Your hometown: Econ development officials discuss efforts to keep and retain businesses in Cuyuna lakes region
CROSBY--Attendees discussed how much--and how little--is being done to keep local business thriving during the annual meeting of the Cuyuna Range Economic Development Incorporated on Thursday.
CROSBY-Attendees discussed how much-and how little-is being done to keep local business thriving during the annual meeting of the Cuyuna Range Economic Development Incorporated on Thursday.
Funded mostly from Crow Wing County government, CREDI is an all-volunteer board that specializes in encouraging new business to come to the area as well as supporting businesses that already exist there.
CREDI director Eric Charpentier opened the meeting with an overview of their activities the past year, including their expansion to a 12-member board. He pointed out the failure of the the bonding bill during the 2016 session of the Minnesota Legislature, a bill which included public financing for the Cuyuna Mountain Bike Trail System. However, local legislators were in the process of reviving the Cuyuna portion of the bill, he said.
Sheila Haverkamp, executive director of the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Corporation, got up next to talk about the key topics being discussed between BLAEDC and CREDI. They included development financing, property tax, promotion and marketing. One of the main topics was finding workers amid a shortage of qualified talent, Haverkamp said.
'Workforce is probably the biggest challenge the business community has been sharing with BLAEDC and CREDI," she said. "They're concerned for the future."
One local technology company opened a second location in the metro area rather than in the Brainerd lakes area because they couldn't find the workers they needed, she said. BLAEDC has hired an employee specifically tasked with attracting workers, she said.
John Gunstad explained what he did with BLAEDC's Business Retention and Expansion Program-canvassing the businesses on the main streets of Crosby, Ironton and Deerwood, asking them what their challenges were, and how BLAEDC could help. The businesses were surprisingly cooperative to a stranger coming into their shops with a bunch of questions, Gunstad said.
"Normally, if you see somebody walking through the front door of your business with a clipboard, right away it's like 'No way,'" he said. "Never got that, never got that. Everybody was more than gracious. Every place I went welcomed me in, they're offering me coffee, a cookie, it was great."
Some of the business owners' ideas were likely unattainable due the fact the Cuyuna Range wasn't a metropolitan area, Gunstad said, but the owners realized that. They also were realistic about the challenges presented by the rise of big box stores and online shopping, he said.
"But they still believe that this is the hidden jewel of Crow Wing County," he said. "They love being in the Cuyuna lakes area. Everyone I talked to said 'This is worth it, we love it.'"
Their ideas to draw more businesses and customers to the area included more bike racks to complement the expanded mountain bike trails, and a holiday storefront decorating contest. The most common suggestion was to bring a major manufacturer into the area whose workers would support the other businesses with their consumer spending.
"That is the thing that floats all the ships," he said.
Nadine Albrecht wasn't so gung ho about the quality of efforts to retain business in the area. Together with her husband Chris, she owns the local Dairy Queen, as well as Spalding House bar and hostel since 2014. She graduated from Crosby-Ironton High School in 1995.
Prefacing her comments with the assertion she's more pessimistic than her husband, and that she appreciated that new businesses are coming into town, the new businesses were taking an already limited customer pool from the existing, local businesses.
"The new businesses come to town and they get all the attention, they get all the advertising, they get all the buzz ... we're just sitting here going, 'Remember us?'" Albrecht said.
She added that she was grateful for what economic development staff did to attract new businesses, as the influx also helped the Albrecht businesses.
"We do think that it would be nice if city leaders would try to do as good of a job helping those of us who have been here, to help us expand, help us with retention," she said. "It just seems to us that over the last few years, city leaders have really, really pushed for new business."
Their business donated to nearly all the local groups that solicited money, such as Scouting and church groups, Albrecht said. By contrast, the new businesses weren't as likely to be involved in the community, she said.
"They're not from here," Albrecht said. "They don't live here, they haven't grown up here."