West Central Blogger

Monday, December 31, 2007

Wheaton Pool Fund receives $100,000 gift from high school alum

The Wheaton Pool Fund received an unexpected and thoroughly welcome gift of $100,000 from the Howard Charitable Foundation, based in Carlsbad, Calif.

Why would a Californian foundation give money for a pool renovation in a small Minnesotan town? It turns out the foundation's founder, Robert Howard, is a 1942 graduate of Wheaton High School. Robert's family ran the Wheaton Gazette from 1925 to 1946. Robert went on to own several several newspapers of his own. Eventually he founded Howard Publications, which consists of 16 newspapers and other media holdings throughout the U.S.

The Wheaton Pool Partners established the Wheaton Pool Fund to help finance much needed renovation of the community pool. The volunteer group sent a direct mail piece to Wheaton residents as well as to alumni of Wheaton High School.

The Howard Charitable Foundation contribution is the second large gift to the fund. In November, the Wheaton Community Hospital gave $100,000 as well, citing the importance of the pool to overall community health and wellbeing.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Area cities participate in second phase of WCI infrastructure study

More than $800 million. That’s what a study released in 2003 by WCI indicated it would take to upgrade the aging water, wastewater and storm water systems in west central Minnesota communities over the next 20 years.

"Many of the systems were built in the 1930s with an estimated design life of about 50 years," said WCI President Nancy Straw. "Communities are living on borrowed time."

WCI is currently conducting an infrastructure pilot project as a follow-up to the 2003 infrastructure study. The cities of Battle Lake, Brandon and Ottertail have agreed to participate in the new study.

WCI has contracted with Yellow Wood Associates, Inc., an independent firm from Vermont, to conduct an inventory and assessment of the communities’ infrastructure. The engineering firms of Widseth Smith Nolting and Interstate Engineering will also be an integral part of this project and will work closely with Yellow Wood. The project is expected to be completed by mid-2008.

The three municipalities will receive individualized reports that will include options for alternative approaches to water, wastewater and storm water issues.

WCI will post the outline of the process on its Web site to share with other communities that are reviewing their infrastructure systems.

"Yellow Wood is helping us plan for the future—20 to 30 years down the road," said Lee Sherman, city coordinator for Ottertail. "They are environmentally concerned about things like storm water run-off. Also, we have [city] water but we don’t have a sewer and we need to plan for that."
"This is a tremendous opportunity for us to be a part of this study and take advantage of what Yellow Wood has to offer," he said.

Battle Lake clerk-treasurer Wanda Berg-Vorgert agrees. "Battle Lake is excited about the pilot project and helping create a template for other towns to use," she said.

"We are one city among many that struggle with infrastructure. It’s hard to be a town of under 1,000 and be looking at a multi-million dollar project. It’s scary. I think this template is going to be helpful for so many communities," Berg-Vorgert said.

Yellow Wood recently spent a day in each community to meet with city officials, tour the city and learn more about each town’s particular goals and issues.
"They’re great people, very knowledgeable and intuitive," Berg-Vorgert said of the Yellow Wood team. "It’s such an advantage to be able to pick the brains of people of this caliber. We’re anticipating new and novel approaches to infrastructure."

Read the 2003 infrastructure study.

Red Cross to offer online training in lifesaving skills

The Minn-Kota chapter of the American Red Cross will soon offer online training in lifesaving skills such as CPR and first aid.

"We know that people are busy and it's hard to find time to sit in a class. However we believe that these skills are extremely valuable because they make our homes, schools, workplaces and communities safer. That's why we decided to offer online training," said Cindy Christensen, director of education and training.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Tax clinic volunteers needed

West Central Initiative is partnering with Lakes and Prairie Community Action, Mahube Community Council, Otter Tail Wadena Community Action and the West Central MN Communities Action to bring free tax assistance this winter and spring to west central Minnesota's low-income families and seniors. This partnership is looking for volunteers to help as tax site hosts, tax return preparers, reviewers, assistants and more.

Training for Douglas, Grant, Pope, Stevens and Traverse will be held on Saturday, Jan. 12 in Alexandria, and Saturday, Jan. 19 in Elbow Lake. For more information, call Robbie or Karen at 1-800-492-4805.

To learn about training in Clay and Wilkin counties, visit http://www.lakesandprairies.net/html/tax_site.html

Learn more about Becker County volunteer opportunities by calling John Haack, Mahube Community Council at 218-847-1385, or email him at jhaack@mahube.org.

For more information about Otter Tail opportunities, call 218-385-2900 ext 115 or toll-free (1-888-687-2277) or visit our web site at www.aarp.org/taxaide.

Small Business Success Series kicks off Jan. 15

Are you in a business that strives to do more with less? That can get pretty tricky sometimes, can't it? Wouldn't it be nice if there was local training that would provide your business with current strategies and practices in marketing, management and technical advances?

There is.

Minnesota State Community and Technical College and Alexandria Technical College have teamed up to offer a Small Business Success Series in three locations, focused specifically on local business needs.

The training series includes two sessions held over the next three months on these topics:

Bottom Line Thinking is a unique approach to business owners’ and managers’ greatest challenge--getting the maximum performance from each and every employee day in and day out. MSCTC’s Debbie Johnson has been working with companies over the last 20 years to do exactly that. She has created this eye-opening, insightful session on how to inspire each of your employees to act like the owner, and what is at stake if they don’t.

