For over 150 years, St. Cloud has experienced continuous and steady growth as a region. Located in the heart of Minnesota on the banks of the Mississippi River, the area has served as a transportation corridor. It offers relatively easy access to the north and the rest of the United States, since the BNSF railroad, highway and interstate systems grew up around it.
As a regional centre, the St. Cloud region boasts a diverse economic composition. The region has a significant manufacturing and agricultural base, but also serves as a medical, education and commercial hub for the region. The region has a thriving arts and entertainment district, a historic downtown and over 1400 acres of parkland for residents and visitors to enjoy.
Since 2011, the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation (GSDC) has been working diligently to ensure that St. Cloud remains a vibrant business community. The corporation helps to provide the business services and economic infrastructure required to support the growing regional population by capitalizing on its assets. It ensures that opportunities are seized, subsequently growing jobs and improving the quality of life.
The organization that preceded the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation was dissolved in 2010. The previous organization was guided predominately by the public sector and existed for over twenty-five years. Over time, it had evolved to have a public policy oriented approach to economic development, whereas the GSDC has a more business centric approach.
There was recognition by the community that an organization comprised of primarily private sector investors, with key public sector partnerships, would provide the St. Cloud region with the strategic planning and economic development strategies necessary to become a regional leader in the context of the global economy.
According to Patti Gartland, president of the GSDC, the organization, “started with sixty-four inaugural investors – folk who came to the table and were willing to invest a minimum of $7500 annually as a launch to the organization. Our investor base has grown to 128 in our three plus years of existence.”
Ms. Gartland describes how the GSDC achieves success. “Partnerships and forging strong collaborations, knocking silos down is at the heart of how we do business,” she explains. Engaging and collaborating for mutual advantage, the GSDC investor group is representative of all the regional educational institutions, as well as regional partners from the local municipalities and three regional counties.
Understanding that, “business can’t grow and function well without a vitality in the community in general,” Bob White, board chair of the GSDC, explains that it started to focus on six different specific areas, “and all of these are chaired by volunteer investor leaders.” This was done to help the organization achieve its economic goals in the community: building strong partnerships and a vibrant and engaged community.
GSDC’s six strategic initiatives:
1.Business development – maintaining a focus on business retention, expansion and the attraction of new business to St. Cloud.
2.Access – improving access to and from St. Cloud, truly emphasizing St. Cloud’s ability to be a transportation hub in the region. Establishing commercial air service to the St. Cloud Regional Airport has been a priority to improve access for business and for leisure.
3.Talent – the attraction and retention of talent was becoming a business barrier and a challenge to growth. GSDC has invested in several initiatives, including Greater St. Cloud JobSpot (GreaterStCloudJobspot.com) – an online job portal – to better retain regional talent, matching talent with opportunity in the community.
4.Innovation – by taking full advantage of its partnerships with regional businesses and educational institutions, GSDC is encouraging innovation in order to improve how the region does business, better integrating the community and the economy.
5.Wellness – by having a focus on wellbeing in the workplace, the GSDC is having a substantial impact on the community, as those who are well, are more likely to become engaged and productive community members.
6.Downtown revitalization – understanding that a key ingredient to a vibrant community is the downtown core, GSDC is committed to the continued revitalization of the heart of St. Cloud.
“Our mission is to lead economic development in the Greater St. Cloud region and our vision is that through our efforts our region is a growing and vibrant community where people with talent want to work, live and engage,” explains Ms. Gartland.
The St. Cloud region is characterized by a unique and diverse set of assets as well as a rich talent base, poised for future growth and prosperity. Its regional brand ‘On the grow!’ is a testament to its economic and social capacities, which, Ms. Gartland notes, “reflects the many divergent ways our community is growing.”
The St. Cloud region is home to over 30 000 college and university students, domestic and international, that attend one of the many educational institutions in the region, including two universities, a liberal arts college, a number of business colleges, and a technical and community college, all of which contribute to an increased quality of life and to the economic vitality of the region.
One element of the work being done by the GSDC is to help integrate the business community with the many local educational institutions and students alike. The ultimate goal is to help match the talent of the local workforce with the needs of the business community. This will result from identifying and addressing needs through the collaborative process and ensuring curriculum is developed to support and sustain further growth in the community.
The GSDC held a talent summit on November 7, 2014, targeting and connecting the educational community with local businesses. The summit brought students and employers together to facilitate an exchange that will help to fill the number of local opportunities that are available. The event experienced strong registration activity, further evidence of the GSDC’s successful initiatives.
Ms. Gartland explains that the talent initiative of the GSDC serves “to reduce the amount of brain drain; to retain a higher percentage of those students who are coming to our community to go to school; but then to try to link them to the many opportunities with business in our region. That really creates great opportunities for them to not just pursue their education here, but pursue their careers here.”
To this end, the GSDC has invested time and resources to establish Greater St. Cloud JobSpot, an online talent portal which was launched in May. JobSpot is aimed at linking talent with regional opportunities, providing a job board for local employment opportunities to be viewed by registered job seekers. Designed to import and retain talent, the portal has had early success.
With 705 registered job seekers and over 750 jobs posted by 245 different regional employers, JobSpot has had over 90 000 views since its May launch. Building from this momentum, the GSDC hopes to continue to build exposure and usership, affirming the value JobSpot gives to the local community and economy.
Working closely over the past several years, the city of St. Cloud and the GSDC have developed a strong public-private partnership. The relationship has been built upon a mutual understanding that in order to continue to expand opportunities, the region’s capacity as a transportation hub must be maximized. A critical component of this involves re-establishing commercial air service.
St. Cloud Regional Airport allows travelers to avoid the congestion of the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. By attracting Allegiant Air as a provider, the airport has expanded air travel to Phoenix and Orlando and the service has seen early success.
In May, SkyWest Airlines further expanded travel to and from St. Cloud by offering twice-daily direct service to Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Bob White is promoting this as ‘St. Cloud to anywhere!’ as it looks to add more connecting flights, with Denver as a possible western hub.
Expanding commercial air service has significantly contributed to the improved vitality of the region, and is proving to be sustainable as it grows. Since 2012, St. Cloud has had more than 71, 000 passengers travel through the regional airport.
There has been significant investment made in the St. Cloud Regional Airport over the years, and the reestablishment of commercial air service is only the beginning. Not only has the facility been expanded with additional runway capacity added, but the city has also purchased an adjacent plot of land to facilitate future expansion, mitigating any potential encroachment on the facility.
The GSDC and its regional partners plan to continue showcasing its attributes and assets, serving as a great venue for local, national and international investment. Regional partners will remain engaged and communities continue to work together for its mutual advantage, creating rich, diverse communities and ongoing opportunities.
Mayor Dave Kleis is supportive of the efforts of the GSDC and is positive that the Greater St. Cloud region’s new approach to economic development will experience success in the future as it sustains and grows its business opportunities.
“We were connected to the region by the river; connected to the state, the mid-west and the country by the rail and highway systems; and now we’re connected to the world with air service – and that’s a key piece as we become a global economy. That is a critical piece that has led to the prosperity of our economic development and our business community.”