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?"