10 Simple Steps to Small Business Marketing Success is presented by Brad Barth of Alexandria Technical College. In his role as ATC’s Small Business Center Director his experiences with regional businesses have shown that many businesses are not doing all of the steps necessary to achieve consistent sales and marketing success. In the workshop you will learn the 10 steps the SBC recommends that you should constantly be doing sales and marketing wise to achieve success.

Seminar Dates – Fergus Falls: Jan. 29 and Feb. 26 from 6-9:30 p.m.; Perham: Feb. 12 and March 12 from 8-11:30 a.m.; and Wheaton: Jan. 15 and Feb. 21 from 6:00pm to 9:30pm.

The cost is $25.00 per session

For more information or to register please call or email Denice Brewer at 800.426.5603 extension 6576 or denice.brewer@minnesota.edu.

The series is made possible through a grant from West Central Initiative and in partnership with the Department of Employment and Economic Development. The training will be offered in three local communities. United Community Bank is sponsoring the training in Perham, Fergus Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and Fergus Falls Economic Improvement Commission is sponsoring the training in Fergus Falls and Wheaton Economic Development Commission is sponsoring the training in Wheaton.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

New grant program benefits two regional early childhood programs

West Central Area Schools and Thorson Library in Grant County and the White Earth Indian Reservation Tribal Council were two of six organizations receiving awards from the Minnesota Department of Human Services' new Family, Friend and Neighbor (FFN) Child Care grants program authorized by the 2007 Legislature.

The FFN grant program was established to promote children's early literacy, healthy development, and school readiness, and to foster community partnerships to promote children's school readiness.

Grant County's new Family, Friend and Neighbor Outreach Program is a collaborative effort that will provide training materials and children’s activities based on the Minnesota Early Childhood Indicators of Progress. The library will host play and learn groups and other special events following the ECFE model of child/adulttime together and periods of separate instruction. The focus will be on health, safety, nutrition andschool readiness.

White Earth Reservation will work with Mahnomen, Becker and Clearwater counties to provide services to FFN providers. Monthly home visits with White Earth's Readmobile will be provided. Readmobile stock will be improved and books and other literacy materials purchased to give to the children. Materials and events in the Ojibwe language will be offered. Providers will be connected to local social services. The White Earth early childhood certified staff/trainers will provide assistance to, train and mentor FFN caregivers.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Ten reasons to shop locally

The Perham Enterprise-Bulletin recently printed this list of 10 reasons to shop locally:
  1. Keep money in our community: Significantly more money re-circulates locally when purchases are made at locally owned, rather than nationally owned businesses. This multiplier is due in part to locally owned businesses purchasing more often from other local businesses, service providers and farms. Purchasing local helps grow other businesses as well as the local tax base. (A 10/04 study shows that locally owned businesses generate a premium in enhanced economic impact—For every $100 spent at a locally owned business, $45 goes back into the community and our tax base. For every $100 spent at a chain store, only $14 comes back).

  2. Support community groups: Non-profit organizations receive an average 250% more support from smaller locally owned business owners than they do from large businesses.

  3. Keep our community unique: Where we shop, where we eat and have fun—all of it makes our community home. Our one-of-a-kind businesses are an integral part of the distinctive character of this place. Our tourism businesses also benefit. "When people go on vacation they generally seek out destinations that offer them the sense of being someplace, not just anyplace,” says Richard Moe, President, National Historic Preservation Trust.

  4. Reduce environmental impact: Locally owned businesses can make more local purchases requiring less transportation and generally set up shop in town or city centers as opposed to developing on the fringe. This generally means contributing less to sprawl, congestion, habitat loss and pollution.

  5. Create more good jobs: Small local businesses are the largest employer nationally and in our community, provide the most jobs to residents.

  6. Get better service: Local businesses often hire people with a better understanding of the products they are selling and take more time to get to know customers.

  7. Invest in community: Local businesses are owned by people who live in this community, are less likely to leave, and are more invested in the community's future.

  8. Put your taxes to good use: Local businesses in town centers require comparatively little infrastructure investment and make more efficient use of public services as compared to nationally owned stores entering the community.

  9. Buy what you want, not what someone wants you to buy: A marketplace of tens of thousands of small businesses is the best way to ensure innovation and low prices over the long-term. A multitude of small businesses, each selecting products based not on a national sales plan but on their own interests and the needs of their local customers, guarantees a much broader range of product choices.

  10. Encourage local prosperity: A growing body of economic research shows that in an increasingly homogenized world, entrepreneurs and skilled workers are more likely to invest and settle in communities that preserve their one-of-a-kind businesses and distinctive character.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Detroit Lakes chosen as a "capital for a day"

Detroit Lakes is one of five rural Minnesota communities that was chosen as"capital for a day" to celebrate the state's sesquicentennial in 2008.

DL, along with Bemidji, New Ulm, Thief River Falls and Winona, will be recognized during Minnesota’s Statehood Week, May 11th – 18th, 2008. Communities will work with the Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission to plan activities and help raise awareness for that area. Activities could include any number of events; visits by Sesquicentennial Commission members, tours of the town, picnics, recognizing Sesquicentennial grant winners, or hosting civic engagement roundtable discussions.

