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HRDC wants communities to succeed

BAGLEY -- Helping communities succeed underlies everything the Headwaters Regional Development Commission does in north-central Minnesota.

"We used to think that what we did was provide assistance to local governments," says Cliff Tweedale, HRDC executive director. "What our customers really want from us is to provide leadership., which takes a lot of different forms."

In providing supportive services housing, it means taking a risk for an important project, he said. "Sometimes it means challenging communities to be maybe more than they think they can be."

Tweedale and other key staff were interviewed after the HRDC Board held its annual meeting Thursday evening in Bagley. The quasi-governmental agency is led by a commission -- "stewards" -- from the five member counties of Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Mahnomen and Lake of the Woods.

"We are about providing leadership," Tweedale said.

A city might ask the HRDC for help in filling out a grant application, he said. "They're not asking us to fill out the grant application, what they're really saying is we have a water system falling apart and we want you to help us solve our water system problem. Or, we want you to help us make our downtown better."

Providing leadership means finding real ways to accomplish things for communities, said Tweedale, only the second head of the 30-year-old entity.

That's a mission that has evolved over the last 10 years, but Tim Flathers says the entity's board has also evolved over the years.

"We go to the board and give them something that we think is going to challenge ourselves with some daunting goals that we're looking at," said Flathers, HRDC community development director. "At one point, our board would have said that's cool. Now our board says that's cool for now but their expectations are rising as well in a positive way."

Flathers said that "there's a positive synergy between staff and board that always looking for the next big thing and how we're going to get better and how we're going to improve the region."

The 24-member board includes elected and appointed officials from the five counties -- representing counties, cities, townships and school districts -- three American Indian reservations and special interests such as higher education, labor, natural resources and business.

"We have the most supportive board in the state," Tweedale said. "These guys are there for us. We tell them that something's really hard and risky, and they say can we afford to do that. We say yes, and they say go for it."

There is also a concerted effort to make HRDC services available throughout the region, not just Bemidji and Park Rapids, the largest cities in the region.

"The board has come a long ways to realize that this is one community," says Dave Hengel, who heads the HRDC's Center for Community Stewardship. "This whole region has found itself to be one community, so whether it's in Blackduck or Bagley, something good happens, it helps the region, it helps all of us."

Hengel has been taking the "Bemidji Leads!" concept of setting community goals to reach its destiny to the region and beyond. It includes Blackduck 20/20, Progress Park Rapids, Forward Fergus Falls and Alex Area Stewards.

"We are one big community, and we're all in this together," he said.

Tweedale said the HRDC's housing harm has loans in every county and houses built in every county in the region, many in small cities where the market is tough for new home construction.

"It's not easy -- some of the smaller communities are a challenge to help, but we're proud of the fact that every single thing that we're doing is in almost every area," he said.

"Our goal is to create successful communities," Hengel said. "We happen to think those are the elements that make a successful community. That may be a little different in each town but we think the ingredients are all the same."

He listed off job creation, entrepreneurial innovation, talent recruitment, affordable housing, quality of life improvements and leadership.

"Our goal is to do whatever it takes in that town to be successful," Hengel said.

"Our mission is about growing successful communities," Tweedale said. "The only reason that we get up in the morning is so we can figure out how to help everyone of our communities to be better tomorrow than they are today."

The HRDC doesn't operate programs, he said. For instance, it doesn't run senior nutrition sites, doesn't run a transit system or any operational stuff.

"We're not saying that isn't important," Tweedale said, "but we're simply saying that's not us. We're about helping communities position themselves to move forward. Quality of place -- the event center, trail development, housing construction, infrastructure improvement, talent creation -- those are about positioning and moving forward."

Aligning community leaders to move in the same direction is also key, and a reason for programs such as "Bemidji Leads!" and Blackduck 20/20, Hengel said.

"We hitch our ponies to local leadership," Tweedale agreed. "We're asking leaders to decide who you want to be, and make sure everybody in the community decides the same thing. ... And we're going to help you with all the tools we have to get there."

The HRDC's 2010 budget of $1.098 million in expenditures is less than this year's $1.19 million. Revenues of $973.589 for 2010 will be less than 2009 revenues of $1.15 million.

The HRDC is a taxing authority, so $249,163 will come from property taxes in the five counties in 2010, up slightly than $246,868 for 2009.

Much of the HRDC's income comes from contracts for services, with $114,628 estimated in long-term contracts in 2010, up from $89,500, and $161,076 in 2010 short-term contracts, down from $248,660.

The Center for Community Stewardship is expected to generate $107,000 in revenues, down from $247,670 in 2009.

Personnel is the largest cost, pegged at $824,542 in 2010, down from $889,090 this year.

At Thursday's meeting, Bob Milne of Beltrami County, representing natural resources, was cited as leaving the board after six years. Honored for 15 years of service on the HRDC Board were Jean Nelson, Mahnomen County townships representative, and Emmet Weidenborner, representing school districts.

Honored for 30 years' service was Duane Splittstoesser, representing Hubbard County townships.

Reappointed members were Kathy Grell for business, Joann Frederickson for higher education and Steve Newby for labor. Beltrami County Commissioner Joe Vene chairs the HRDC Board.