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How to sell a town; Development director takes pride in helping area businesses

Mark Hanson, pictured at the Pioneer Journal office Tuesday, is the new director of economic development for WCEDA, an organization that hopes to foster economic growth in the Wadena area. Photo by Zach Kayser, Pioneer Journal

Mark Hanson's job is to sell the area around Wadena, but he doesn't deal in real estate.

Hanson's mission is to keep resident businesses healthy and in the Wadena County area, and to convince outside businesses that our neck of the woods is ideal for helping their business grow.

Since July 15, Hanson has been the director of economic development for WCEDA, or the West Central Economic Development Alliance.

One of his prime selling points is the lifestyle here.

"Wadena County has these wholesome aspects about it that people actually don't realize that they want," Hanson said. "To be able to leave your house open, to able to go out and go buy fresh produce, to go to a school event ... and the stands are full. You don't have to spend three, four hundred dollars to have a good time."

He said the fact that he is from Minnesota was one of the reasons he was hired to help run 13 different 7-Eleven stores right after he graduated from college.

"We're used to work," Hanson said.

Although the flashier side of the job is attracting new business to the area, a large part of what Hanson does is acting as a consultant to homegrown businesses that ask for his help. For example, he gave advice to local entrepreneurs Chris and Valerie Black when they wanted to create Burger Depot in Verndale, helping them with things like their business model and menu.

The kicker is that Hanson can give up to 100 hours of his time for free if the applicant can demonstrate their plan is suitable during the course of an interview.

"I pride myself in having the ability to find out within two hours if there's anything I can do to help," he said.

Although Hanson can tell in a matter of hours whether or not a business is viable, what he and WCEDA do may resonate years into the future. One of the founding members on the WCEDA Board of Directors is Tri-County Health Care CEO Joel Beiswenger, who said WCEDA is focused on more than just the here and now of Wadena County's economy.

"We're laying the groundwork for successes five and 10 years from now," Beiswenger said. "There are not going to be too many quick payoffs."

Fellow Board Member Steve Pickar of Star Bank in Verndale said Hanson's assistance of area businesses was the best part of having him on at WCEDA.

"I think the best thing that's happened since Mark became an employee (is) his contact with local businesses; providing some financial analysis, providing some advice on management of businesses, especially with people looking to start a business," Pickar said. "It looks to me like he's going to be a really good asset."