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HRDC details community accomplishments in annual report

In its annual report covering 2020-2021, the Headwaters Regional Development Commission detailed its work related to housing and financial matters. The report also describes the HRDC's economic efforts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Headwaters Regional Development Commission File Art
(Annalise Braught / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- In a year where the coronavirus pandemic impacted nearly all aspects of life, the Headwaters Regional Development Commission's already varied scope of services was expanded more.

According to a new annual report released by the organization, the HRDC in 2020-2021 continued on with its active programs and services, while also working to mitigate the pandemic's effects. The report opened with HRDC Chairman Cal Larson praising the organization's staff for its variety of work in the last 12 months.

"In addition to continuing our traditional economic and community development activities, staff has provided business assistance through the CARES Act funding, business loans with more flexibility due to additional capital added to the revolving loan fund, and new economic staff to support planning, lending and implementation of other strategies designed to help recover from the economic effects of COVID-19," Larson wrote.

The report details how the HRDC worked with the Economic Development Administration's Chicago Regional Office on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. In two rounds of funding, the HRDC processed 271 applications and awarded $3.1 million in CARES money from September 2020 through February 2021 to small businesses.

Receiving most of the grant funding were food and beverage businesses at 23%, followed by miscellaneous service providers at 17%, lodging and hospitality at 16%, retail stores at 10% and nonprofits at 8%.

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The HRDC also worked with the cities of Bagley and Blackduck, as well as Clearwater, Hubbard, Lake of the Woods and Mahnomen Counties in coordinating CARES funding.

"We were able to access a variety of resources that were directed specifically in response to the coronavirus," said HRDC interim director Tim Flathers. "We had grant funds focused on COVID, allowing us to spend time directly on business assistance."

Another way the HRDC assisted businesses was by establishing a COVID-19 loan relief fund. Through the fund, the HRDC provided 17 loans worth $1.7 million, creating or saving 77 jobs.

The relief loan program was one of two loan efforts run by the HRDC. The other is the revolving loan fund, which the organization has been operating for decades. In the past 12 months, the HRDC provided 33 loans worth $3.5 million, creating or saving 354 jobs.

In total, since the revolving loan fund was established, it has disbursed $19.4 million through 225 loans, creating 3,140 jobs and saving 2,900 jobs.

"They're basically for gap funding," Flathers said. "It's for those who have a business that's starting or expanding, and in some cases a change in ownership where they want to maintain the viability of the business. For these cases, they're working with a lender typically, but they may have a gap in what the lender can do. This fund steps in as an additional financing option to help close the deal."

According to Flathers, once the COVID-19 relief loans are paid back, they will be put in the revolving loan fund, increasing the program's overall capital.

"We work with a really great lending community and work really hard, along with other players with similar tools at the regional level, such as the Northwest Minnesota Foundation," Flathers said. "We partner with other loan funds out there to figure out how we can make deals work to promote additional economic prosperity."

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Efforts on housing

The HRDC's work related to housing was also highlighted in the document. One of the prominent features in the report was on the Conifer project, an effort in the works for the HRDC for more than a decade.

In July 2021, work was completed on the $9.08 million Conifer Villas complex . The villas complex was the second of three supportive housing projects the HRDC is building. The first was Conifer Estates, which opened in 2012 with 20 units at a cost of $4 million.

Supportive housing complexes are built with the goal of ensuring quality, affordable housing options to low- and moderate-income residents throughout the region. The housing is supportive in that a range of services are provided, such as employment assistance and help with finding transportation.

Additionally, rent costs are usually subsidized and rent vouchers are often used.

The development of the projects originated in 2007 during a meeting with Native American leaders regarding homelessness. The work continued in August 2021, when ground broke on the East Conifer Estates.

Estimated at $7 million, East Conifer Estates will have 24 units available once finished.

"That whole campus has been a really satisfying development because there's a number of families who have stable housing now, who were having challenges in that area," Flathers said. "We have a deficit of quality, stable housing that's affordable to people, so it's been a real benefit to the community."

The HRDC also administered funds from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development through the Small Cities Development program. The program provides funds for a variety of activities such as rehabilitation of housing.

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In 2020, Bemidji was awarded $388,125 from DEED for the rehabilitation of single-family residences along 12th Street Northwest. The HRDC helped 15 single-family homes get funding awarded.

The HRDC found a new home itself in 2020 as well. In the fall of last year, the HRDC relocated from the 4 West Building downtown to 1320 Neilson Ave. SE, the former home of the Bemidji Pioneer.

This also marks the 50th year of operation for the organization. It was formed in 1971 by local government units in Beltrami, Clearwater, Hubbard, Lake of the Woods and Mahnomen Counties.

Related Topics: HOUSING
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