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County Economic Development Committee off and running

Photo by Tom Hintgen/FOCUS Timothy O’Neill of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development spoke to members of the Otter Tail County Economic Development Committee during a Feb. 25 meeting in Fergus Falls.
Tom Hintgen
Otter Tail County Correspondent
An Economic Development Committee is looking into ways to foster growth and vitality in Otter Tail County.
 Established by the county Board of Commissioners in 2012, the committee has held three quarterly meetings to date, and includes government and private industry representatives from across the county, including Perham. The gatherings have been held at Lakes Country Service Cooperative in Fergus Falls. Tourism was the topic at one meeting, and housing was recently discussed at a meeting on Feb. 25.At the group’s initial gathering, in August of 2012, the county’s strengths were identified as geography, economic diversification, water resources, family living, agriculture and higher education. Weaknesses identified were a lack of job creators, lack of a solid transportation system, and absentee ownership of property.
 And while an increasing retirement population has positive effects on Otter Tail County, committee members are concerned that too many younger people leave the area. That’s where job creation comes into the picture, they emphasize. Members have said that the Economic Development Committee has many benefits, including helping to promote tourism, new housing and other endeavors.  They also see establishment of the committee as an opportunity to share ideas, collaborate on various projects and network with one another. For example, increased networking and collaboration between Perham and Pelican Rapids was discussed as one possibility. 
 Among those representing Perham on the committee are Chuck Johnson, economic development director, and Dave Schornack, COO of Arvig. Doug Huebsch, who represents the Perham area on the county Board of Commissioners, is also a committee member. On Feb. 25, these representatives outlined Perham’s efforts to help alleviate the city’s housing shortage. Perham used modified tax increment financing to plan for four two-story, 12-plex apartments on a three-acre lot adjacent to Perham Health on the southwest side of town. A group called “Grow Perham” spearheaded the effort. Now, as a result of committee discussions, other committee members want to do the same or similar things to promote housing in their cities.