The "Holiday Train" chugs into west central Minnesota

One unique holiday tradition in west central Minnesota is the arrival of Canadian Pacific's "Holiday Train." Each year, thousands of people gather along CPR's route to enjoy the arrival of brightly decorated trains and watch entertainers perform a live holiday concert. The Holiday Train also collects food and money to benefit local food banks.

Here's when the Holiday Train is scheduled to arrive in west central Minnesota:

Friday, Dec. 14
  • Alexandria: 1-2 p.m. - east railroad crossing ny Hubbatrd Feed Mill, 8th Ave. and Nokomis St.
  • Detroit Lakes: 4:15-5:15 p.m., Holmes St. railroad crossing near DL Community and Cultural Center

Saturday, Dec. 15

  • Elbow Lake: 4:30-5:30 p.m., Main St. railroad crossing.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Old is new in Sabin

If you're missing the days of ordering a cherry coke at the local drug store or enjoying the candy of your childhood, like Blackjack gum and Marathon candy bars, then Old 52 General Store in Sabin is the place for you. Brothers Mike and Chuck McWethy opened the store back in July, and it's already become a destination point for those wanting a small slice of bygone days.

Along with the hard-to-find candy favorites and a genuine old-fashioned soda fountain, the store includes groceries, a deli, a full line of hardware and a farmer's market. The store sells items from local businesses, too, like Spring Prairie Meats, Grampa's Meat and Lynn Brakke Organic Farms.
Next time you are heading to or from Moorhead, consider a short detour and take the Sabin exit. The Old 52 General Store is located at the corner of 52 and Main.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Snow falling on Fergus

A day's worth of snow accumulation on a windowsill obscured the view and was almost as high as the Christmas cactus--appropriately in bloom--inside. The basket is a foot tall.

It may be cold, but these jobs are hot!

The WorkForce Center, Fergus Falls Chamber of Commerce
and the Fergus Falls Economic Improvement Commission surveyed key businesses within 25 miles of Fergus Falls in the fall of 2007. The organizations wanted to create a roadmap of:
  1. What better jobs are usually available in the area

  2. What people need to learn to qualify for those jobs and,

  3. How do they learn and gain the skills they need to apply for these HOT JOBS.

See their findings in their booklet "Fergus Falls Area Hot Jobs: The Key to Your Career Future in West Central Minnesota."

"Do we need to change our institutions?" asks Rural MN Journal in latest issue

"Do we need to substantially change our institutions and/or change the way we do things to succeed in the 21st century?"

That's the core question asked in The Center for Rural Policy & Development's fall 2007 issue of the Rural Minnesota Journal: "Institutional Change: Possibilities for the Future."

"Institutional change refers to large-scale change, big sweeping ideas that require big, sweeping changes, and vitally different ways of thinking about things," editor Marnie Werner explains in her editor's note.

"The articles in this issue cover four different areas: local government and whether it needs a new direction, rethinking how our schools are teaching our children, keeping rural hospitals financially viable, and which direction to head in the ongoing development of a broadband infrastructure." Werner continued. "Do these areas need comprehensive, fundamental change? And if they do, how much? How far do we go?"

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

DEED, and the need for SEED

Back in September DEED Commissioner Dan McElroy facilitated a forum in Fergus Falls to find out some of west central Minnesota's most pressing issues about economic development.

Today, he returned to present findings from his September visit and to outline how Governor Tim Pawlenty's Strategic Entrepreneurial Economic Development (SEED) program could help the region.

There's a lot to be said about living and working here, the forum participants pointed out: outdoor attractions, clean air, low crime, short commutes and urban amenities. Still, businesses indicated a great need for skilled workers. Communities wanted more support for entrepreneurship and small business development, as well as more state, regional and local investment in infrastructure of all types. Participants also called for more two-way collaboration between education and employers, from K-12 through higher education.

McElroy then outlined how SEED would benefit Greater Minnesota and the proposed funding. Take a look:
Developing and Growing Entrepreneurs
New Capital for Rural Businesses
Sustained Competitive Advantage for Rural Minnesota

Sen. Coleman takes the pulse of region on health care issues

Senator Norm Coleman recently held three town hall forums in west central Minnesota. The conference room at Lake Region Healthcare was full Monday morning as Sen. Coleman presented an overview of his vision for expanding health insurance coverage and lowering health care costs, and then listened to constituent concerns. These concerns ranged from a family practitioner's hope for better Medicare reimbursements to a senior's personal frustration with understanding the Medicare system.

Sen. Coleman is currently shepherding seven bills related to rural healthcare through the Senate. "Quality of healthcare shouldn't depend on your zipcode," he told the audience.

His issues:
  • Every person should have health care. The senator believes it begins with tax reform and refundable tax credits.

  • People shouldn't worry about losing their insurance if they get sick. Insurance needs to be portable. Leaving an employer, starting a new businesses, changing jobs or spending more time at home with family shouldn't risk one's health care coverage.

  • There needs to be a change of attitude. "There is a need to focus on wellness and prevention. Obesity is a big problem," he said. "I'm also a big believer in individual responsibility. We need to educate consumers so they can make better choices."

