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RSDP Happenings - Focus: Northeast Region

April 2013

Bringing diversity, sustainability to Finland's economy

Finland may be a tiny Minnesota town with an economy that faces significant limitations but it has a high quality of life and support from the University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDP) and, more recently, a Bush Foundation fellowship that was awarded to a local advocate and community activist.

Located about 10 miles from Silver Bay, Finland has a population of 125 and a handful of small businesses but it's surrounded by the rugged beauty of the North Shore, creating an irresistible attraction for its residents. What the town lacks in commercial development and good-paying jobs, it makes up for in a very appealing quality of life. That's an easy trade-off for the locals. They're resourceful, hard-working folks who love the area and are willing to do without luxuries for the opportunity to live there.

Honor Schauland

Honor Schauland

That works for some but there are many young people who go off to college and aren't able to return because Finland lacks good-paying jobs. Honor Schauland was nearly one of them. She moved back to town after college and had to work three jobs to make ends meet before declaring, "enough is enough."

Now she's armed with a $75,000 Bush Fellowship grant to help Finland support small businesses so residents don't have to continue relying on seasonal and unpredictable jobs in logging, tourism and mining, which are the area's primary industries.

Schauland is using the grant to survey local business owners and entrepreneurs to determine what they need to grow their businesses and identify the hurdles that stand in the way of greater success for entrepreneurs and those with home-based businesses. The ultimate goal is a more diverse and sustainable economy.

"(With the results of the survey) I'm hoping to get community folks to connect the dots," she said. "I'll be connecting the dots as well and pushing forward in a direction to see what happens."

Schauland is expecting the survey results to point toward job training as the primary need. Close behind will be the need for reliable high-speed Internet service and affordable and effective ways for residents to market their products and services. She will compile the results of her survey and visit other small communities that are going through similar processes before making recommendations of how Finland can start working toward sustainability.

Many local residents are stepping up to help her with the project, just as they did when Finland pulled together to build a new community center, which is a focal point for the area. The RSDP's Northeast Partnership played a critical role by helping design, plan and develop the center and pilot a geothermal heating system for it. As an outreach and engagement arm of the University of Minnesota Extension, the RSDPs work to vitalize Minnesota's five geographical regions by addressing citizen-identified issues, including supporting sustainable tourism and resilient communities.

Schauland is one of 30 2012 Bush Fellowship grant recipients, each of whom was awarded between $30,000 and $75,000. Anyone who has an idea for a project that practices leadership and improves the quality of life in a community can apply for a Bush Fellowship grant. Each year, the Bush Foundation accepts applications from throughout Minnesota, South Dakota and North Dakota. Eligibility requirements and selection criteria are available by clicking here.

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