BEMIDJI -- An annual retreat for the Bemidji City Council became an opportunity to better understand what new Community Development Director Steve Jones is bringing to the position.
During the meeting Monday, held at the Sanford Center rather than City Hall, Jones gave a presentation to the council on what he's worked on so far.
One key area where Jones said he's been focused on is grants. One grant Jones said Bemidji can work toward is a small cities grant, where 15 to 20 residential homes can receive funding for improvements, with up to $600,000 available. Jones said he's working with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission on the grant, with more information on its progress expected by fall.
Another area Jones is researching is grants for potential city water projects. The city is exploring a potential water treatment plant for its wells, along with the possibility for needed upgrades to its wastewater facility.
"We are working with staff to see what we can do for water and wastewater grants that can help you for your bigger projects," Jones said. "I think we've made a little progress there. There are some major programs out there that I think we can get on the priority list for, and you can get some pretty big sums for. So, maybe, say a $16 million project, would be half of that."
Jones and other city staff members have been working on increasing Bemidij's digital presence, as well. Along with updating the city's website, staff should be more engaged with social media, he said.
"The website is where you go to get information, but not your daily information," Jones said. "You might look up a city ordinance or something like that at the website. So, you're really going to have to start using social media."
Later in the meeting, when discussing economic development, Jones said he expects to assist in building partnerships, but not be directly involved in individual deal making.
"I think you have a lot of valuable partners out there.," he said. "There are things they can do that I can't, and there's a lot of things I can do that they can't. So, we have to rely on each other. I don't think we at the city, though, are going to do any 'smokestack chasing.'"
"That's where you go after the big fish, and got one in Delta Dental. But you're going to be lucky to get one of those. It doesn't mean we're not part of the process, but, if there's other people willing to spend their time and energies on it, let them do it."
"The way I like to characterize it is, we around the council table try to create the best darn city we can so that people want to land here," Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht said as a follow-up. "We have great parks, good utilities and good public safety. We have the capacity to have development here, so we try to create a bright community where people want to move to."