Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal, April 3, 2000

BR&E survey results indicate positive attitude for Winsted businesses

By Andrea Vargo

The survey results from the Business Retention and Expansion (BR&E) show a positive attitude by Winsted businesses, but also highlight the lack of future employees for the area, business people were told March 23.

BR&E is a program from the University of Minnesota (U of M) Extension Service that is intended to assist small businesses, and this meeting was an update on what is happening at this time.

The task force that spearheaded the creation of this program has completed a target survey of business owners, and the statistics are now available.

Some of the findings, such as a lack of suitable employees for local businesses, need to be addressed immediately, according to Winsted City Administrator Aaron Reeves.

One of the resources the organization will use is a mailing to area high school graduates and former residents in the 18 to 35 age group, in an attempt to entice them back to the city.

Other communities have had some success with this approach, said Chris Schultz, media coordinator.

The state has offered up to $8,000 to get the project off the ground, and if it works, it may be used as a model by the state, said Reeves.

Michael Darger, BR&E strategies consultant from the U of M took the floor to explain some of the final statistics tabulated from the survey.

As a whole, Winsted firms were optimistic about their future, he said.

Also rated high by employers were worker attitudes and productivity.

Winsted is seen by the business people surveyed as an excellent place to live and do business, noted Darger.

Unfortunately, there are problems recruiting general labor, as well as professional/management or production/specialty skills workers, he said.

This is the case throughout the state, and according to projections by the state demographer, this may be the way things are for some time to come, Darger said.

Winsted firms predicted more than 111 new employees will be needed over the next three years, according to the survey.

In addition to recruiting more workers, another priority project is the improvement and retention of potential workers, Darger stated.

This project involves establishing a school/employer partnership. The object is to increase worker skill levels by cost-sharing and creating tuition and other incentives for local learners, Darger explained.

Ridgewater College will adjust classes to meet employer needs, he said.

If a business has employees that need retraining, there is state help to assist in continuing education, Darger noted.

Another part of the BR&E project was addressed by extension educator David Nelson.

"You couldn't see a more dedicated and enthusiastic team to go out and visit businesses," Nelson said.

"It is a feather in your hat, the way you did your survey," he said.

Business planning and market development is Nelson's area of expertise.

He sees his job as connecting businesses with the organizations and resources that can assist them.

The Small Business Management Program at Ridgewater College is one of those resources. It has a small business development center.

Marketing plans, troubleshooting, how to get more customers: the development center is a clinical response to a specific problem, he explained.

The Winsted Economic Development Authority is the first contact for businesses that need financing, Nelson said.

Facilitator for many of the things a small business may need is the Civic and Commerce (C&C) organization, he said.

Nelson said he would like to see the C&C become a full chamber of commerce.

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