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'Live Wide Open' campaign promotes development in Otter Tail

The ‘Live Wide Open’ initiative is a program for economic development. Courtesy photo.

Fergus Falls-based West Central Initiative, always keeping an open mind to new ideas, has launched "Live Wide Open" which showcases opportunities for rewarding careers in Otter Tail County and other areas of west central Minnesota.

"Live Wide Open" can mean opening up one's capacity to do what you love or what you've always dreamed of doing, says West Central Initiative Communications Director Sheri Booms Holm.

"There are a lot of opportunities for work and for starting your business in west central Minnesota," she points out.

WCI is a foundation that works to strengthen the economy of nine rural counties in west central Minnesota: Otter Tail, Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Pope, Stevens, Traverse and Wilkin.

Stories of why people want to live and work here

WCI Communications Director Holm lived in the Twin Cities for more than two decades before, in her words, "taking a leap of faith" and moving to Fergus Falls for her position at West Central Initiative.

She and her husband, Perry, look at themselves as ambassadors for the region.

"We've immersed ourselves in all things local, from the arts and the food we buy to the festivals and events that we attend," said Holm.

"Our friends and family often comment that we always seem to be doing something fun or interesting here in west central Minnesota."

Molly Johnston's "aha" moment struck the summer before she moved back to Battle Lake with her husband, Robbie.

She previously studied dance in Philadelphia and Eugene, Oregon before taking a job with Zenon Dance Company in Minneapolis.

But west central Minnesota's lakes country was never far from her heart. When a house came on the market near Robbie's family's summer cabin at Silver Lake, they bought it.

Molly became operations manager for Kaddatz Galleries in Fergus Falls and is currently associated with the Fergus Falls School of Dance, as a teacher.

She also runs a nonprofit organization, DanceBARN Collective. The mission is to bring dance opportunities to rural communities.

Josh Hanson, except for his college days in Moorhead, has lived in Vergas. He purchased the Spanky's restaurant in 2005.

The business employs 60 to 70 people and is open year-round.

During the slower months, Hanson and others hunt together in places such as Canada, the West Coast, Argentina and New Zealand.

"I enjoy my travels but always am happy to come back home to Vergas," he says. "I'm here for the long haul."

Partnering with Otter Tail County

Serving as WCI "Live Wide Open" coordinator is Rick Schara who is familiar with many people through his previous role in workforce development for area counties.

"We are here to help show why Otter Tail County and west central Minnesota is such a great area in which to live," says Schara. "If someone wants to consider a move or career change, 'Live Wide Open' can be their first research stop."

He emphasizes that growing partnerships in Otter Tail County is the name of the game.

"One way is to help small communities market themselves to tell their story," says Schara.

In late March newspaper editors and publishers from Otter Tail County attended a seminar on community development during the annual Minnesota Newspaper Association Convention in Bloomington.

"Communities, with good attitudes aligned with goals, can and will prosper well into the next generation," said Doug Griffiths, a specialist in economic development.

"Each community should market its own identity and what makes its town unique while attracting new residents. Don't live in the past and be open to fresh ideas."

Schara agrees that quality of life is one key to luring people to new jobs and homes here in Otter Tail County.

How you can help

In order for "Live Wide Open" to take hold in this area of Minnesota, it's important that people obtain additional information by logging onto the "Live Wide Open" website.

"Share the website (www.livewideopen.com) with people who have indicated they would like to return to our area," says Schara.

"Logging onto our Facebook page also is helpful. And if you feel we are on the right track, please hit the 'Like' button."

Schara's email is rick@livewideopen.com

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