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Lonsdale Chamber of Commerce periodically hosts lunch and learns to give businesses the opportunity to network. At a recent EDA meeting, the Chamber and EDA discussed possible collaborative options for improving economic development in Lonsdale. (file photo/southernminn.com)

The Lonsdale Economic Development Authority (EDA) and Lonsdale Chamber of Commerce both seek to support and promote area businesses, so why not do it together?

Results from a recent survey directed toward the EDA’s Business Retention and Expansion (BRE) program suggest these two entities, plus the Old Town Lonsdale group that specifically focuses on the downtown area, could work together for economic development opportunities.

The final survey report, which City Administrator Joel Erickson presented to the EDA during its Thursday meeting, suggests strategies moving forward in the categories of business support, workforce strategies, community identity and availability/cost of land.

To offer more business support to BRE members, the potential projects Erickson mentioned include a business succession/business assistance group that conducts seminars about topics like writing a business plan. According to the results, 55% of businesses have business plans while 45% do not.

Another strategy under the business support umbrella is to create an exports task force using experts like Minnesota Trade, which has export grant financing programs.

Business mentor programs could also increase the level of business support offered to BRE members. The program, Erickson said, could function in a similar way to the 1 Million Cups group that allows entrepreneurs to engage with their communities to develop ideas and solutions. Minneapolis Business Mentors or SCORE are other models to consider.

In terms of workforce strategies, Erickson spoke about possibly offering shared training programs where there is a need, having businesses establish career pathways programs or apprenticeships to allow employee growth, creating a childcare partnership and conducting a cost of living analysis. Of those who participated in the BRE survey, 55% reported needing training.

Marketing was the biggest area to explore under the community identity bracket. Possible ways to attract more businesses and residents may come with forming a downtown alliance with the Lonsdale Chamber of Commerce.

Lonsdale Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Shanna Gutzke-Kupp attended the EDA meeting along with three Chamber members to discuss ways to partner with the EDA for economic development opportunities. The EDA also invited representatives of the Old Town Lonsdale group, which formed in 2019 to draw attention to the downtown in particular, but none of the members attended.

The Chamber of Commerce holds lunch and learn networking gatherings several times a year to give members a chance to connect with one another and show nonmembers how the Chamber functions to promote Lonsdale and support businesses. The EDA and Steele Waseca Co-op Electric have sponsored lunch and learns in the past, and Gutze-Kupp said she liked the idea of having a utility company hosting a lunch and learn about rebates and cyber security to build engagement and trust.

To increase marketing of Lonsdale businesses, the EDA discussed advantages to off-premise advertising like billboards, particularly one on highway 19. The city would need to look into changing an ordinance that forbids off premise advertising, Erickson said.

Community Day in Lonsdale also presented a discussion, since the BRE survey suggested growing festivals and establishing cultural events. Although Community Day was cancelled last year as a result of the pandemic, Gutzke-Kupp said the plan is to move forward with the annual celebration this August.

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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