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Fri, Apr 17th, 2009
Posted in Commentary

Growing up in Rochester quite a number of years ago, I didn't recall Lanesboro having the reputation for being a tourist destination the way it does now. My memory is slipping, but it seems that has evolved in the past couple decades to something quite special. For those of you who have lived in the area a long time, I'm sure you can reference specific turning points, such as the development of the Root River Trail.

Of course, Lanesboro's impact on the local tourism industry has had a positive ripple effect on surrounding communities, as well, attracting affluent individuals, couples and families in search of an uncommon experience where they reiside.

Ironically, while they come here to relax and take in the unspoiled beauty, all of us become extremely busy preparing for their arrival like any good hosts.

During these first few warm days of spring, as I paid a visit to Associated Bank in Lanesboro, I saw people toting bags out of shops, taking in the sites and the people.

Yes, I said "the people," and I even put it in bold type.

Then, I made my way back through the winding roads to the Journal office in Preston. As I stepped out of my car, I saw a couple relaxing on a park bench, unassumingly waiting for somebody like me to come along and be a good host.

They asked me where each antique shop was in Preston, and I pointed them in the right direction. I then asked them if they'd like a copy of our Visitor's Guide that contains all of the antique shops in the region.

I handed them a copy of the April 13, 2009 Fillmore County Journal and the 2009/2010 Visitor's Guide, as promised.

Every year, these tourists keep coming back to Lanesboro, Preston, Harmony, Rushford, Peterson, Whalan, Spring Valley, Mabel, Canton, Spring Grove, Fountain, Chatfield, Wykoff -- all of Fillmore County and beyond. And, they tell other people about their experiences in the area.

We are definitely blessed to live in such a picturesque display of nature. If all of the towns in this area were to collectively come up with a slogan for branding purposes, I'd have to ask the person living in between Chatfield and Fountain to be on that committee. Surely, you've seen the phrase "God's Country" on the side of a structure along Highway 52. I don't think those painted words are an overstatement. Why else would so many people come to visit?

Beyond what natures brings us, though, there's one other ingredient that is tremendously more important than eagles, bluffs, bike trails and rivers.

There are two stories I find particularly interesting when I think about the impact of tourism.

While speaking with Traci Corson, of Preston, a few weeks ago, she told me about a couple who came here from Chicago to visit the area. They loved the area so much, they started subscribing to the Fillmore County Journal, so they could keep their eyes on this little piece of "God's Country."

As they read the newspaper, they realized how long people were living in this area. They noticed people were living happy and healthy lives well into their 80's and 90's. And, meanwhile, back in the Chicago area, they saw people often not making it past 60-years-old.

As Traci told me, they made a very conscientous decision to move to this area, and so it happened.

And, here's the other story.While my wife and I were living just south of Chicago from 1999 to 2002, I heard a story from a local business owner. His company, a new and used car dealership, employed roughly 60 full-time workers.

He told me that when he first came to visit the area of Kankakee, IL, to consider starting up a franchised dealership, he brought his wife along.

While taking a look at possible business locations, they decided to stop and get a bite to eat.

Within minutes of being seated at the diner of choice, the waitress came out and took their order. Curious, the future business owner asked the waitress what she thought of the area.

And, that's when all of the good stuff started pouring out. The waitress asked them why they were asking, and so they shared their hopes and dreams of starting a business in the area.

The waitress quickly replied with her best effort to thwart any chance of economic development.

She told them that if they started up a business in Kankakee, IL, they would waste their life-savings trying to keep it alive because the area was depressed and had nothing to offer anybody.

The entire ride home, the wife of the man who had dreams of owning a car dealership told her husband that there was no way they were moving to Kankakee, IL, let alone wasting money on a business in that city.

He called his business partner and told him what had happened. His partner was less convinced by that one ancedotal experience.

The business partner booked a day with a commercial real estate broker in Kankakee, IL, and they made their way around the city. The realtor showed him the good and the bad, but indicated that every community had its share of both.

They didn't stop to eat at that special diner, and therefore didn't hear an earful of negativity.

The business partner came back with a different impression and vision for the possibilities, and somehow convinced his business partner and wife that this was a good move.

So they made it happen, with wonderful success.

Over the past 15 years, in the various communities I have served, ranging from 21,000 to 110,000 population, I've had the pleasure of serving on the board of directors for economic development entities -- which was an enlightening experience.

However, it is my humble opinion that the most significant impact of economic development in any area does not occur in board rooms.

It happens on the front lines.

I've seen it happen time and time again.

Tourists could be business owners or decision-makers of any sort. They might consider buying a local business or even starting a new one in this area -- many possibilities.

Obviously, by the look of our streets filling up with tourists year after year, we have the right combination -- natural resource attractions, shops, dining, lodging, and most importantly -- the people.

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