  • Health care decisions should not be made by Washington bureaucrats. While government can help, the decisions should be in the hands of citizens and their doctors. Health care reform shouldn't be a one-size-fits-all approach. There should be a variety of options.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Something we'd all be thankful for: ending poverty

For many, there'll be no horn of plenty this Thanksgiving, or any day for that matter. Families--more than we care to admit, and often for generations--have been mired in the muck that is poverty and find it nearly impossible to get out. The Minnesota Legislature's Commission to End Poverty by 2020, a bipartisan group of 18 senators and representatives, is hoping to find the means to put an end to poverty once and for all.

The commission is holding a public forum in Alexandria on Nov. 30, 1-3 pm at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 411 Hawthorne Street. It's an opportunity for residents of Douglas, Grant, Pope, Stevens and Traverse counties to share their personal experiences with living in poverty and its effects on their families and local communities.

The forum will also give legislators an insight into whether citizens have the will to support significant new efforts necessary to eliminate poverty in Minnesota by the year 2020. The commission is required to make recommendations to the full legislature by Dec. 15, 2008.

The forum is sponsored by West Central MN Communities Action, Inc. and the United Way of Douglas & Pope Counties.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Try this in your county: Fall Fun 511

Grant County's Child and Youth Council works to make sure the county's children grow up healthy, happy and learning to the utmost of their abilities. That means providing critical resources and services for children ages 0 to 22 and their families. And it doesn't hurt to add some fun into the mix, either!

The council hosted its annual "Fall Fun 511" at the Ashby School, Nov. 13. The event celebrated youth in the Grant County School District. After a light dinner, the evening included fun activities, music and informational break-out sessions for kids and adults. There was also time to discuss programs available to county youth, voice concerns, ask questions, and determine next steps to improving all that's done for the children in Grant County schools and communities.

WCI currently partners with the Child and Youth Council through our Early Childhood Initiative.

Donors, Nov. 15 is your special day!

Every Nov. 15, nonprofits pause to recognize the great contributions of philanthropy -- and those people active in the philanthropic community -- to the enrichment of our world. Frankly, without the support of our donors--individuals, communities, other foundations, etc.--we couldn't do our mission to help make west central Minnesota the best place in which to live and work.

Here at WCI, we just sent out our annual report highlighting what we've accomplished in the past year. It's one way we remain accountable to our contributors. It's our chance to recognize all of you for your generosity, as well. To all our fiscal year 2007 donors (July 1, 2006-June 30, 2007): we offer our thanks on your very own thanksgiving day--one week early!

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

It's never too early (or too late!) for career planning

Do you know what career your child is interested in pursuing? Many parents don’t. And don’t be surprised if your child doesn’t know either. That’s a problem, because it’s good for your children to start early—as early as eighth grade—thinking about their interests and skills and how these could translate into a career.

MnCareers (www.iseek.org/mncareers) is a great place for students to start looking into careers. They can click on “Start Exploring” and take the online interest assessment. “Investigate Careers” describes many possible occupations that match their interests. There are resources available for parents, too.

Don’t think your child has to move far away from home to get a good job, either. There are many high-demand, high-pay occupations throughout west central Minnesota. The 2008 MnCareers supplement details the kinds of workers that are needed in this area, plus education requirements and potential wages. Download a PDF of the supplement, or learn more at www.iseek.org/mncareers/myplace/edr4.html or www.iseek.org/westcentral/.

Been out of school for a while? The same online tools can be applied to YOUR job search!

Monday, November 5, 2007

What does an aging workforce mean to our state and local economies?

As more and more baby boomers hit retirement age, and more and more schools experience declining enrollment, employers are starting to get a little nervous about their future workforce.

Minnesota State Demographer Tom Gillaspy and Minnesota Chief Economist Tom Stinson recently presented sobering statistics, interesting challenges and possible solutions at Alexandria's second annual Manufacturers and Industries Breakfast.

Read about their presentation.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Nonprofits invited to apply for summer '08 internship grants

The Partnership Internship Program (PIP), coordinated by the Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs (HECUA), provides internship grants to 20 nonprofit agencies in Minnesota, North Dakota, and northwestern Wisconsin. Each recipient organization hires an undergraduate student who manages a project designed by the agency. With this grant, interns are paid to work full time for 400 hours or 10 weeks during the summer. Twenty nonprofit organizations will be awarded PIP grants for summer 2008; applications are due Nov. 27. For more information, including an application guide, go to www.hecua.org/pip.php.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Congratulations Nancy Vyskocil!

The board of directors from one of WCI's sister foundations, Northwest Minnesota Foundation (NMF), has named Nancy Vyskocil as NMF's next president. She was selected from a national pool of candidates through a five-month review process. She will begin serving as president in January 2008.

Nancy has served since 2001 as the chief financial officer and vice president of the Lake Region Electric Cooperative in Pelican Rapids. In this position she has been an active member of the WCI-sponsored Labor Force Development Council and is currently its chair. She has also worked on other special projects with WCI.

"I am excited about the opportunities that lay ahead with the Northwest Minnesota Foundation," Nancy said of her new position. "I look forward to being part of the team finding positive solutions for the [northwest Minnesota] region."

The WCI staff extend congratulations and best wishes to Nancy and look forward to working with her as a colleague of the Minnesota Initiative Foundations.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Will state's capital move to west central Minnesota?

Minnesota communities will vie for the honorary title of "Capital for a Day" in May 2008 as part of Minnesota's 150th celebration.

