Aiming High

Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation
Written by Jessica Ferlaino

The Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation (GSDC), an economic development organization in St. Cloud, Minnesota, has found success in collaboration, partnership, and a regional approach to economic and community development.

Together with its partners, GSDC promotes business vitality, talent development, attraction, and retention efforts, and an engaged community that works collectively toward shared goals of making the region a top destination for talent, investment, innovation, and great quality of life.

Enhanced placemaking
From a quality-of-life standpoint, St. Cloud has it all. Rich in natural endowments, including the perfect blend of urban and rural, with all the amenities one could need, it’s an ideal place for individuals and families with diverse interests to call home.

For GSDC President and CEO NeTia Bauman, “The beautiful thing about the Greater St. Cloud area is that it’s a smaller metro region and it’s just nestled perfectly in between this rural Minnesota and major metro region. I think that’s an asset that we can leverage more,” particularly the fact that all of this is accessible within a 15-minute drive.

At the heart of it all, in downtown St. Cloud, steps are being taken and investments made to bring new life and vitality to the city’s core. GSDC serves on the Mayor’s Downtown Task Force, which is charged with catalyzing reinvestment and revitalization activities in the downtown corridor, largely through public-private partnerships and the proposed establishment of a business improvement district (BID).

“This will pave the way for new investment business and talent because more and more, the sectors of our region, our business community, our general stakeholders, are starting to recognize that a vibrant downtown plays a crucial role in driving economic prosperity across the region, so this is one of our top priorities in 2024,” says Bauman.

The City of St. Cloud is in the process of requesting a $100 million bonding bill from the state legislature that, if passed, will kickstart the transformation by facilitating investments to “increase walkability, add more housing and appropriate housing, more green space, and improve safety and beautification efforts. It spans the gamut of opportunity,” says Bauman.

The goal is to be attractive to top talent and hold onto people and investments once they are there, and with GSDC leading the charge, there’s no shortage of opportunity for those who wish to call the St. Cloud region home.

Showcasing opportunities
Building bridges and serving as a nexus between people, ideas, and opportunities has long been a strength of GSDC and since 2018, the organization has found a way to showcase the many opportunities in the region in one convenient, accessible place.

GSDC’s Job Spot portal has been a wonderful resource for the community that continues to improve year after year. Updated with an automated scraping system, employers are no longer required to post jobs as these are automatically updated from the employer’s website each night, in addition to aggregate job boards and other websites.

“This is at no cost to the employer. This is something that GSDC funds over our three-county coverage area,” says Talent Director Gail Cruikshank of the job board that now sits permanently within the St. Cloud Shines website, which is a tool for local employers and jobseekers that offers all the regional resources from service partners in one place.

For Cruikshank, “It provides a tremendous tool for people that are considering moving, visiting, and working here, as well as a lot of resources for all of us who currently live here to know where all those exciting events and opportunities might be.”

Given the diversity of the offerings and opportunities the local economy and community provide, the needs are just as broad ranging. Whether the issue at hand is transportation-related or about childcare, GSDC is always listening and committed to collaborating in search of a solution. By maintaining a multifaceted approach to development, the organization continues to remain agile and relevant, meeting the needs of the region.

“There’s not just one answer, just one solution, just one problem that each of our employers faces; being able to listen to their specific needs and know what resources we can provide or connect them to makes us all successful,” says Cruikshank.

An EPIC place to grow
As the pandemic changed the nature of work—with working from home now an option for some and work-life balance a priority for most—where better to prioritize a great quality of life than in St. Cloud, a welcoming and inclusive community for all?

As an economic development agency, GSDC has long been committed to talent development, attraction, and retention efforts, and in many cases, seeds of change that were planted years ago are now starting to bloom into maturity. A great example is EPIC (Exploring Potential Interests and Careers), which serves to bridge the gap between available opportunities in the region and the future workforce to ensure the needs and the supply align meaningfully.

“EPIC is a community collaborative—not owned by anyone—that GSDC and others have been spearheading since 2017, focusing a light on making sure that our future workforce fully understands the breadth of opportunity they have in jobs and careers here, because you simply don’t know what you don’t know,” says Cruikshank.

Programs like EPIC have been fully embraced by local employers, with well over 200 of them contributing education and support for local students. These employers believe so deeply in this program that a full-time EPIC coordinator was hired to facilitate it.

“Employers are realizing they need to invest in their people and are committed to doing what they can to make our community successful as well as succeeding in their business through staffing and community engagement,” says Cruikshank.

Commitment to developing talent starts early in St. Cloud, where organizations like the Boys and Girls Club and Boy Scouts of America are also joining the efforts through their own career connection programs that introduce a world of career possibilities to children, engaging and inspiring them. In addition, St. Cloud is home to an extraordinary Vex Robotics program, which continues to lead the state of Minnesota in giving students a hands-on opportunity to see how careers in Industry 4.0 can be challenging and fun.

Cruikshank also lauded the Minnesota Young American Leaders Program (MYALP), a program that the University of Minnesota has brought to several larger Minnesota markets, St. Cloud among them. 2024 will be St. Cloud’s fourth cohort, seeing nine emerging leaders participating. “The power of collaboration and partnership has spearheaded all that work, growing it into a sought-after program,” Cruikshank says of local talent development efforts.

Collaboration and innovation
One of the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation’s greatest strengths is its ability to bring people and organizations together, sharing resources and support to advance the collective interests of the region for the long term.

“It’s an ability of ours to get the right people in the room to talk about it so that we’re not missing somebody’s perspective; we’re hearing all of the voices and then deciding what’s the best solution, who is the best person to lead that,” says Cruikshank.

By taking a regional approach to development, leveraging a combination of traditional and progressive economic development approaches, GSDC and its many partners are ensuring that the diverse needs of the region are understood and met while sharing best practices and resources to secure results.

Bauman describes the impetus for the regional approach: “It’s the collaborative partnerships: it’s bringing in our neighboring cities and counties; all of our other stakeholders; community development and non-profit entities; individuals who are moved to contribute and be a part of the community—pooling those resources and working together to solve our common challenges. That’s how we all win.”

She adds, “We’re not just a convener, we don’t just help people ideate; we really are the organization that can help with execution. It’s one thing to have ideas, but to bring them to life and help them along the way to become sustainable—that’s what makes the difference and leads to collaborative success.”

These successes have resulted in a diverse and vibrant economy that sustains a variety of strong industries and sectors, particularly manufacturing, agribusiness, health care, and education. In fact, the latter two are converging to position the region as a leading hub of medicine and innovation.

CentraCare, a privately owned health care system in the region, is partnering with the University of Minnesota, one of four institutions of higher learning in the area, to create a school of medicine that is expected to open in fall of 2024. This will be a game-changer for the economy, but also for the delivery of world-class health care and outcomes to area residents.

From Bauman’s perspective, “That is going to have a significant focus on enhancing rural health care and bringing in those students to get educated and train here and, hopefully, stay here and continue to provide value to our rural health care system.”

Support for innovation and for the people and businesses who are driving this change has been a pillar of GSDC’s strategy. To better serve these ends, it has launched a new quarterly event called the Industry Innovators Forum where people and ideas can come together to further drive innovation and its many benefits.

For Bauman, “Entrepreneurship-led economic development helps us provide support for small- and medium-sized minority business enterprises, and it helps us foster social entrepreneurship and nurture that technology and innovation development. All these things combined will help us strengthen opportunities for public-private partnerships, for economic diversification, and create pathways to attract that talent and that new investment to our region.”

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