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W’bago EDA hears about a CEDA plan

By Staff | Jan 6, 2019

Members of the Winnebago Economic Development Authority (EDA) listen to a proposal from the Community and Economic Development Associates group, including, left to right, Cris Gastner, Joya Stetson, Annie Leibel and Mary Kennedy. Leibel and Kennedy are working for Blue Earth and the county.

The Winnebago Economic Development Authority heard a presentation by Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) at their regular monthly meeting on Jan. 2. The purpose of the talk was to provide information on how CEDA might be able to assist Winnebago with economic development.

Cris Gastner, senior vice president for CEDA, shared some background information on the company.

“Our organization is 32 years old and was originally founded as a grant writing organization, writing small cities development block grants for a lot of the communities in rural southeastern Minnesota,” Gastner explained.

The organization changed in the mid 1980s becoming more involved in economic development and striving to work in local communities instead of being located in a regional office, according to Gastner.

“The world of economic development has been changing a lot in recent history,” Gastner noted. “I think how we view economic development is changing because society is changing and becoming more mobile and much more global than it ever has before.”

In times past people would identify the job and company they wanted to work for, move there, work for 30 years and retire. That is not the model anymore; people are choosing where they want to live a lot of times before they are choosing where they want to work, because to be honest, people can live in Winnebago and work in Hong Kong because of the Internet and globalization.”

Gastner explained this has led to the lines between economic development and community development becoming more and more blurred. Conversations are now held about the importance of dog parks, bike trails, quality broadband and of a vibrant main street and downtown. In the past those conversations would have centered more on infrastructures and industrial parks.

“As an organization we have done a lot to adjust to that conversation changing as well,” Gastner stated. “Three years ago we introduced our expanded marketing program where we looked at new ways we can affect our communities and help them be as proactive as possible when it comes to their economic development.”

Three years ago CEDA began doing rural regional bus tours according to Gastner. Three or four CEDA communities are chosen for the tour. The bus is filled with a mixture of people with different backgrounds, including commercial and residential realtors, architects, developers on both the commercial and residential side, engineers and people representing educational institutions.

“A lot of these people (on the tour) are coming out of the metro area, or even Rochester, and they have no idea what is happening in rural communities,” Gastner remarked.

Joya Stetson, vice president of marketing and business development for CEDA, explained further that after the tour it is not necessarily a new facility gets built or a new housing development goes up, it is more of an awareness so these developers, architects, engineers and companies are familiar with these communities and know they exist.

“I tell people all the time that you can’t be the answer if you are not an option,” Stetson said. “People want to know what makes your community special.”

Speaking about Winnebago in particular, Mary Kennedy, of the Blue Earth EDA, said, “As far as the potential for CEDA to help out with special projects, we could be assisting with the Winnebago school redevelopment project, coordinating business networking sessions to facilitate community conversation, creating a community profile, facilitating grant writing and implementing a business appreciation program.”

Addressing day to day issues such as the childcare, housing and workforce shortage, which Winnebago, and the region in general are facing, is another area where CEDA could become involved, Kenney added.

“Our contracts are set up as a 12-month contract with each of our communities; we try and make the contracts as flexible as possible,” Gastner said. “The most important part for us, I think, is that there is a 30-day out in every one of our contracts.”

Gastner explained the reason for the 30-day out clause.

“If at the end of the day a community is not getting the return they are looking for with its investment in our organization, we don’t want to make it a three to five year painful separation process,” Gastner commented.

He also said their contracts are very flexible, varying from being hired for one day every other week to five days a week.

“CEDA utilizes a team approach. Each community has a point person, such as Mary Kennedy in Blue Earth,” Gastner explained, “but what sets us apart is we have 24 other people behind that one person who have different experiences and different talents.”

The cost of hiring CEDA varies, the hourly rate goes down with the increase in hours they are contracted for. Gastner will be sending a rate sheet to the Winnebago EDA.

In other business, all of the current officers were reelected to their positions on the board. Jeremiah Schutt will remain president, Melissa Engelby stays on as vice president and the secretary/treasurer remains Jean Anderson.