Residents will nominate and vote via the Sesquicentennial Web site for the five cities that will represent Minnesota's five geographical areas. West central Minnesota is in the prairie grasslands and deciduous forest zones of the state.

To vote for your favorite west central Minnesota town, county, region, reservation or township, visit http://www.mn150years.org/.

No such thing as a bad kid

Sometimes it's easy to label certain folk--kids and adults--as bad eggs. But nationally known speaker and youth care specialist Charlie Appelstein, MSW, is adamant that there's no such thing as a bad kid and is spreading the news that misbehavior is a cry for help and can be changed.

On Nov. 14, Appelstein will present " 'No Such Thing as a Bad Kid' The Power of a Strength-based Approach in Reshaping the Lives of Troubled Children & Youth" at the Lakeside Ballroom. Cost is $15 and includes lunch. Clock hours are available.

The event is sponsored by HELP (Helping Everyone Live In Peace) Council and the Pope County Early Childhood/THRIVE Initiative.

Sunrise session in Pope County

If it's Wednesday, it must be a community breakfast.

For the third week in a row, WCI staff headed out in the wee hours to host a town meeting. This time about 25 folks from all around Pope County met at the Village Inn in Glenwood to talk about their communities.

The lack of a county jail and the recent breakdown in talks with Stevens County about a joint jail/law enforcement center were hot topics, as was concern about the area's infrastructure--water, sewer and cell phone and/or Internet access.

Employers talked about the barriers to getting positions filled: lack of housing and daycare in the area, and few skilled workers. Local industries are tackling this. "We just want people who want to work, and we'll train them," one employer said. This was true for manufacturers, healthcare facilities and other businesses represented around the table. WCI has helped several area employers with their training programs through its Workforce 2020 grants. Businesses are also working with local high schools to get students exposed to and interested in the kinds of work available in the area.

Child care is a growing issue.

"If you don't have quality child care, it's tough for workers to come in and do quality work," said Jeannie Pederson, Pope County Early Childhood and Thrive coordinator.

"(Lack of) day care can cost us 10 percent of worker hours," an employer added.

Pederson discussed the work that Thrive was accomplishing. She invited those gathered to attend a Nov. 14 presentation in Glenwood by Charlie Appelstein on "No Such Thing as a Bad Kid."

Some talked about the opportunities that this area has to offer--a beautiful location, available jobs, newer schools, the early childhood coalition--and challenged the area's communities to think of doing more together, like a joint chamber of commerce between Starbuck and Glenwood, and combining forces to tackle infrastructure issues.

WCI holds several of these community meetings throughout west central Minnesota each year. Want to know when we'll be in your area? Contact Kim Embretson to find out.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

It's Manufacturers' Week, Oct. 22-26

Ever see that commercial where all plastic products suddenly start to disappear? The gist of the ad is to get people to realize how many things in our day-to-day life are made out of plastic. Have everything made by manufacturers disappear and you might be left with the lopsided mug your kid made in art class and an apple on your desk. Oh, wait. There wouldn't be a desk.

So, it's appropriate to take a week and say thanks to the manufacturers who not only make the things we need, but rank second in jobs in our region, about 14 percent of total regional employment. And they pay better than most other industries as well. Several towns are hosting manufacturer appreciation events throughout west central Minnesota. See if you can catch one.

Monday, October 22, 2007

We're number 11!

West Central Initiative (WCI) is ranked 11th on the Minnesota Council on Foundations’ newly released list of the state’s top community and public foundations.

“West Central Initiative works hard to provide resources that help create a better tomorrow for those living and working in west central Minnesota,” said WCI President Nancy Straw. “This ranking demonstrates our commitment to the region.”

The Minnesota Council on Foundations compiles the list each year. It ranks community and public foundations by grants and program-related investments paid in 2006.

"West Central Initiative partners with businesses, cities, counties, schools, human service agencies, individual donors and others to make a substantial investment in the communities and people of west central Minnesota," Straw continued. "We're all looking for ways to make this region a great place to live, work and raise a family. We're pleased this ranking shows at least the financial efforts of these partnerships."

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Fundraising hits home (photos) for Ashby Education Foundation

The Ashby/Dalton Post is running a series of fun ads from the Ashby Education Foundation. Recognize anyone, Ashby School alums?

Contact WCI for information about how to contribute to the fund.

My favorite (west central) Minnesota

Explore Minnesota has redesigned its Web site. It includes a section called "My Favorite Minnesota" where people like you and me can list our favorite places and share photos and even videos. Sure, the Mall of America and the North Shore are listed by plenty of people, but as you read the lists, there are several west central Minnesota surprises, too. Here are a few:

What are some of your favorite west central Minnesota spots and activities? Add your faves to My Favorite Minnesota's lists and help make our region shine!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The early bird gets a pretty good breakfast in Barnesville

WCI staff members are hitting the road early these days, as they host community meetings throughout the region. This morning a big breakfast and good conversation enticed about 30 people to head over to the Eagle Cafe in downtown Barnesville.

Barnesville is about 26 miles from Fargo-Moorhead, and an attractive place for people who work in the F-M area to live and raise their families. Good schools, easy access to stores, services and healthcare, strong youth programs, a low crime rate, and well-attended community events--like the popular Potato Days--are just some of the reasons people choose to live in Barnesville.

