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What's wrong with Fairmont?

March 22, 2011
Meg Alexander — Staff Writer

FAIRMONT - Ask a dozen people what is inhibiting Fairmont's growth and the answers will vary.

Panelists gathered Monday for Fairmont Economic Development Authority's biennial strategic planning session had different opinions, but a reoccurring message did come through:?As one business leader said, Fairmont has an "aura of conservatism we need to address."

"We need to figure out how we communicate about our community," said Marques Doppler, CEO at Profinium Financial. "We seem to have a desire to keep Fairmont a secret, but we have a lot to offer."

The attitude has improved in the last 20 years, according to Allen Struck, executive vice president at State Bank.

"People are more positive," Struck said, "but we still need to work on our self-image. ... How can you sell yourself if you don't believe in yourself?"

Tying in with this idea, the group discussed the need to bring young people into the area.

Jim Dick of Fairmont Veterinary Clinic has a clear idea of one way to do that: Get back to teaching students about agriculture, Martin County's greatest asset. Looking at Jackson County Central High School's thriving ag department, many of the district's graduates are people who pushed behind the scenes for Jackson's ag business developments, Dick said.

"I'm a firm believer in planting seeds. ... You can't harvest unless you plant."

Brian Roggow, also with Fairmont Veterinary Clinic, suggested creating a nonprofit association, in order to assist the school with funding an ag program, similar to the hockey or soccer associations.

Other ideas mentioned at the meeting for retaining business and creating growth in Fairmont included:

o Offer community-wide Internet.

o Promote the city's lakes more, perhaps by advertising a catch-phrase like "Five Great Lakes of Southern Minnesota."

o Create a network for mom-and-pop businesses to assist with succession planning, so when owners retire, their business doesn't have to retire with them.

o Improve blighted areas in order to give visitors a better first impression of Fairmont.

o Broaden rental and housing opportunities, for middle-class workers.

o Expand the bike and walking trails to improve safety.

o Train prospective workers in basic skills, starting with students at a young age, with simple things like handwriting.

o Upgrade the airport, the "gateway to the community," according to Wayne Kahler.

o Make code enforcement friendlier.

o Set up a system to help employ spouses who are skilled laborers.

o Address the child care shortage.

o Build a community center.

The latter is a contentious issue, and one that's been brought to voters three times without success.

Fred W. Krahmer of Krahmer Inc. said the project will take critical mass and private donors, because Fairmont residents "are not willing to make tax-based risks."

Krahmer, in response to changes business leaders would like to see in Fairmont, said he would "change what the community believes it could be. ... I think we see ourselves as stale and fading, and I think that vision becomes self-fulfilling."

Much positive feedback was given as well, from Fairmont natives and newcomers.

"I was shocked by how beautiful Fairmont is. I didn't even know it had the lakes" said Doppler, who had driven by the town on the interstate but never stopped here before accepting the position with Profinium. "I spent the first six months in awe. I was excited about what we have and what we could have."

Lori Larson of REM pointed out that she and her husband chose to live in Fairmont, over anywhere else in the state: "There is a quality of life here we've not found elsewhere."

With the data gathered from the strategic planning session, Fairmont Economic Development Authority will create a two-year plan to address business leaders' concerns and suggestions.



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