Mark Hanson has a unique plan to promote Wadena.
The director of the West Central Economic Development Alliance - a Sebeka-based organization dedicated to improving the region’s business climate - is asking area restaurants, service providers, stores, schools and non-profit organizations to harness the power of social media to promote each other. Hanson will explain the specifics of his plan during informational meetings at 7 a.m., noon and 5 p.m. Wednesday at the Pizza Ranch. He’s hoping to get 32 entities to show up.
In order to succeed, “businesses need to work together,” Hanson said, .
The idea is straightforward: Each week, all of the institutions would promote a single business on their Facebook pages, which would reach exponentially more people than if they only promoted themselves.
“How powerful is that?,” Hanson said. “This medium has extreme value.”
The Pioneer Journal sat down with Hanson last week at the Cyber Cafe to talk about economic development in Wadena County.
PJ: What is the West Central Economic Development Alliance?
Hanson: It’s an economic development entity, but it’s not affiliated with a county or a city, officially. Those are called authorities. That’s a state designation that gives you certain powers by way of working with the city or county. Well we’re a private non-profit so our boundaries are wide open. But we still have economic development powers. We can own property, we’re a 501(c)(3) so we’re tax exempt and we can get grants. But the goal is really to help develop the economy in the area through working with new businesses to bring new businesses in - recruiting - and retaining the businesses that are already here … they’re the easiest ones to help develop. That’s the retention part. And then you’ve got the expansion part, where someone in the area says “I want to make a change. I want to add on new employees, or bring on a new piece of equipment or add a whole new service.” With that, there are so many ancillary parts to it, and they are really the marketing, the promotion and the networking.
PJ: What are the positives that you point to about the Wadena area?
Hanson: Right away, it’s the schools. I mean, you pick a sport and then you pick a school and you watch the spirit … The school spirit, the quality education, the connectivity of the town because of that is amazing and with that you can have a lot of positivity from that, because the school’s connected with almost any big event that has any traction. That’s the first thing.
The next thing is we are so close to what everybody calls “up north.” We don’t have the big lakes, we don’t have the big resorts. We have some of the smaller things. We have great little campgrounds and Spirit Lake is very nice. But within 30 miles, we have all of it. We don’t get the influx of visitors getting in the way of our normal everyday life in the summer, but if we want to go get it, it’s here for us. It’s just right at our doorstep. But then we can go home and have a normal life … I think we get those kind of amenities kind of for free, but we don’t have the disadvantages of all the people coming in and interrupting your everyday life.
Also for me, the other part you have is the safety here. Crime is limited, or low or non-existent. People don’t lock their doors. That’s small town in general.
PJ: What are the challenges in getting people to take time to consider Wadena as place to move and a place to have a business?
Hanson: The first part is, because of everything I just said, because of everything that surrounds us, people assume that there’s nothing here. You assume that there’s not those amenities, you assume that there’s not jobs because you don’t see all the activity going on during the week. It’s usually Highway 10 and Highway 71 and people drive through and they see Holiday and they see McDonald’s and they go through and they stop somewhere else. They’re not educated on what’s really going on. I almost want to say, it’s a part of the Midwestern culture not to brag much, so even if we have stuff that’s going on, people just don’t wave the flag. If they’re doing well, you don’t hear about it, if they’re doing bad you don’t hear about it. They just do their business.
But along with that, the tough part is that up until the West Central Economic Alliance started (in 2012), there was no support system, there was no one to network with the new business owner or potential new business owner to get them the information they needed. There was no one to go to, to know what the state programs are or get the state incentives. So without having that resource, it’s impossible to know how many people went somewhere else because the resource wasn’t there. It’s impossible know how many businesses didn’t start at all because the resource wasn’t there. You can’t compute that. But I do know in the year-and-a-half I’ve been here, we’ve started seven new businesses, we’ve expanded two businesses, we’ve sold one business, we’ve built a 16-unit housing complex and we’ve put about $3.5 million into the economy with either a loan from banks or money from foundations or money from rural development foundations. Would that have happened without someone doing the work? I just don’t think so. I think some of that stuff just wouldn’t have happened at all.