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A unified voice? Greater Bemidji to consider joining rural Minnesota’s Economic Development Partnership

BEMIDJI -- Greater Bemidji is slated to soon decide whether to join a statewide effort that aims to provide a voice for rural Minnesota on economic development matters.

Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji (formerly known as the Joint Economic Development Commission), said Monday that his board will consider Sept. 20 whether to join the Greater Minnesota Economic Development Partnership.

The Economic Development Partnership was announced this summer during CGMC's annual conference in Bemidji. By bringing together cities, businesses and nonprofit organizations, the program is planned to advocate for policies to create jobs and boost investments in rural Minnesota. It is led by executive director Dan Dorman, a former Republican state representative and executive director of the Albert Lea economic development authority.

"I've argued for quite some time that the state of Minnesota simply doesn't have a rural economic development strategy," Hengel said. "We need one."

Mayor Rita Albrecht said the Twin Cities has several such organizations, including the Metropolitan Council and the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce.

"There are other organizations that are very metro-focused in their lobbying efforts and they're strong and well-heeled," she said. "Greater Minnesota has never really had a unified voice."

In a commentary published this summer in the Pioneer, Dorman said the metro has a 20-year vision for economic growth, including further investments in high-tech industries and the light-rail system, but greater Minnesota has no such unified vision and planning.

"It's time for communities and businesses in Greater Minnesota to join together to define problems and develop our own solutions to concerns such as infrastructure, tax policy and business growth," he wrote.

The Economic Development Partnership plans to direct membership dollars to initiatives such as a job-training program, internship program and expansion of the Angel Investment Tax Credit, all in greater Minnesota.

"I believe that the goals and the strategies and the initiatives that they're proposing are very similar to what we propose," Hengel said. "Up here, I think they're critical."