By Beth Bily
It’s an economic development concept that’s been steadily gaining traction around the county. Beginning in 2014, it’s also coming to Itasca County and the Arrowhead region.
That concept has floated around for about 20 years and is known as “economic gardening.” Locally, economic developers have been talking of bringing the model here for the last two years, said Christy Clay, director of strategic initiatives for the Duluth-based Entrepreneur Fund.
The pilot program is co-sponsored by the Entrepreneur Fund, UMD’s Center for Economic Development, the Blandin Foundation, Northspan and Itasca Economic Development Corp (IEDC).
Economic gardening differs from some types of economic development in that it focuses on existing businesses poised on the threshold of significant growth opportunities. Other efforts often emphasize attracting outside firms to relocate or open new offices locally. Economic gardening has been successfully implemented as a development tool elsewhere and now is the primary focus of efforts in both Michigan and Florida.
To be eligible for the pilot program here, a business must:
• be a for-profit entity headquartered in Koochiching, Itasca, Crow Wing, Aitkin, Cook, Lake, St. Louis, Carlton, Pine or Douglas County for a minimum of the last two years.
• generate annual revenue or working capital between $1 million and $50 million.
• employ between 10 and 99 full-time workers.
• demonstrate growth in employment numbers and/or revenue during at least two of the past five years.
• provide products or services beyond the local area to regional, national or global markets.
• be referred by a participating economic development or entrepreneurial support organization.
The ultimate goal of the program is to help local companies expand their reach and sales by identifying avenues of growth – thus creating jobs, said Mark Zimmerman, president of IEDC.
The overall cost is a fraction of those associated with other types of economic development, which often carry a price tag of tens of thousands for each job created. Regional economic developers are estimating $5,000 for each of the five to six firms selected to pilot the program here.
If the pilot is successful, area economic developers hope to expand the program. One model not far off geographically is the seven-county metro area, now in its third year of an economic gardening program. There, economic developers have adopted a three-pronged approach which includes the strategic research, a CEO roundtable and participation in about four CEO forums.
For more information about the Arrowhead Region Economic Gardening Program or to find a referring organization, contact Christy Clay at 218.623.5729 or email@example.com or Jennifer Pontinen at 218.749.7752 or firstname.lastname@example.org.