Many of the town's issues revolve around being a bedroom community:

Child care is a constant need, especially for infant care.
Keeping the city clean and attractive is a priority. New ordinances, plus grants to help rehabilitate downtown buildings and older homes are a couple ways that Barnesville works to look good for the community, visitors and potential homebuyers.

Volunteers are what really make so many of the events and projects succeed, but volunteer burn-out is a real concern. The town is being proactive about this through its Leadership Barnesville program, which provides training for the town's up-and-coming leaders.

WCI holds several of these community meetings throughout west central Minnesota each year. Want to know when we'll be in your area? Contact Kim Embretson to find out.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Early care and education are our future's most important investments

It's written all over her face: Louise Stoney believes that exemplary care and education of our youngest children are the biggest investments we can make in our country's future. She presented at the Mary McEvoy Lecture Series, Monday, Oct. 15 at Fergus Falls to a group of 120 area educators, early childhood professionals, care providers, government officials and more. Stoney is a nationally known child care and early childhood education policy specialist who co-runs the Alliance on Early Childhood Finance.

Check back for Stoney's PowerPoint presentation. She suggests you read the notes section for more in-depth information.

More photos from School Success event

MSCTC president honored for professional achievement

Dr. Ann Valentine, president of Minnesota State Community and Technical College, received the Professional Achievement Award as an alumna of Mount Mercy College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The award is presented to alumni who have made significant contributions or achievements in their field. Dr. Valentine has been MSCTC president since July, 2005. She serves on the Commission on Diversity, Inclusion and Equity for the American Association of Community Colleges.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Children thrive when communities make early care and education a priority, report says

It really does take a village to raise a child. A new report released by the Minnesota Initiative Foundations (MIFs)—including West Central Initiative—shows that when communities come together around early childhood issues, it can have a tremendous impact on making sure all children thrive.

Building Nurturing Communities of Thriving Children” was produced by Wilder Research on behalf of the MIFs to determine the success of The Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative (ECI). The ECI is made up of individuals and organizations from around the state that have formed 64 early childhood coalitions. These groups work with 165 greater Minnesota communities and have implemented more than 400 projects, programs and activities to improve the well-being of young children.

“This report shows how these diverse coalition projects are contributing in measurable ways to the healthy development and school readiness of young children, and it connects these efforts to research and evidence-based practices,” said Nancy Jost, West Central Initiative’s Early Childhood Initiative coordinator. “Often, school readiness is simply measured by whether or not a child knows the ABCs and 123s, but it’s so much more than that.”

The report highlights some of ECI’s success stories, including west central Minnesota’s Early Childhood Dental Network, which is improving oral health awareness, education and dental access throughout the region.

To learn more about the Minnesota Early Childhood Initiative or to receive a copy of the report, “Building Nurturing Communities of Thriving Children,” please call West Central Initiative at (800) 735-2239; or view the report online.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Breakfast in Breckenridge

In Breakfast at Tiffany's, whenever heroine Holly Golightly wanted to feel good, she would head over to the famous jewelers. In Breckenridge, breakfast at the Northern Grille was the feel-good thing to do on Oct. 10, when about 20 residents gathered with WCI staff to share their thoughts, ideas and concerns about the community.

It was clear fairly quickly that this assembly of city officials, businesspeople, civic leaders and concerned citizens loved their town, and expressed pride in what is being accomplished.

They talked about how the town draws people from miles around to take advantage of facilities like the Family Aquatic Center, the 4-H horse arena and the Bois De Sioux Golf Course. They raised up initiatives that have brought folks together to work hard to better their community, like the new Family Community Center, Project Breckenridge--whose work includes installing new playgrounds and park benches, planting flowers, and other beautification projects--and the current school referendum. They praised their healthcare, their early childhood and family education, their civic organizations and their schools.

They also identifed needs. Like more volunteers for Kinship, the area's youth mentoring program, more housing--especially for people over 55--and help for families struggling with mental illness, chemical dependency and other issues that are affecting their young children's abilities to learn and thrive.

All this and more was discussed--and the breakfast buffet was pretty darn good, too.

WCI holds several of these community meetings throughout west central Minnesota each year. Want to know when we'll be in your area? Contact Kim Embretson to find out.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

How a town spends: New York Mills gets a retail analysis

Quick, how much do you think the average person in your town annually spends on footwear? How about cable television? Prescription drugs? Vehicle insurance?

You may not know the answers, but the residents of New York Mills do. They recently heard a report of its spending habits from Ryan Pesch, regional extension educator in community economics for the U of M Extension Service. The presentation was part of the Horizons community leadership program aimed at reducing poverty in rural and reservation communities with populations of 5,000 or fewer and with histories of economic decline and significant population change.

The community learned not only how much the town spends on goods and services, but how much "leakage" or "surplus" there is of buying and selling in and out of the area. For example, when people go out of town to shop, that’s a leakage of spending to another community. And when a town draws people from other communities to shop, that’s a surplus.

New York Mills can now use this data to inform and enhance the economic development in the area.

Curious about New York Mills' spending habits? Take a look at the numbers here.

Ryan Pesch is available to present a similar retail analysis to your community. Contact him at 888-241-0843 or pesch@umn.edu.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Library system web site "provides local access to the world"

The Viking Library System just launched its new Web site. It's colorful and easy to navigate. Here are a couple of highlights:
  • Click on "Services" and you'll see that the library system provides outreach services to 65 daycares and Head Start groups on a monthly basis.

