WORTHINGTON - The Greater Minnesota Partnership, a group created to lobby for needs in the Greater Minnesota area, visited Worthington Friday morning to hear concerns and ideas from community and area residents.

“We’re going to use your input to set the legislative agenda for 2014 and develop a strong vision for the future,” said partnership director Dan Dorman. “As many of you know, 2014 is not a budget year, but what our plan is to take the input we gather in these meetings throughout the state and take that back to our board.”

The partnership is comprised of regional Chambers of Commerce, economic development authorities, regional development commissions, businesses and cities.

“We are all working together to grow greater Minnesota economy,” Dorman said. “We believe we need better state policy to continue to grow our economy to increase its vitality in Greater Minnesota. When the governor and state legislature set our policy and allocate resources, how do they do that? We hope they always use good ideas and public opinion, and I think one of the keys is strong advocacy from organized groups.”

Topics ranged from infrastructure to business climate to workforce.

Dorman explained the Minnesota Department of Transportation has estimated that $6 billion is needed for Greater Minnesota transportation in the next 20 years.

“One thing that I’ve always thought was wrong with our transportation system is roads and bridges are included with rail and they should be separate,” Worthington Mayor Alan Oberloh said.

Gary Prins from Prins Trucking of Worthington said the newly constructed roundabouts will create issues for transportation.

“I think they are a good idea, and I think they slow traffic down,” Prins said. “The future is we need to move more commodities, so we’re going to have more trailers behinds these units. There’s no way these roundabouts are going to handle double 50-foot trailers. I think it’s going to hurt the city of Worthington for our trucks to come off the interstate and come into town.”

Dorman talked of working toward more training for new employees - much like is done in North Dakota.

“We think it would pay for itself because to qualify for it, you have to create these new jobs,” he said.

Besides training, workforce housing was a big issue discussed at the meeting.

Worthington Director of Community and Economic Development Brad Chapulis said there needs to be a way to level the playing field for developers.

“We’ve been trying to recruit developers who have the fiscal ability as well as the manpower to build housing and the answer that we are given is primarily been, ‘If I’m going to make a $4 million investment here or in the Cities, I’m going to do it in the Cities because I know I have a better rate of return,’” Chapulis said.

Regarding business climates, Sue Pirsig, the economic development coordinator for the city of Jackson, said it can be tough for retail and smaller businesses to have access to capital.

“I just want to make you guys aware, there is so much money out there,” said Greg Raymo, president of First State Bank Southwest, who was speaking as a representative of the Southwest Initiative Foundation. “We have one of the most successful microloans programs in the southwest region. They are loans up to $50,000 to help get people started in business.”

Raymo said it’s the regulations that make it tough to access those funds.

“There are a lot of revolving loan funds out here in southwest Minnesota that are sitting with money trying to get it out,” Raymo said.

Abraham Algadi, director of the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corporation (WREDC), said that working together with greater Minnesota is good.

“But that does not preclude us from looking at some of the locally specific issues,” Algadi said. “At times they overlap with the broader picture, but at times they do not. But I know that Worthington and Nobles County has a very, very specific set of needs.”

Algadi said he anticipates approaching local leaders. One of them, Minnesota State Senator Bill Weber, R-Luverne, was in attendance.

“I think that it’s obvious that we share many of the same issues and problems as we try to build our communities,” Weber said. “Some issues may have greater precedence and importance in one community as opposed to another. I think some of the comments that were made this morning (show) that it’s really difficult to have state policy come out in this one size fits all.”

Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark, who also serves on the Greater Minnesota Partnership board, said having a voice is key.

“As we look toward economic development for the state, the unique circumstances that are challenges for us in Greater Minnesota need to be incorporated into public policy that the state advances,” Clark said.

“Making sure we have a voice is part of that process through the economic development partnership is a way to achieve that success,” he added. “Working together with private industry and others in the private success, I think we can make an impact.”

Community Content Coordinator Aaron Hagen may be reached at 376-7323.