A few weeks back, Pioneer Editor Matt Cory approached me asking if I’d be interested in writing a monthly column on our community’s growth and development. I’m honored and am excited about the opportunity to share with you our vision at Greater Bemidji and the Bemidji Alliance.

It’s important to start at the beginning: why economic development? Why should our community members care if our business climate is strong, that we support our local companies and lay out the red carpet to new businesses locating in our area?

At its core, economic development is about two things: (1) creating jobs and career opportunities for local residents, and (2) increasing the region’s tax base.

Even in good economic times with our unemployment rates at historic lows, job creation is important. In our area, we know that there are still those looking for consistent, good-paying work. They may be entering the job market for the first time, underemployed or stuck working several part-time or temporary jobs. Increasing the number of good-paying jobs for local residents increases the quality of life for area residents. Good-paying jobs are directly tied to health, educational attainment and happiness. Creating good jobs matters.

Equally important, tax base matters. By growing local firms and recruiting new companies, the tax base of our region increases, helping pay for the regional center amenities that we all care about (such as our beautiful parks and trails, good water and sewer systems and exceptional police and fire departments) while reducing the property tax burden on local homeowners. Today, roughly 60 percent of the city property tax is paid by local businesses. Imagine the impact on your annual property tax statement if we didn’t have a strong business sector.

Let’s take a look at some specifics for the past year alone. Greater Bemidji supported the location of two new companies in the region (Delta Dental and Magnum Trucking) as well as encouraged the expansion of several local companies. What impact did this have? These new developments will annually pay $135,000 in property and sales taxes to our city, $164,000 to

Beltrami County and $53,000 to our school district. Collectively, they have created 240 new jobs for local residents -- good-paying jobs that provide career opportunities for our residents.

In 2019, the city of Bemidji and Beltrami County invested $60,000 in economic development in our area. That investment increased the taxes paid to the city, county and school district by

$352,000 annually. The public investment changed the lives of countless families by providing a stable career. That’s a pretty good investment by our public officials.

Let’s not forget that other benefits of economic development. When our region prospers, our downtown, restaurants and retail sectors thrive. We have more options for entertainment. Giving to our important charities increases. Our high school and college graduates look to stay in the area because they know they can have the career opportunities and quality of life they desire.

Graduating high school students give Bemidji State University and Northwest Technical College a second look because the Bemidji area is fun and exciting. Additional tourists come to town, attracted by the energy and vibrancy of the region. Finally, we have resources to support other regional amenities we desire.

Thirty-four years ago, the city of Bemidji and Beltrami County came together for the first time to support the then-Joint Economic Development Commission (what is now Greater Bemidji). Since then, the business community has also stepped up to create an outstanding public-private partnership. This strong, public-private partnership has created what is regarded as one of the most innovative and effective economic development organizations in the state.

On Monday, Oct. 28, at 5 p.m. at City Hall, the Bemidji City Council will be discussing its role in economic development and taking a look at the partnership that has supported the recent economic growth in our area. It is a good time for community members to come learn more about our region’s economic development efforts and share their support for creating good paying jobs and growing our tax base.

Creating a strong and welcoming business climate is not just about supporting business owners. Economic development matters to each one of us.

Hengel is the executive director of Greater Bemidji.