BEMIDJI - Greater Bemidji, a group dedicated to economic development in the rural areas surrounding the city, moved into the big leagues Friday as it voted to become part of the Greater Minnesota Economic Development Partnership; essentially a statewide version of the local group.

Dave Hengel, Greater Bemidji’s executive director, said Monday the move to become part of the partnership was on a trial basis for one year.  

“We’re going to give it a shot for a year, see how it goes, and then kind of re-evaluate,” Hengel said. “But going in, (we’re) thinking that the strategies of the partnership and the policy positions that they have been advocating are certainly consistent with what we would like to see.”

Although a relative newcomer on the St. Paul lobbying scene, Greater Minnesota has already successfully advocated for several bills intended to aid rural development, said Mike Miller, senior lobbyist.

“Last year was our first legislative session, and we passed an internship bill that would allow greater Minnesota companies to hire interns and have 40 percent of their wages paid through a tax credit - that was a $2 million per-year program,”  Miller said. “We also passed a business expansion sales tax credit… that was a $7 million program, so we had $18 million for the biennium for greater Minnesota development.”

As part of the new relationship with Greater Minnesota, Hengel will take a position on the board of the statewide organization, he said.

Hengel said there was some discussion at the Greater Bemidji meeting about whether he and the Greater Bemidji board would have the time to contribute to the statewide rural development effort in light of the work do locally, but ultimately the board decided to join.

“I think the board realized the importance of reaching out, advocating - quite honestly, building relationships not just at the legislative level but at the state department level as well,” he said. “And then finally, of course, the ability to be part of relationship-building with other regional centers throughout the state, there’s some value in that as well.”