Guest column: Selling entire community is a must

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 19, 2002

There is perhaps more opportunity for Albert Lea today than at any time over the last 50 years &045; and much of it has been literally dropped in our laps. We are the benefactor of a wonderful location, a transportation system unparalleled by other communities our size, a strong Midwestern work ethic, and vast natural resources. Even a devastating fire at a major local employer last summer may, in fact, turn out to be a positive rather than a negative.

But Albert Lea is at a crossroads. The mission of Greater Jobs is &uot;to provide and promote services and resources to retain, expand, create, and attract business and quality employment opportunities in Freeborn County.&uot; In short, our goal is economic development.

Albert Lea has a rich heritage of &uot;organic&uot; economic development. We have abundant examples of both well-paying manufacturing and service jobs that were created by businesses germinated and grown from within our own local citizenry. Today we have a diverse business community not dominated by one major employer or industry, and this is good.

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Yet, if we truly want more for ourselves, our families, and our community &045; if we want to attract outside business to relocate to Albert Lea or to choose Albert Lea as the site of a satellite office or plant &045; then today we must think outside the traditional economic development box. We must realize that communities such as Mankato, Owatonna, Rochester, and Mason City want these same things and are competing with us for these exact same jobs. And we all compete with the same basic tools &045; land, buildings, and tax incentives &045; to lure these businesses to our community.

What will attract these businesses to Albert Lea? What will keep our high school graduates in Albert Lea? What will lure those who have left back to town? How do we get that young family tired of the hustle and bustle and problems of the big city to consider Albert Lea? If you were an outside business owner considering a new location, and you had the same basic financial package being offered by Albert Lea, Mankato, Owatonna, and Rochester, would you choose Albert Lea?

We must continue to make available the basics of land, buildings, and tax incentives for our economic development efforts; but our offering for business development and growth must be much broader to have a chance for success. Our offering must be our entire community as a whole; and, in this regard, we must ask ourselves, &uot;Do we have a competitive product for economic development in Albert Lea?&uot;

In order to attract and grow businesses in Albert Lea, we must have a vibrant, plentiful workforce. What will make Albert Lea a desirable place to live? I submit that we have the tools to make it such that other communities don’t. We have the transportation systems, the beautiful new high school, and top-end medical facilities.

Now we must get our lakes cleaned up to truly realize our potential. The issues surrounding this endeavor have literally been studied and debated for decades. This project is good for literally all of Albert Lea! Now is the time to be bold &045; to take advantage of these opportunities before us. The keys to successful civic projects are: Vision; Leadership; and Public Support.

Greater Jobs looks forward to working with all of you over the next year in using our inherent entrepreneurial enterprise to capitalize on our attributes. Together, we can help Albert Lea realize its true potential. Together, we can make it happen here in Albert Lea!

We encourage all of you to support cleaning up our lakes, and to make your voice known to our County Commissioners and City Council.

Brad Arends is President of Greater Jobs, Inc., a Freeborn County economic-development organization.