  • The "Online Reference Resources" page is a great place to start on just about any research topic.

  • If you're looking for something to read, try the "Bestsellers and Reading Lists" for suggestions on every type of book genre.
The Viking Library System extends through a large part of west central Minnesota, from New York Mills all the way to Browns Valley.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Scout project benefits area recreational trail

It took two years for Josh Hofmann to complete his Eagle Scout project, but now you can see his creation for yourself --a marker designating the trail head of the Central Lakes Trail located by the Stor-n-Lock storage units on the north side of Highway 210 just east of Pebble Lake Road in Fergus Falls. Josh worked with area volunteers and organizations--including WCI who awarded him a Good Neighbor grant--to complete the 3 foot by 4 foot cedar sign. It includes a map and a history of the trail. Josh did the research, fundraising and building himself.

Small business workshops galore!

The Minnesota Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in Moorhead is offering several workshops throughout the region.

What Makes A Business Valuable?: Sat. Oct. 6, 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Vergas High School Media Center. Cost: $85, includes lunch.

Introduction to Government Contracting: Tues., Oct. 16, 9 a.m.-12 noon, Moorhead State Center for Business, room 103. Register at www.ptac-meda.net.

Doing Business with the States of Minnesota and North Dakota: Friday, Oct. 5, 9 a.m.-12 noon, Detroit Lakes Technical College. Register at www.ptac-meda.net.

For more info, contact Jackie Seifert at the SBDC office, 218-447-2289.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Winona LaDuke to be inducted into Women's Hall of Fame

Winona LaDuke, director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, will be inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame during a weekend of ceremonies Oct. 6-7 in Seneca Falls, NY.

A graduate of Harvard and Antioch Universities, Winona LaDuke advocates for public support and funding for frontline native environmental groups. In 1994, she was nominated by Time Magazine as one of America’s most promising leaders under forty years of age. In 1998, she was named Ms. Magazine Woman of the Year. Ms. LaDuke was the vice-presidential candidate on the Green Party ticket in both 1996 and 2000.

Blandin broadband pre-conference webinars

Join others on one or all three of these FREE webinars sponsored by the Blandin Foundation! This series is perfect for economic development commissioners or elected officials to learn more about telecommunications and its impact on economic development.

Confirm your registration by sending a note to dpfeifer@minnesotaruralpartners.org

"Get up to speed on Internet technologies and their impact on local economic development before attending the Blandin Broadband Conference in November. Participating in a webinar is both easy and convenient so do not be hesitant to give it a try," said Bill Coleman, Webinar Moderator
Webinar Dates and Topics:

Oct. 3-Global Trends in Broadband

Oct. 17-The Economic Impacts of Broadband and Technology

Oct. 31-Web 2.0 Applications

Webinar Times: 8:30-9:30 AM
Webinar Instructions: Blandin webinars are Internet and conference call based. Click on this link to join us via the web: https://umconnect.umn.edu/blandinwebinar

Conference Call Dial: 866-316-1519 Passcode: 14223904

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Is your workplace a work-life champion?

A few years ago, the management team at American Solutions for Business in Glenwood, Minn., asked themselves if becoming a family-friendly company might help them succeed as a business. They wanted to attract and retain good employees, and a commitment to balance between faith, family and work seemed to be the best avenue. Today, American has put together practices that are enhancing the quality of life for employees, whether married with children or single. Employees use flexibility to fit their needs. The job turnover rate is in the single digits. In 2006, American Solutions for Business became one of the first recipients of the Minnesota Work-Life Champions Awards. The award honors Minnesota employers who create a flexible and supportive workplace and enable their employees to meet a dual agenda – meeting family and personal responsibilities and achieving business objectives.

Is your workplace a work-life champion? Businesses and organizations are invited to apply online to the Minnesota Work-Life Champions Awards by October 31, 2007.

Go to the Minnesota Work-Life Champions Web site to read about other success stories like American Solutions for Business. While you're there, take a look at the online resources, handouts and ideas for work practices that can help turn your workplace into a work-life champion.

This year, each employer applying to the Work-Life Champions Awards will receive by e-mail the following two gifts in PDF format:
A Work-Life History – Reports on Work-Life Trends
Best Practices for Small Companies

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

DL Chamber of Commerce offers fall color tour map

It's just about sweater weather, and the red- and gold-tinged leaves remind us that the beautiful colors of fall are on the way. The Detroit Lakes Chamber of Commerce is encouraging folks to drive over their way by offering a fall color tour map.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Legacy benefits Perham arts patrons

Hazel Schuler was a lifelong resident of Perham who loved music and drama. Hazel passed away last winter, but she earmarked a $32,000 gift in her estate for the 549 Family Foundation to make attending an arts program at the local high school a much more pleasurable experience.

The 549 Family Foundation is a component fund administered by WCI that benefits School District 549 in Perham.

Hazel specified she wanted her gift to go toward a new entrance to the PHS auditorium, where most of the city's concerts and plays are held. Right now, lines extend out the building, making it extremely unpleasant for arts patrons during inclement weather.

