Weather Forecast


Bensen says 'Bemidji Leads!' is now reinventing itself

Bemidji serves as a model for a community charting its course for the future, says Jim Bensen, chairman of "Bemidji Leads!" and retired Bemidji State president.

The program of having community stewards work toward finding a vision for Bemidji and laying out 17 "destiny drivers" for future success is fine-tuning itself, Bensen told about 50 participants Wednesday to a summit in Bemidji.

"As a community, we stepped out and decided to reinvent ourselves," Bensen told the state Department of Employment and Economic Development "Advancing Economic Prosperity" road show at the American Indian Resource Center on the BSU campus.

"Bemidji Leads!" is now reinventing itself, he said, focusing on five target themes, rather than the 17 destiny drivers.

"We are organizing ourselves around five major categories of this community -- talent, civic engagement, prosperity, health and wellness and quality of place," Bensen said.

"We feel the future of this community is going to be tied to really talent and knowledge," he said. "The future is going to be on ideas. The first 100 years of this nation was built on who can have the biggest farm, the second 100 years on who has the biggest factory. But the next 100 years will be on who has the best ideas."

"Bemidji Leads!" is working with K-12 and higher education, as well as new and existing businesses, he said.

Also a program is "Shared Vision," he said, which "capitalizes on opportunities for diversity in this community. We did this study that showed that we are not in very good shape across this community as far as the relationships between American Indians and the regular community, and we feel we've got to do that better."

Participants heard from a number of speakers, and two break-out sessions were held.

Millions of dollars in federal stimulus funds are headed to Minnesota, and are available for aid through a number of programs -- from the Small Business Administration in loan guarantees for small business to Perkins grants for technical college tuitions.

And for unemployed workers, the state is receiving $130 million in federal stimulus funds to the state's unemployment comp trust fund to help close the gap on a deficit, said Kathy Nelson, DEED director of unemployment insurance.

The state spent $1.9 billion in unemployment comp for the year ended June 30, she said, amounting to a 156 percent increase. And federal stimulus funds will increase worker benefits by about $25 a week.

Federal funds will also beef up programs for commercial, industrial and small business energy efficiency and renewable energy grants, residential energy efficiency and local government and public schools energy efficiency grants.

Some $5 million will become available soon for residential appliance rebates, said Janet Streft if the Office of Energy Security, through state program that will allow people to trade in their old refrigerators or air conditioners for rebates on specified energy efficient models.

"It's not surprising that this area has been a leader in innovation," said Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji. "As important as all these jobs programs are, so is the big picture to help us stay competitive -- education, health care and property taxes need to be fair and equitable to allow us to attract businesses to our area."