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Worthington Global Market takes its first steps

WORTHINGTON — The Worthington area’s cultural diversity is widely known, but not always seen or experienced firsthand.

The Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. and Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with the county, city, area businesses, churches and nonprofit organizations, have begun plans to create the Worthington Global Market, which aims to create an outlet for the area’s many different ethnic groups.

The global market is meant to not only give people a chance to experience the arts, food and culture of the diverse mix of ethnicities located in Nobles County, but to commercialize those unique products and create a gateway toward additional business growth.

The idea is inspired by the Midtown Global Market in Minneapolis, which features more than 50 vendors selling food and gifts from a large variety of cultures. The plan is to get many vendors together in one place and provide a low overhead for them to get started.

The idea is still in its earliest stages — as a venue for the operation has yet to be identified — so the WREDC, city and county hosted a roundtable Thursday at the Biotechnology Advancement Center to ask community members what they would like to see.

Lakeside Church Pastor Dave Mosher was excited to potentially give people of underrepresented ethnic groups a chance to own a permanent business.

“I believe our greatest asset in Worthington is our people, and this gives an opportunity for minority groups to have a platform of influence that I think is absolutely needed,” Mosher said.

Maylary Apolo, legal assistant at the Immigrant Law Center, was interested in getting more people involved with and knowledgeable about the Karen New Year by doing something fun for the community to celebrate it every year.

“We could represent that yes, today is our new year and doing something special for an audience,” Apolo said. “So the younger people, the next generation will maintain, ‘Oh, today’s our new year.’”

Fabio Lopez, community health worker for Nobles County Public Health, suggested a welcome center for those new to Worthington that would have information and give skilled immigrants direction on how they could succeed in the community.

Kalay Moo, a native of Thailand, moved to Worthington recently. She thought the market could provide a major industry in tourism if the many ethnic groups could show their traditional food, produce or other components of their culture, such as traditional dance and music.

American Reformed Church Pastor Tim Truesdell put an emphasis on having unique, interesting gifts at the market that people could buy. He added that he would love if the market could bring together singing groups to perform, perhaps during international holidays, to transform the market into a social center or sorts.

Ashley Goettig, representing the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce at the meeting, said the city already has an international festival, but having a full-time market that functioned the same way would be good for the city.

“It kind of sounds like the same thing, only this would happen all year long,” Goettig said.

Journey Ministries Pastor Brad Bonnett was excited about the plan to make the city a more inclusive place to live.

“A lot of us are surrounded by diversity in different places in the world, but we don’t necessarily get to experience it because we’re so segregated even though we’re in these places,” Bonnett said. “So it takes some intentionality to bring together and to make sure they’re structured to exist side by side. I don’t care what it looks like in some ways if it starts bringing people together.”

As an economic development engine, the idea is just as exciting to city and county leaders.

Worthington Director of Community Development Brad Chapulis laid out a general plan of how the global market would bring new small-business owners into the economy.

“We want to create a sense of community, but also give economic or entrepreneurial opportunities at a low entry point but yet having the resources available to be able to be as successful as that individual wants to be, may that be making food or having a product they want to bring to the market — gauge it out before signing a one-year lease in a storefront,” he said. “But also have it multifunctional where there are arts and culture opportunities that are happening in the center.”

WREDC Executive Director Abraham Algadi touted the market as a tourist attraction, potentially drawing customers from South Dakota, Iowa and Mankato to enjoy a unique experience.

“It’s about establishing a pull on the market,” Algadi said. “That’s why somebody might drive 50 miles to go to a winery, or 1,193 miles from New York City to go to Wall in South Dakota.”

County Administrator Tom Johnson, who’s traveled around the world to experience different cultures, was mostly excited to potentially have a Thai food location in the city.

“Traditional Thai food was probably my favorite food in all my travels,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a traditional Thai food place in town.”

“And I like falafel and hummus and there’s nobody making that,” Algadi added.

The WREDC has enlisted the help of the Marketing Advisory Center at South Minnesota State University to carry out a study on the project.

In the first phase of the study, the team will conduct focus groups with various ethnic groups in the Worthington area, potentially including people of Latin American, Hmong, Somali, African American, Karen and Angelos origin.

“I would be interested in asking ethnic groups what are they wanting to do,” Mosher said. “Asking what's missing here that they themselves would like to contribute and who could offer that.”

After the focus groups, the study will investigate how to make such a project financially feasible. After creating a plan, they will start a promotional campaign to raise awareness about the global market.

Chapulis and Algadi stressed that the interest for the project and its source of funding must be identified before the infrastructure is built or purchased.

Those interested in getting involved with the project’s development can contact the Chamber of Commerce at 372-2919.

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