With the belief that strategic planning for regional economic development is critical, members of GPS 45:93 set out to do just that on Sept. 23 around a large table in the Isanti County Courthouse in Cambridge, Minn.
GPS 45:93 is a regional coalition working to promote dialogue and collaboration among the region’s public and private agencies in an effort to foster economic development. Its location, four counties in east central Minnesota (Pine, Isanti, Chisago and Kanabec) places it within two hours of over 80-percent of the state’s population.
The organization’s need to plan was fueled by some regional factors that have come to be, including a higher-than-the-state-average unemployment and poverty rates, and lower-than-the-state-average diversity and educational attainment rates, as well as regional dependence on state aid, decreasing property values, and lack of venture and other sources of capital, among others.
The strategic planning process outlined those perceived weaknesses as well as the regions’ strengths and competitive advantages: growth, quality of life, available—and affordable—land and workforce, natural amenities, existing regional collaboration, a history of successes, and a strong manufacturing base, among others.
The Initiative Foundation’s Dan Frank and Sandy Voigt were on-hand to facilitate the meeting. Frank is the program manager for community development and Voigt is the business development specialist at the foundation.
They suggested that the group look beyond the region’s characteristics and look internally, into the organization of GPS 45:39, now in existence in its twelfth year, though first as Northern Technology Initiative. The organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats became apparent and were discussed.
“Though we have a credible history, what does GPS 45:93 mean outside of the organization?” asked Sam Griffith, city administrator of Sandstone, Minn. “There exists a lack of awareness. What does our name say about us?”
Some of the goals that came out of the session included focusing more on economic development and marketing, and less on workforce development and organizational development.
“Workforce development is being done elsewhere, in other agencies,” said Sara Trieber, current president of GPS 45:93 and a staffer for the Corporate Commission of the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe. “And, we’ve already established our organization. It’s no longer in development stage,” she added.
Now, GPS 45:93 can turn its energies to economic gardening, economic strategy and the like. It has already completed business retention and expansion visits in its respective communities, as well as a network of ‘go-to’ people in each community.
Now that the group has a new name and identity, and all that goes along with that—a logo, tagline, Web site, etc.—it can create and implement a marketing plan.
“We’ve come a long ways in a relatively short time,” said member Dr. Robert Musgrove, president of Pine Technical College, adding, “And, we realize we have a bright future if we are all working together. We are of the philosophy that if one wins, all win.”
The tagline for GPS 45:93 is, “Your point of opportunity”. Its precise coordinates, 45-degrees North (latitude) and 93-degrees West (longitude), when extended to their full six digits, lead to a point on the map near where four partner counties—Pine, Isanti, Chisago and Kanabec—touch. Abbreviated, it leads to a simpler URL for its website, http://www.gps4593.com. There, one can find useful links, testimonials, and information on the members of the consortium.