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County board puts the spotlight on economic development

County Board Chairperson Lee Rogness, far right, leads a discussion about the new county economic development committee. Other board members, from left, are: John Lindquist, Roger Froemming, Wayne Johnson and Doug Huebsch. Tom Hintgen/FOCUS

Otter Tail County commissioners, following an analysis of population trends and other data by West Central Initiative, are taking strides to establish an economic development committee.

Membership will be comprised of residents from each of the five commission districts. Civic leaders with economic development expertise will serve as ex officio members.

The committee will address four major areas, including tourism, agriculture, housing and the service sector.

"Our goal is to create an economic environment that will stimulate growth," said board chairperson Lee Rogness at a June 19 meeting.

"Business sustainability, with small businesses helping one another, will also be one of the goals of the new committee," said commissioner Wayne Johnson. "Some of those businesses may want to grow, while others wish to maintain what they already have. The committee will be open to new ideas, such as business incubators and the like."

Commissioner Doug Huebsch, who represents the Perham area, said that housing is a major issue.

"We have people driving into Otter Tail County each day when they go to work, and we need to attract those people to live in this county and not be commuters," said Huebsch. "As an example, we need to help communities such as Perham by giving them the tools to address new housing projects."

Cities such as Perham already are doing a good job with economic development, said Huebsch. But the county, he said, also needs to help out with job growth and business assistance.

"Small businesses feed on each other," said commissioner John Lindquist. "Many of these businesses do various projects for individual goods and services."

Each of the five commissioners agreed that positive attitudes and successful economic development go hand in hand.

The county works in association with the Fergus Falls-based West Central Initiative, whose focus is to improve the quality of life in west central Minnesota. The initiative helps communities develop plans for the future and promotes community and economic development through the creation, retention and improvement of high quality jobs.