The roadmap to economic success
Every city has unique challenges and opportunities. Extension's community economics educators discover and report on them through community-focused research. One outcome: A bike trail bringing potential customers, including tourists, through the business district in Lindstrom, Minn.
When it comes to economic development, each Minnesota community is different. "What works in one place can become a regrettable decision in a different town," explains Matt Kane, Extension's community economics program leader. "It's vital that communities make decisions based on their specific situation."
In 2008, when Lindstrom city leaders wanted to strengthen the city's appeal as a tourist attraction, they turned to Extension to conduct research on Lindstrom's opportunities and challenges.
In the last five years, Lindstrom has implemented several of the ideas from that research: A bicycle trail has been completed. A former farm has been purchased to broaden lodging options. And, the city has completed projects that leverage the tourism pull of Lindstrom's Swedish heritage.
"Extension helped us focus on developing our Swedish connections and understood our wish to do it well, not develop some kind of Swedish theme park," says John Olinger, Lindstrom's city administrator.
"Extension's work has been enduring," says Olinger. "One thing their analysis discovered about us was that we had a lack of cohesion among the small cities around us as well as within our business community. Since then, we have focused on leadership and we now have a community tourism group."
"Extension conducts community specific research," says Kane. "We analyze the data and provide tools to help communities identify their pathways to economic development. Our research is designed to help communities build upon their assets and navigate the ups and downs of economic change."
Menahga leaders asked for guidance from Extension to help businesses retain customers and expand. Extension research revealed a looming economic threat: lack of senior housing meant many community residents saw no option but to leave Menahga. Since then, Menahga received Legacy funds from the State of Minnesota to support a concert series, conducted a business expo and will soon break ground on a senior housing complex to help keep citizens in their communities.
The Murray County Economic Development Authority was the driving force behind an analysis completed by Extension educator Neil Linscheid, who scrutinized visiting patterns to assess the market for a new hotel. In the end, his analysis showed visitor numbers were not high enough to support added hotel lodgings, but indicated that alternatives—including bed-and-breakfasts—could be worth pursuing.
As Linscheid observes, leaders are deeply committed to securing steady futures in their communities.
"The heroes in the story are the people in communities doing the hard work," Linscheid says. "Extension helps them be more effective. They're at the steering wheel. We create the roadmap to help them navigate."