PORTRAITS: Economic development work forged on a reliance of networks

Economic development work doesn’t happen overnight and Waseca Economic Development Coordinator Gary Sandholm does a lot of work behind the scenes with a variety of organizations.

Some of that work means contact with the Department of Employment and Economic Development to see what businesses might be looking for a spot that will fit in Waseca. Other times it means working with organizations like the Community Venture Network where companies can pitch to communities. Waseca shares a partnership with Fairmont and Mountain Lake in the Community Venture Network, which extends into eight states. Sometimes businesses can be attracted through word of mouth.

Sandholm can help businesses already in the area and with startups navigate through the process.

“If a business is looking to expand, there is where we can use DEED,” Sandholm said.

Organizations like the Region Nine Development Commission and Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation have funding available for entrepreneurs. The Waseca EDA can also provide loans for businesses.

Then there is the Small Business Development Center in Mankato where entrepreneurs can get advice and learn how to write business plans. SCORE is another group that will provide mentoring for those seeking to start a business.

Since joining the city of Waseca four years ago, Sandholm has worked to fill the void left after the Quad Graphics closing left nearly 400 people out of work. The city received around a $600,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Authority that will go toward finding a person to reach out to businesses.

“The purpose that this person will try to fill is the outreach to industries and businesses on a wider scale than what we’re able to do for one person,” Sandholm said. “More outward than local businesses.”

Part of that grant money is being used to do a viability study of an area manufacturing resource center, which Region Nine will do.

Some businesses have started to fill the building Quad Graphics occupied. Midwest Hemp Farms, Rhino Markers and Green Forest Recycling have moved into the building.

“One of the things we’ve been fortunate about is that the job demand in this region has been very strong,” Sandholm said. “So the people laid off by Quad and Clear Lake Press, have basically been rapidly absorbed into the workforce.”

But the closure has meant fewer workers coming into Waseca.

“Three, four years ago we had a net surplus of people driving into Waseca to work,” Sandholm said. “Far more than drove out. Now that’s flip flopped. We haven’t seen people moving away from Waseca. People are working in Mankato, Owatonna, Austin, Albert Lea. That hurts the local economy because they’re probably not spending as much money locally.”

Sandholm dealt with an Electrolux plant closing in his hometown of Dayton, Iowa where he worked as an economic development coordinator. He worked as the economic development coordinator and Chamber of Commerce director in Hartford, South Dakota before joining the city of Waseca.

He sees the education system in Waseca and the transportation access as selling points to business. Plus, the railway has capacity and there’s utility capacity available. Waseca also has building space available.

“We have a building space surplus,” he said. “We’ve got a lot more building space than we’d like to have right now.”

View the Waseca County News article.

March 2020 E-Newsletter

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Region Nine Responds to COVID-19

As always, Region Nine Development Commission keeps the health and safety of our communities, staff, and families as a top priority.
Beginning Monday, March 16, until further notice, our offices will be closed to the public as a precaution to help slow the spread of COVID-19. As we continue to monitor the coronavirus situation closely, we will follow the Minnesota Department of Health, CDC, and World Health Organization for updates and guidance.
The daily operations at Region Nine will continue. Please note:
  • Our team is here to serve you and continue our work. Staff are working remotely using email, telephone, and other forms of communications. Direct phone calls will be routed to staff cell phones.
  • Staff have the option to take time off if they choose to.
  • Remote web conferencing and conference calls are encouraged for meetings.
  • Public meetings, including quarterly commission meetings, will be postponed. Region Nine will look for ways to continue to engage the commission and public during this time via online videos, presentations, etc.
  • Any daily office functions that require on-site staffing will continue to be performed.
Thank you for your understanding and continued support of Region Nine. We’ll update you when business returns to normal.  
For now, Region Nine is following suggestions from the CDC to protect our staff and visitors from COVID-19:
  • Regular cleaning of office spaces.
  • Access to hand sanitizer, Kleenex, etc.
  • Creating a ‘Handshake-Free Zone’.
  • Ensuring social distancing by following the 6ft rule.
  • Conducting phone or video conferencing for meetings.
  • Encouraging those who are able to telecommute.

Key facts to know about COVID-19 can be found here. For more information on what you can do to prevent the spread of COVID-19 visit the CDC website.

Updated and ongoing information will be shared via our website and social media as it becomes available. Please feel free to reach out to us with questions or concerns. We will get through this challenging time together.
Thank you,
Your friends at Region Nine Development Commission

Minnesota partners with Germany to better sustainability and use of renewables


LE SUEUR, Minn. (KEYC) — An exchange program through the University of Minnesota matches cities in Germany and Minnesota to try to find better avenues of sustainability and use of renewable energy.

Tuesday, German project manager Guido Wallraven and local officials toured Hometown BioEnergy just outside of Le Sueur.

Hometown BioEnergy transforms biomass into energy for local cities and a nutritious bio-gas product for farmer’s fields.

Wallraven is fascinated with the model to ensure a decentralized energy supply that includes local farmers.

“This might be a good pilot or model to be transferred throughout the state of Minnesota,” Wallraven explained. “Last week, I was working with our partner city, Morris, in western Minnesota and they are thinking about how they can provide a decentralized energy supply for the city and maybe what you are doing here is a model and pilot for them.”

Wallraven says they are already doing this in Germany successfully, just not on the scale here in Minnesota. Hometown BioEnergy is able to produce four to eight times the energy and bio-gas nutritious material the German plants are.

View the KEYC video.

Welcoming Communities Project moving to individual community groups

On Feb. 27, individuals who volunteered to serve their communities on the Welcoming Communities Project met at the Event Center.

At the Jan. 29 meeting for the Welcoming Communities Project, those in attendance from Sleepy Eye, Springfield, and New Ulm were asked to apply as individuals, for the next phase of the project — separate town groups that will identify projects or initiatives for their own town. Applicants were asked to commit to attending monthly meetings, through May, and be active with the project.

On Feb. 27, those individuals who volunteered to serve their communities on the Welcoming Communities Project, met again at the Sleepy Eye Event Center.

The facilitators — from Region Nine, the Greater Mankato Diversity Council, and U of M Extension — led the group through a few activities and discussions about the power of people working together, active and compassionate listening, and some information on area demographics.

Participants from the three communities mixed together for this meeting. The next step in the process will involve each town working on their own ideas. Each community was asked to hold a local meeting to determine their group norms — a working agreement.

Then the entire group will meet again on March 26 and begin more work as individual communities.

A good overview of the Welcoming Communities Project was included in the materials at the Feb. 27 meeting:

‒To build capacity in individuals and in communities to respond to local community equity and inclusion needs.

‒To engage in community identity exploration.

‒To provide a platform for education and resources.

‒To share, examine, and explore inclusive and equitable best practices and ideas targeted to small communities.

Watch for continuing news and feature stories in the Herald-Dispatch related to the Welcoming Communities Project.

The Welcoming Communities Project in Brown County was made possible through a grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation’s Healthy Connections Program to Region Nine Area, Inc.

View the Sleepy Eye Hearld-Dispatch article.