Serving the citizens of Koochiching County and the cities of Bigfalls, International Falls, Littlefork, Northome, Ranier and surrounding region.
Serving the citizens of Koochiching County and the cities of Bigfalls, International Falls, Littlefork, Northome, Ranier and surrounding region.

Moving forward – one bite at a time

Koochiching County Economic Adjustment Strategy

Another phase of the regional Voyage Forward effort has passed. On Aug 19th Newmark Grubb Knight Frank (NGKF) presented over 115 people with a roadmap, a plan of action with over 120 recommendations to improve the economic vitality of the region.

Like most people that heard the presentation or saw the report and the volume of data it contained, I thought wow, how are we going to tackle this! Then I remembered the saying — It’s like trying to eat an elephant —- one bite at a time.

And that is the way we need to approach this effort. One bite at a time.

The recommendations outlined by NGKF won’t be accomplished in a day, month, or even a year. This is a huge change that will take 5 or maybe 10 years to accomplish. It’s a great report with solid, well thought out recommendations based on facts not anecdotal information or innuendoes. That said, the Voyage Forward team believes there are some changes that can be accomplished quickly and we are confident the community is ready to take this on.

What other choice do we have?

You can download the entire report or individual chapters by visiting the Voyage Forward website at For now, here are some personal take-a ways.

  1. Regional Economic Development Partnership (EDP) – this will probably be the most talked about item. What we need to focus on quickly is developing one brand, one message, one website, one set of marketing materials, one story. We need all the arrows going in one direction. Regardless of any organizational design, we need to tell our story about who we are and what we have to offer. This is an all-inclusive effort with county, cities, business, and citizens involved in the process. We have one shot at making this work. Do-overs are difficult and costly to overcome.
  2. We need to focus our economic development efforts on “growing our own”. Business retention, expansion, and entrepreneurship should be our number one economic development initiative. This doesn’t mean we stop looking outside, it means we put most of our time in building our own — growing from within. A prime example of this is what Dan Oddegard has done at Rainy Lake Medical Center. He has done a remarkable job in rejuvenating Rainy Lake Medical Center. Bringing in new Doctors, services, and the recent upgrades have added to the economic vitality of the region and improved the services provided for our community. It’s a sign of growth. Kudo’s to RLMC!
  3. Our labor shed is relatively small and requires new skills, honed and targeted to meet our existing and future needs. Competitive businesses require quality talent. How can we rise to the occasion? We have a diamond sitting west of town in Rainy River Community College and three excellent school districts as highlighted by NGKF. These are another asset that is underutilized and could become a game changer with new offerings or public/private partnerships that enhance the skill set of our workforce. They can’t do it alone. They need our help and we should do everything we can to make them more successful. When they succeed, we all succeed.
  4. Our youth is our future. We need to put our youth front and center, get our younger people involved and find a way to stop the exodus from the region. There are groups in town that are focusing on this initiative. One of them is the Borderland Young Professionals. A group that was formed from a number of local people that attended the Blandin Leadership program. They are just getting started but we need to support them and ensure their success. You can read more about them at
  5. Market the entire region, including across the border. I’m not exactly sure of the population of the region in a 100 mile radius but my guess it’s probably around 20 to 25 thousand. That is more than double the population of Koochiching County and paints a much bigger picture when selling our region. Whether it be for tourism, business development, or events — we are bigger than we look. We need to take advantage of that and find a way to build our partnerships.
  6. The Border is an issue – not the people but the regulations. Borderland is very similar to the Twin Cities of MPLS and St Paul in that both are separated by a river. Our issue in Borderland lies with existing state, provincial, or federal rules and regulations. It’s difficult to conduct business making it exceptionally painful to capitalize on the offerings of both communities. Case in point — Health care! We are all stronger when we work together. We need to make a concerted effort to tear down the imaginary wall that separates us. There is no quick fix but we have to jump start the conversation, be creative and challenge the status quo.

Some last words. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon and like our entire Voyage Forward effort, it will take the community pulling together with one goal in mind — Make our region the best place to live, work, and play. In the coming days and weeks, the final research effort will be available. The results of the community wide survey will be released and we will be asking the community to jump onboard with both feet to identify those goals and priorities— Destiny Drivers — to move us forward.

The best say way to hear and learn more about Voyage Forward is to subscribe to updates on the Voyage Forward website at or on Facebook. You will also be hearing from us in the paper and on the radio, in the coffee shop, at work, at church and events. This is our community — Koochiching County. We’re all in this together and everyone should be able to find at least one positive thing they can do to contribute.

What’s your contribution going to be?

There is a lot more work to do. Economic Development is the 800 pound gorilla that brought about Voyage Forward. NGKF did a great job in giving us a roadmap to follow but it takes community development, participation and commitment to bring it all together. The results of the community wide survey will be released the first part of September.

We are just getting started. Join us on our Journey to Success!