Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, Oct. 18, 1999

Volunteers mobilize for BR&E program

By Luis Puga

The Blue Note Bar and Ballroom saw the first stage for Winsted's Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) program Thursday.

Area business, government, and school officials gathered to receive training for the program's interview phase. Volunteers will go out and interview 36 businesses for this phase, going over a written survey with the firms.

The surveys ask firms a number of questions to discern problems the business is having. The data is then translated into a report to get a sketch of what the program can do to retain and help local institutions to grow.

The program will mobilize 36 volunteers. Members of the task force, formed in September, were asked to bring an additional person to the training meeting. Michael Darger, director of the BR&E program, advised that the two-person teams be made up of individuals with different professional backgrounds.

The survey will also address emergency, or red flag, issues that will be considered immediately by the task force. The remainder of the survey will be sent to the University of Minnesota Extension Service to process into both a full length and a summary report. These reports will eventually be presented to the public.

Some questions were asked about the confidentiality of the surveys. Darger said the survey's would only be seen by City Administrator Aaron Reeves, who will remove the identifying cover sheets and specific answers that would allude to a specific business. The surveys will then be assigned numbers before the data can be processed into reports.

When asked what should be done if a firm refuses to answer a question, Darger said to leave it blank.

In part, some of the questions addressed not only the reality of the economic climate the business is facing, but the firms' outlook as well.

Some questions are framed as to how the firm perceives the conditions that surround its competition. Darger said of such questions that perception is reality, and it is important to determine this information.

He added that it is important that interviewers ask the questions exactly as they are phrased on the survey.

The businesses surveyed will include all of the manufacturing and trucking businesses, the newspaper, three retail businesses, three professional services, three hospitality businesses, and others.

The Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted and Holy Trinity Schools, as well as some agricultural related businesses were added to the sample group by the task force.

Reeves emphasized the importance of setting the interviews and getting them done in a timely manner. Overall, he'd like to see the project done by February.

Darger said Winsted was the first city of its size that would implement the program. He said that the ideal was to have the program done by several area cities, but that proposal fell through.

He added that the survey has been done on other communities with some similar characteristics to Winsted.

Overall, he said that Winsted looks as if it will have a good program, given the mix of people who make up the volunteer interviewers and the dedication of the task force.

Said Reeves, "Basically, we just want to show to the businesses in town that the city is interested in them, and we want to create a very business-friendly environment. By doing this, we can hopefully find any problems that the businesses have with the city and correct them as soon as possible."

He felt the city should be able to set guidelines to correct issues for businesses within two months.

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