Construction estimates indicate that Hazel's gift will provide 35 percent of the money to complete the project. People interested in helping or contributing are invited to attend a steering committee meeting at 7 p.m., Sept. 24 at the Area Learning Center, 520 1st Ave. S. Or contact the 549 Family Foundation at 218-347-0549, or http://www.549family.com/.
Image courtesy of Hammers Construction.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Storytelling helps people envision region’s future

What will west central Minnesota look like in the future? What issues will our kids or grandkids face 40 years from now?

On Sept. 11, more than 30 people from around the region met at West Central Initiative to talk about the future of their communities. Their challenge was to envision Minnesota's future two generations out.

The dialogue was all part of the Meadowlark Project, a learning laboratory initiated by Northern Great Plains, Inc., (NGP) a Fargo-based non-profit whose mission is to make a positive difference in the future of rural communities and businesses by helping them successfully adapt to changing market and social forces. NGP works in North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa and Minnesota.

A group of 25 leaders from these states met over a period of more than a year to develop four possible scenarios of the future of the Great Plains region. The participants at the Sept. 11 dialogue listened to the scenarios then met in small groups to discuss them and use the stories as a springboard to conversation about the future of their own communities.

"Our hope is that we can identify four or five projects that we might implement in this area," said NGP President Jerry Nagel, who facilitated the event.

Two of the scenarios discussed the possible impact of the ethanol boom on the plains states. One scenario painted a somber picture of the influence of technology on our culture in the wake of cyber terrorism. The final story told how the western part of the Great Plains was able to recreate themselves into an area nationally recognized for its economic, environmental and social reforms.

"Why do we envision the future through stories? Telling stories is how we give meaning to our lives," Nagel told the participants. "It’s the opportunity to see ourselves in different scenarios to determine the kind of future we want to live."

To read or listen to the scenarios, visit www.meadowlarkproject.com/scenarios.asp.

Another dialogue is planned in Morris on Sept. 19 from 6-8 p.m. at the Prairie Inn, 200 East Highway 28. The event is free, but RSVP to West Central Initiative, 218-739-2239.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

New playground is a community effort

Like Goldilocks' search for the perfect porridge, chair and bed, citizens in Pelican Rapids were looking for a playground that was "just right" for their littlest children. Child care providers and parents were finding the current equipment too big for little hands and feet, and in some cases, too dangerous.

But now there's a new play area in E.L. Peterson Park that is designed specifically for children ages 2-5. And it took a whole community pitching in to help make it a reality. The WCI-supported Pelican Rapids Early Childhood Initiative spearheaded the project. They worked with city officials to plan the new play area, and helped raise $8,000 through private and business donations. WCI processed the donations. The local Jaycees provided volunteer labor to assemble the equipment.

The new play area will be dedicated Sept. 13, from 4:30-6:30 p.m. Ice cream will be served. Don't know where E.L. Peterson Park is? It's right next to Pelican Pete.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

"Pocket park" just the beginning of something big in Glenwood

Sometimes when you think big, it's good to start small.

That's what the Glenwood & Beyond (G & B) organization did. Last week the volunteer community group unveiled a new "pocket park" in downtown Glenwood. The little park is tucked between two buildings and includes picnic tables, benches and attractive landscaping.

The pocket park was an idea planted by the Minnesota Design Team during its visit to Glenwood last year. The team had several recommendations for beautifying the city's downtown. The park resonated with G & B. Through volunteer time and donations, the group completed the project within six weeks. The Pocket Park Committee is now considering several more beautification projects.

Meanwhile, G & B's Lakewalk, Downtown Streetscape and City Park/Landscaping Committees are working on plans, too.

Looks like big ideas are blossoming in Glenwood.

What's going on in your town?

Photos taken and provided by Amy Chaffins, Pope County Tribune

Monday, August 27, 2007

The joys of summer revisited

It's hard to believe summer is winding down.
But we sure had fun, didn't we?

Birak Shriners Circus, Fergus Falls

Helping Dad feed and water the hogs,
Douglas County Fair

Fishing at Phelps Mill

Mashed potato wrestling at Barnesville's Potato Days

Friday, August 24, 2007

Administrative training opportunities for nonprofits

September is right around the corner, and so are two opportunities for nonprofits to strengthen their administrative and finance skills.

"The Essentials of Nonprofit Administration: Enhancing Skills – Improving Programs" is a series of monthly workshops from Sept. 5, 2007 to May 7, 2007. This training is designed to address today’s critical issues that nonprofit organizations face daily. Participants of the program will experience an interactive, experiential learning of the program focus areas. In addition there will be opportunities for networking with the other nonprofit professionals and learned practical application techniques. The workshops will be held in either Alexandria or Fergus Falls.

Register online or, for more information, call the Heart of Lakes United Way office at (320) 763-4840.


If you're interested in improving your organization's financial health, then you'll want to attend the nonprofit training workshops Sept. 19, 2007, at the Courtyard Marriott in Moorhead.

Kate Barr, executive director of the Minnesota Nonprofits Assistance Fund, will present "Calculating True Program Costs" and "Measuring NonProfit Financial Health." Cost to attend the full day is $35. Register online today!

Monday, August 20, 2007

My Health Minnesota--Go Local

Need help finding a support group in your community? Looking for adult day care services near you? Wondering who you can talk to locally about a specific health issue? Try out My Health Minnesota--Go Local, an online resource that helps you find the people and programs that can help you with your health questions and needs.