Martin County took a different - somewhat controversial - approach when it came to economic development several years ago. Instead of committing huge resources to land, buildings or loans, the county's program nurtures business growth through free, confidential technical assistance. Chris Pierce, president of the Martin County EDA, describes the process as coaching businesses toward solutions.
The result has been several dozen businesses throughout the county using the program to help them get their start, to stabilize their situation or to expand.
In addition to teaming with facilitators who work with these businesses, Martin County isn't afraid to reach out to Fairmont's EDA and other city EDAs. The goal is to smooth the path for businesses, whether in terms of know-how or regulatory processes.
The county program - known as IGNITE - is half-funded by the state, with Martin County kicking in the other $42,000 annually. We believe this is a good model that helps county residents bring home some of the tax money they regularly send to St. Paul. The county contribution, meanwhile, is miniscule compared to the results achieved.
IGNITE has now caught the eye of the Association of Minnesota Counties, which recently honored Martin County for its innovative idea. The association believes the Martin County model can be replicated to provide others counties with community development at a low cost. We congratulate those thinkers at the county level who dared to try something different.
We're sure everyone in the county would love to see a major industry announce plans to build a facility here. But the reality is that those types of announcements are rare. Retaining existing businesses or helping them grow generally serves as the best economic development.