses on four values - integrity, engagement, leadership and learning.

Learning was emphasized in Bemidji this week as trustees heard about a three-tiered approach to planning for the future of a community.

From a civics perspective, "Bemidji Leads!" explained its endeavors in developing and taking steps toward accomplishing 17 destiny drivers, or goals, to fulfill its goal of developing a healthy community, successfully balancing regional center amenities and small-town beauty and character.

"We have heard so much about 'Bemidji Leads!'" said board chair George Thompson. "It's a tremendous program."

Andy Wells from Wells Technology Inc. presented information from a business perspective. He also spoke about the Wells Academy, which is a specialized training school that teaches industrial skills and machinery knowledge to Native Americans.

And, to learn more about education and academics, trustees toured the Center for Research and Innovation Custom College, which features collaboration between Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College.

"We're really here to learn from Bemidji," said Jim Hoolihan, Blandin Foundation president.

He said the Blandin Foundation is learning from Bemidji how important it is for communities to consider those three aspects - civic, business and education - in planning for the future.

"All three come together," he said.

They also all support the Blandin Foundation's vision of healthy, rural communities grounded in strong economies where the burdens and benefits are widely shared, he said.

Both Hoolihan and Thompson said they especially were struck by the "Bemidji Leads!" belief that communities should plan from the future.

"Bemidji Leads!" brought the community together and planned for what it wanted its city to look like five, 10, 20 years in the future through its 17 destiny drivers, Thompson said.

The board heard about how "Bemidji Leads!" considered where the community wanted to go and planned for its future from that point.

"It's a very interesting and challenging idea," Thompson said.

The Blandin Foundation was founded in 1941. It strives to strengthen communities in rural Minnesota, and as such does not offer grants to the cities of Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester, Duluth, St. Cloud and Moorhead.

Two of the Blandin Foundation's current initiatives are to "Get Broadband" - which is dedicated to increasing the use of broadband-based technologies to make a community, its residents and its institutions more productive, efficient and competitive - and "Vital Forests, Vital Communities" - in which it promotes the connection between a healthy forest-based economy, a healthy forest ecosystem and healthy communities.

"This organization is extremely impactful on this state," Bensen said.