By Charlie Warner
For Caledonia and other area communities to not only survive, but thrive in the 21st Century, they must utilize the latest social media technology. An easily navigable website, current facebook and twitter sites are rapidly replacing the “Welcome to Caledonia” signs and listings in the Yellow Pages when it comes to promoting one’s community.
Communities need to work together. It’s collaboration and not one city pitted against another. “United we stand and divided we fall” has probably never been a truer maxim when it comes to bringing outside money in the form of new residents, new industry and visitors in the form of tourists to a geographical area.
That, in a nutshell, is what came out of the April 30 membership meeting of the Southeastern Minnesota League of Municipalities (SEMLM), which was held at the Four Seasons Community Center in Caledonia.
For the first time in many years, SEMLM held its annual membership meeting in the Houston County seat.
City council members, city staff and other community leaders from the eight-county area spent several hours discussing ways of promoting the area and their communities.
Caledonia Mayor Bob Burns gave a very entertaining welcome and introduction. He touted many of Caledonia’s attributes, including the strong business and manufacturing districts, the successful school system and the fact that Caledonia is the Wild Turkey Capital of Minnesota, as he donned his camouflaged turkey hunting headgear.
An eight-person panel, made up of representatives from various state and regional departments and organizations, discussed the topic: The Road to Recovery- Policy and Program Options to Encourage Economic Recovery.
The panel included Gary Smith of Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc., Naomi Lenz of USDA Rural Development, Mike Koop of the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, John Becker of the Minnesota Main Street Project, Ron Zeigler of Community and Economic Development Associates, Yvonne Simon of the Center for Rural Policy and Development, David Carlson of Short, Elliot and Hendrickson, Inc. and Kevin Kelleher of the Department of Employment and Economic Development.
All eight presenters talked about various state and federal programs that offer low-interest loans and grants that are available for a myriad of rehabilitation, promotional and economic development applications.
The money is out there for the offing. But communities and organizations must be aggressive, assertive and unfazed when shaking the money tree. If at first you don’t succeed, don’t give up. The second, or even the third time through a grant application might prove to be a successful endeavor.
Many attending were seeing Caledonia and Houston County for the first time. Those who traveled south from I-90 on State Highway 76 for the first time were quite impressed with the scenic beauty of the Coulee Region.
The Four Seasons Community Center also received rave reviews. Many expressed surprise when told that the facility was not city-owned but built with money raised through a community drive and operated by a community organization.
“I think we opened some eyes to what we have way over here in this corner of the state,” Burns said following the event. “I heard a lot of favorable comments about the community center, Caledonia and the Houston County area. That’s what we like to hear.”