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Project leaders wanted: Federal funding may bring more opportunities to Worthington

WORTHINGTON -- City projects may be eligible for federal grants worth millions of dollars, but Nobles County residents must choose an option. Starting in March, the Southwest Regional Development Commission (SRDC) conducted a Livability Survey to...

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WORTHINGTON - City projects may be eligible for federal grants worth millions of dollars, but Nobles County residents must choose an option. 

Starting in March, the Southwest Regional Development Commission (SRDC) conducted a Livability Survey to rank which projects are most important to the community. The commission presented the results to the Worthington Regional Economic Development Corp. (WREDC) board Thursday morning.
The SRDC asked board members to complete an analysis to identify the city’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats before its next meeting, set for May 24. After that, the SRDC will create a plan to submit an application for federal funding.
Nearly 100 Nobles County residents completed the survey and identified improvements they would like to see in the community.
“There’s a lot of low-hanging fruit on there that we can get done,” said SRDC Economic Development Director Robin Weis.
Many people commented that Worthington should have more “curb appeal,” meaning the city should look more attractive when people are in their cars, she added. People driving through the city may then be more inclined to visit, she said.
Others said they would like to see an artwork display or a heritage festival in the city’s downtown area. Some residents also said they would like to see more restaurants and amenities, as well as a movie theater.
Outdoor activities were ranked as an asset that should be promoted to potential visitors to Worthington. Participants said bike trails should be better connected and street safety for bikers improved.
City projects aimed at keeping people employed and bringing people to Worthington would be eligible for funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration (EDA), Weis said. The grants would pay for 50 percent of approved projects.

At the meeting, Mayor Mike Kuhle asked Weis if housing projects were eligible for funding - an issue community members were concerned about in the survey.
According to survey results, 54 people expressed that the city’s top housing priority should be building more single-family homes, while 42 said building more apartment complexes were of greatest importance to the community.
She said she would look into grant funding for housing projects.
Many participants in the survey said increased housing options in the city would help fill job vacancies within the next five years, in addition to increased awareness of job opportunities, job training and making the community more marketable.
Weis stressed that participants said they wanted schools and businesses around the area to interact more - to better communicate job requirements to students and prepare them for the workforce.
One issue raised in the survey was a lack of “soft skills” training in the community, she added. Soft skills training includes telling people they should call their employers if they are absent from work or can’t arrive to work on time for their shift, Weis said. Furthermore, residents wanted more mentorships and internships available for students.
According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, about 40 percent of jobs in southwest Minnesota require a certificate or license. About one-third of jobs require employees to have a post-secondary education from a university or trade school.
There is no maximum amount a project has to have to be eligible for grant funding, she said, adding that the city would even receive funding for a $2 million project.
The Worthington City Council accepted in 2010 a $779,886 grant from the EDA to construct the Biotechnology Advancement Center, which will soon house one of Prairie Holdings Group’s companies, Ani-Logics.
The lease, approved by the council in February, will bring in more than $20,000 to the city in rent during the company’s first year in the facility. The rent will increase to $31,320 the second year and $42,120 the third year.
Some board members said the community needs to find someone who has enough time and passion to lead the projects.
“We talk about this all the time but it never goes anywhere,” said Bill Wetering, the WREDC board’s vice chairman. “We need to identify 10 people in town who have a passion (for these projects and) who will move this forward.”
“People have no belief that it will ever get done,” he continued, adding that they needed “courageous leaders” for the projects.
Many board members agreed and hope to find community members who are passionate about developments in the community.

To get involved or for more information, contact Weis at (507) 836-1638 or robin@swrdc.org .

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