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DAVE HENGEL COLUMN: A tip of the hat to Greater Bemidji investors

A couple of times each year I like to stop in to visit those that support Greater Bemidji’s work. In addition to the city of Bemidji, Northern Township and Beltrami County, Greater Bemidji is supported by 75 local businesses and organizations who generously contribute to our work.

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A couple of times each year I like to stop in to visit those that support Greater Bemidji’s work. In addition to the city of Bemidji, Northern Township and Beltrami County, Greater Bemidji is supported by 75 local businesses and organizations who generously contribute to our work.

These businesses range in size from very small, one-person shops to the largest businesses in our region. They are manufacturers, banks and credit unions, utility companies, service providers, contractors and subcontractors, retailers, downtown business owners and restaurants. They have a variety of interests, backgrounds and viewpoints.

There is little benefit in supporting Greater Bemidji, aside from an annual “Thank You Social” and a few perks like access to space at the Mayflower Building. Yet every year new companies step forward in support. So why do they do it?

Ultimately what brings them together is one thing: they are united by a love of the greater Bemidji region and a desire to ensure its growth and prosperity. These are community stewards of the Bemidji region, committed to the long-term well-being of our community and people.

I take the time to visit these companies in part just to say "thank you." I invite you to do the same. Please take a moment to look at the list of our supporters on Greater Bemidji’s website, greaterbemidji.com/about-us/investors.

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When given the chance, thank them on behalf of a grateful community. Do the same for our local elected officials at the city, county and Northern Township. Thank them for their commitment to economic development and growing our economy.

A common buzzphrase nationally is a public-private partnership. There is no better example of a public-private partnership than Greater Bemidji.

It’s an investment, not a donation

At Greater Bemidji, we use the words investment and investors when talking to our contributors and supporters. We want our investors to expect results and action from their support — to know that their commitment will help move the needle for economic development in the Bemidji area. The board and staff at Greater Bemidji take that responsibility very seriously.

Here are some examples of the “return on investment” in Greater Bemidji this year:

  • Through our “Small Business Check-Up” initiative we have supported over 100 small businesses and startups in our region. We provide financial and technical support, marketing and coaching all without cost to our region’s new and emerging businesses.  
  • Our LaunchPad is a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs looking to start a new business in our region. We have over 60 members of the LaunchPad today.
  • In partnership with the state, we provide targeted financial support to BIPOC, female-owned and veteran-owned businesses. We have supported six businesses with this initiative alone.
  • We have launched the Headwaters Angel Network, a vehicle for our region’s emerging entrepreneurs to connect with investors interested in supporting the region.
  • Our 218 Relocate program has recruited 243 new residents to our community. Initially targeted to remote workers, we have expanded the program to support all new workers to our region.
  • Greater Bemidji’s training center — the Minnesota Innovation Initiative or MI2 — has trained 165 people in advanced manufacturing skills. A vast majority of the trainees are disadvantaged community members. MI2 has partnered with 45 companies in northern Minnesota to train and place workers in great-paying jobs.
  • We continue to promote the region to companies looking for locations to expand, with three active efforts currently.
  • We are working to address the crisis in childcare, providing financial support to our childcare center and encouraging new development.
  • In partnership with the city and Sanford Health, we are driving the vision of building a wellness complex downtown as a catalyst for the redevelopment of the Rail Corridor. The project will be the largest private sector development in Bemidji’s history with $89 million in private investment.  

Each year, Greater Bemidji’s Board develops a strategic action plan that guides our work. Now is a great time to share any ideas you may have with us. How can we support our region’s growth and development? What things can we do to help our community and our people prosper? Please let us know.

Rebranding Greater Bemidji

You’ll notice a change around Greater Bemidji. I’m excited to share we have completed a rebranding initiative that includes a refreshed logo, updated website and extensive social media campaign.

The changes are targeted toward our external customers — those companies and families interested in moving to Greater Bemidji’s region. While more outwardly focused, our ongoing commitment to serving our current businesses and workers remains unchanged.

My favorite change is our new tagline: Greater Bemidji — Minnesota’s emerging regional center. The tagline stakes claim to who we are.

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We are clearly transforming into the regional center of the north, yet we are just emerging. In other words, there is more to come. What an exciting place to live, work, run a business AND invest in.

Dave Hengel is the executive director of Greater Bemidji Economic Development. He can be reached at (218) 444-5757 or dhengel@greaterbemidji.com.

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