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GrowBemidji program seeks companies to locate in Bemidji area

A new program aims to convince existing businesses to branch out from their current sites and plant new locations in our region.

GrowBemidji is a three-year business-recruitment program that will strive to find quality, non-retail companies that will locate in the greater Bemidji area.

"It's probably the largest business-recruitment effort ever undertaken by the county or the city," said Larry Young, the executive director of the Joint Economic Development Commission. The JEDC will lead the project along with a steering committee made of partnering organizations.

GrowBemidji was officially launched on Friday as representatives ceremonially mailed the organization's first batch of postcards during a news conference.

Using a combination of direct mailings, a dedicated Web site at and personal phone calls, GrowBemidji plans to contact more than 1,000 specific businesses.

Each year, the organization will initially mail 1,000 postcards a quarter to targeted businesses, Young said. The mailings will promote the area, specifically its economic development assets such as the Airport Technology Park, the Bemidji Industrial Park and the Bemidji Technology Park.

The postcards are intended to grab the reader's attention. The theme of the recruitment effort is "Everything grows in Bemidji," so the postcards themselves are oversized. The accompanying photos depict decent-sized walleye alongside side a "Bemidji-sized," or oversized, walleye. Another has two regular Holstein milk cows standing next to Babe the Blue Ox's legs, barely reaching his knees.

"Hopefully, this will start planting the seed with companies to think about Bemidji," Young said.

Sixty companies will then be contacted with a direct phone call, Young said. These businesses also will receive a GrowBemidji promotional DVD and a DVD player, which will have "GrowBemidji" printed on it with a phone number and Web address.

The video promotes the business, educational and recreational opportunities in Bemidji. With speakers including Andy Wells, the president of Wells Technology Inc., and Jim Bensen, a "Bemidji Leads!" steward, the video outlines the advantages of locating or expanding a business into the greater Bemidji area.

"Everyone knows Minnesotans are nice," the narrator says. "Even more importantly, Minnesotans work hard."

While all of the businesses will be encouraged to come visit Bemidji, a smaller number of companies will receive visits from GrowBemidji officials and personalized tours of this region, Young said,

"We'll probably boil it down to about 10 that will have special recruitment efforts," he said.

These select businesses will receive a gift that promises to be unlike any other - a replica of Paul Bunyan's shirt, featuring red and black buffalo plaid, in size 24X.

Hopefully, the shirt will be too good to throw away, Young said. And, even better, employees will read the accompanying information in the front breast brocket.

The ultimate goal is to have one or two companies choose to locate in Bemidji, Young said.

The $90,000 program is funded in part by the JEDC, which has pledged to spend $10,000 a year for the next three years. Additionally, a $20,000 grant was obtained through the Minnesota Department of Aeronautics.

Companies chosen for targeting are within a 700-mile radius of Bemidji, Young said. This includes companies in Chicago, Ill., Omaha, Neb., and some Canadian cities, he explained.

"This is an important time for Bemidji," said Bemidji Mayor Richard Lehmann.

With the advancement of a global market, it's important that Bemidji "positions itself to be a part of it," he explained.

County Commissioner Joe Vene agreed, saying he believes the venture will be very successful.

"Geography is no longer going to be a barrier," he said.

GrowBemidj's roots were planted a year and a half ago, when the Bemidji Regional Airport Commission began considering ways to better promote the airport as an economic asset to area businesses.

The Headwaters Regional Development Commission was hired, and 40 regional businesses were contacted about how often they use the airport and how it contributes to their business.

The group began considering the type of businesses that it would like to see locating in the Bemidji Regional Airport Technology Park.

Eventually, a list of 1,000 potential businesses was developed.

Soon, it became apparent that the venture was not just about the airport, but the entire region, Young said.

A partnership was developed between the Bemidji Regional Airport, Beltrami County, the city of Bemidji, HRDC, Bemidji State University, the JEDC, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, Northwest Minnesota Foundation and Paul Bunyan Telephone. Also involved in the program were U.S. Reps. Colin Peterson and Jim Oberstar, and their aides.

"It does represent a united effort," Young said.

Everyone agreed to go in on a program that would aim to locate high-quality businesses and jobs in the greater Bemidji area.

To do so, it was determined that a marketing program was needed, and the group hired Anchor Marketing out of Grand Forks.

"A project like this is particularly exciting and very positive," said Oberstar's field representative, Melissa L. Samuelson, who attended Friday's news conference. "Bemidji is going in the right direction."