TCDC celebrates growth in Todd County

6 May 2018

awardLakewood Health System CEO Tim Rice, left, accepts the Todd County Development Corporation Economic Impact Award from Rick Utech, TCDC Executive Director. Besides their $23 million expansion, Lakewood continues to hire physicians and other providers. (Staples World photo by Mark Anderson)

By Mark Anderson •  News Editor

“How welcoming is my community?”

That’s the question Ben Winchester told people they need to ask about their communities at the Todd County Development Corporation Annual Dinner on April 9 at the Browerville Community Center.

Winchester, of the University of Minnesota Center for Small Towns, was one of the speakers at the event. Dawn Espe of Region Five Development Commission gave a presentation on the new marketing plan “The Good Life,” which is available to be used by any community in Todd, Wadena, Cass, Crow Wing and Morrison counties. Another speaker, Chad Bullock of West Central Telephone Association, told about their new broadband lines to be installed south and southwest of Staples this spring.

Several awards were given out at the banquet. Two Economic Impact Awards were given to Lakewood Health System of Staples and CentraCare Health of Long Prairie. Lakewood CEO Tim Rice talked about their $23 million addition and CentraCare Administrator Dan Swenson talked about raising $3.2 million from the community for their new medical campus, and said they are on the verge of breaking ground for a new wellness center.

The Emerging Business Award was given to Rigid Machining, owned by James Brichacek and Dan Carry.

A Community Appreciation Award was given to Kevin Larson of CTC.

Todd County Development Corporation Executive Director Rick Utech provided a rundown of some of the accomplishments they have achieved over the past seven years,

  • Developed a revolving loan fund to help new and expanding businesses.
  • Established a Small Business Development Center outreach office.
  • Helped create 216 new jobs and retain 165 jobs in Todd County.
  • Leader in broadband development projects
  • Launched website and partnered with Region Five “The Good Life” website.
  • Engaged $7,663,000 business project dollars financed with TCDC assistance.

But it was Winchester’s talk that gave the crowd of more than 65 people a perspective on what is happening in rural America.

He said that communities are worried that their town is dying when they lose a store or lose a school, but if that was true, “show me all the dead towns,”
said Winchester. He said losing a store is about globalization and losing a school is about child population.

“The number one predictor of school consolidation is the birth rate,” said Winchester.

Because of a lower birth rate per family, nearly every rural school in the country is losing population except those near a growing regional center.

Winchester also talked about the changing economy of rural areas. Education and health services are now the top two industries, as farming and manufacturing have come and gone, and are not likely to dominate the economy again.

One area of growth in the country is in the nonprofit sector. Winchester showed statistics that nonprofits in Todd County have gone up by 28 percent during a time the population went up by two percent. Non-profit assets jumped from $31 million to $100 million in Todd County during that same time.

Rural economies are now as diversified as urban economies, said Winchester, and a person looking for a job has a choice to live anywhere. Because of Baby Boomer retirements, the U.S. is also entering a period of “the tightest labor market we’ve ever known,” so job seekers will have plenty of opportunities to choose where they live.

In order to keep up with the new world, Winchester suggested rural communities pay more attention to the 46 percent of Minnesotans who move every five years, and take an active role in welcoming them and helping them feel welcome.

“The number one outcome” for a rural community is to “talk to your newcomers,” said Winchester.

Rural communities also need to be aware of the stories they are telling about their town. Winchester said “the difference in whether kids want to move back to their home town is the narrative they hear while growing up.”

While some people in small towns are prone to talk negatively about their community, Winchester said they don’t realize that they are living the lifestyle that most of the country wants.

“We’re probably in the place we want to be, we just don’t recognize it yet,” he said.

The proof of that is the number of newcomers that continually move into the community. “People are moving to your town for what you are today, they don’t care about your past problems,” said Winchester.

Article and image courtesy of Staples World.