Innovation key for business growth
BAXTER — A regional Olympic training facility on the Cuyuna Range for mountain bike racing. A technology campus at the former state hospital. Livable wage jobs. No unemployment.
Sheila Haverkamp, Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corp. (BLAEDC) executive director, said she imagines all those possibilities and more for the lakes area’s future.
“We each have a role to play in making the Brainerd lakes area the best it can be,” Haverkamp said.
Keys for economic development, growth opportunities and challenges were highlights Monday during BLAEDC’s annual meeting at Arrowwood Lodge at Brainerd Lakes in Baxter. A who’s who of business and area government representatives were on hand for the meeting.
Crow Wing County is home to more than 2,100 companies employing nearly 27,000 people with more than 5,000 home-based businesses. The group heard several examples of success stories in the lakes area as businesses have transformed themselves, changing and innovating to reach new customers and markets.
From 2000 to 2010, Haverkamp said the lakes area out-performed the growth rate of the state and the nation.
Bill Blazar, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce senior vice president, public and business development, was the keynote speaker.
“We really need innovation,” Blazar said.
Blazar said Minnesota businesses have international opportunities to export services and knowledge as well as widgets by looking to developing middle classes, such as India.
Blazar said Minnesota excels at serving a middle class economy and the best news is there are plenty of middle class economies developing around the world. He pointed to the American Hospital in Dubai, designed by a Minneapolis firm. Or, he pointed to General Mills and its work in India, where a growing middle class means grocery stores.
Surveys of companies in the region point to an inability to find needed employees as decisions are made to look elsewhere for locations. Production and assembly companies top the list of those searching for qualified workers to fill job openings. In the last five years, Blazar said there is a disconnect between growing companies and jobs and people to fill them.
Blazar pointed to the need for more innovation, more exports and more workers trained for the new economy. Without change, he said, there is no growth.
Bruce Buxton, outgoing BLAEDC president, said he would be remiss if he didn’t mention the late Bonnie Cumberland, who died suddenly last week.
“She will be missed,” Buxton said.
Jeff Wig, Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, said he will always treasure Cumberland’s gentle, yet persuasive spirit.
The BLAEDC meeting was also an opportunity to recognize the organization’s quarter century with a goal of helping the area grow a diverse economy and full-time, year-round jobs for area residents. Recently, BLAEDC launched a Rent-a-Board program to add to its initiatives aimed at tapping into the experience and knowledge of retired and former business executives living here.
The Rent-a-Board program gives companies a chance to have an experienced advisory board to help with strategic planning at no charge. Range is the first company to take advantage of the program.
More business highlights from the session will be in the Dispatch Business/Money section Sunday.