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One Moment, Please... Are we ready for change?

Fri, Apr 26th, 2013
Posted in All Commentary

By Jason Sethre


Fillmore County Journal &

Olmsted County Journal

Cell: 507-251-5297

While attending the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF) event on April 18th at Four Daughters Winery and Vineyard, I looked around at the impressive facility built upon a foundation of grapes. Interestingly, the site selection of the SMIF meeting exemplifies what can be accomplished when any individual or community has a vision and the collaborative chemistry to execute a plan.

The Osborne family should be proud of where their young business is today, because it is only going get better with age -- like a fine wine.

Table discussion

During the SMIF meeting, following a great line-up of speakers, attendees seated at every table were asked to discuss questions presented on a document at the center of the table. A member of the SMIF board was seated at each table to record discussion and ideas for future reference within the SMIF organization. Sue Kolling was the SMIF board member at our table.

I must say that I appreciate the collaborative approach of SMIF and how they continue to create a sense of community among small cities that often seem to be competing for the same economic development opportunities.

Here’s the list of questions presented before the group: What is happening in your communities related to early childhood and entrepreneurship? How can SMIF better help you to enhance and grow these efforts? How can your communities help each other to enhance and grow these efforts?

Our table consisted of a good geographic mix of residents and business people from Blue Earth, LeRoy, Preston, Fountain, Spring Valley and Lanesboro. Right away, we pounced on the subject of early childhood initiatives. The biggest concern related to how sometimes we have resources available but people are not aware of what is available. Even in our small communities, we have a challenge with connecting the dots of communication to help people.

And, the second item of discussion revolved around entrepreneurship. How do we attract new businesses to our communities? How do we keep the ones we have? How do we contend with commuters buying products and services in Rochester while those same options are available in the town in which they reside in Fillmore County?

There was discussion about small business incubator programs, and about the possibilities of running multiple businesses out of one location. Retro-fitting older buildings in our smaller communities came up as a real concern for some types of businesses.

And, we have a challenge with helping businesses in our smaller communities to get the word out about what they do have for products and services. In some cases, our local small town businesses actually sell products at a lower price than big box stores, but consumers understandably yet falsely assume that bigger stores can buy in higher volumes and pass those savings on to consumers.

But, in many cases, these small town businesses are competitive with the big city.

And, most certainly, when it comes to services like insurance, chiropractic services, legal support, eye clinics, dentists, plumbing, heating, electrical, and many other types of services, our smaller communities can beat the pants off of pricing in the big city.

So, why do some people spend money in Rochester instead of their local smaller communities in which they reside? Do they not realize that if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it? And, then everyone will have to drive elsewhere to get what they want all the time.

What we really need to do is take a step back and evaluate this entire situation from the consumer’s perspective. Don’t conduct surveys with business people. Let’s conduct surveys with consumers. Where do they go to buy what they don’t buy here in our smaller communities, and why? Is it price? Is it convenience?

For example, we don’t have a single hearing aid clinic in all of Fillmore County. What if a chiropractor or eye clinic offered space and time for a hearing aid clinic to begin a small practice in one of our towns in Fillmore County with initially limited availability? Maybe they’d be open one or two days a week to begin with until they built up a good customer base.

I would think that idea could take flight for many reasons. How many people in Fillmore County have a hearing aid, and where did they go to get that hearing aid? I would guess we have quite a few customers and prospects for hearing aids. My wife says I can’t hear very well, but that can work to my advantage, too. Just don’t tell her I said that.

What else would you like to see in your town? And, if it was available, would you support it? The hearing aid idea is just one of many we can come up with if we put our heads together.

If we start with small, low risk solutions, they could blossom into a viable Monday through Friday, 40-hour-a-week business model with multiple locations in Fillmore County.

Essentially, we are only limited by our lack of creativity. And, if we want to thrive in our smaller communities, we are going to need to change.

I have often jokingly said, “I’m fine with change as long as it doesn’t affect me.” And, I am kidding, of course.

But, that seems to be closer to reality than we may want to admit.

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