by April Scheinoha
Jobs Inc. members gathered some ideas for the future at their annual meeting Wednesday, May 25 at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls.
Dave Hengel, executive director of Greater Bemidji Inc, spoke to the group. Borrowing a phrase from the late Steve Jobs, Hengel called his presentation “Putting a Ding in the Universe.”
“If your economic development efforts look the same as they did even five years ago, you’re in trouble,” Hengel said. He told attendees that they need to pay attention to demographics and technology.
Thief River Falls and other areas have a 1:1 ratio of jobs to people looking for jobs. Baby Boomers are also retiring, and businesses will struggle to replace those workers. Plus, nowadays, it doesn’t matter where a person lives due to technology. Instead, what matters more is what makes a particular place distinct as a community. So now, Hengel said, economic development can no longer be separate from community development and workforce development.
Hengel drew examples from Bemidji Leads, a community organization that was spawned by the Greater Bemidji Inc. The group is helping people start businesses within a day by making sure that entrepreneurs can find all of their required permits and licenses online. Then they can satisfy those requirements online and start business within a day. Afterward, they soon receive a phone call from Hengel in which he asks how the group can help the entrepreneurs.
In terms of growing and attaining talent, Bemidji Leads helped create the Minnesota Innovation Institute, which has so far trained more than 700 people in manufacturing positions. Some of those trainees are now working in Thief River Falls.
Hengel said Bemidji is making choices in terms of its quality of life, including the revitalization of downtown Bemidji, the revitalization of the south shore and the planned revitalization of the rail corridor.
After providing those examples, Hengel provided a recipe for Thief River Falls’ economic development. He encouraged Jobs Inc. members to understand what is going on in the city in terms of current and future trends. Hengel told them to understand what businesses are facing and to adapt to those issues.
“Try something,” said Hengel. “Do something.”
Hengel added it’s economic development, not brain surgery. No one will be killed while doing economic development.