Businesses in Wadena County feel quality personnel and customer service are great, while variety of shopping options are unsatisfactory. This was just one finding in a comprehensive report following a survey of 98 businesses in the county that started this spring.

Nine months after the start of that business recruitment and expansion project in Wadena County, a committee has come out with five priorities identified by mostly local businesses in the region.

The 97 business owners surveyed during the study was the third highest survey count in the history of the BR&E program, which is administered by the University of Minnesota Extension. Those businesses had the opportunity to share what is working and sub par for them. That will hopefully guide some action steps for the future.

After the surveys were completed by a team of volunteers from the county, the committee, led by The Economic Alliance executive director Katie Heppner, reviewed the reports and came up with a summary of those findings. Heppner shared some of that with Wadena County commissioners, Tuesday, Sept. 10.

One major indicator she shared showed a graphic that included those things most important to making the ideal community and how satisfied respondents were with what was available.

Among the list of services business owners celebrated were emergency services, including fire departments and police, education, loan availability, health care facilities, utilities and community attitude toward businesses.

"Those are things we really don't need to focus projects on because they're doing quite well, we should pat ourselves on the back for those," Heppner said.

Take action

But the area that the committee hopes to get behind was the “Take Action” section, that businesses found of highest importance and of lowest satisfaction.

No surprise, property taxes were high on that list. Heppner said that’s typical of all surveys like this. Also no surprise, was that housing, workforce shortage and childcare were high on the list. The trifecta issues that the county has already been diving into for sometime.

"There's rarely community where people say, "gee, I love it," Heppner said of these needs. "Those are the heavy hitters at the moment."

Following a retreat, a task force of 13 members of the communities came up with five priority projects for the next couple years, including:

  1. Exploring workforce training cooperation. Heppner said there are about 200 employees in need of additional training. Is there a way that businesses can work together to share resources to train these people? Heppner thinks that’s a path they need to walk down.

  2. Educating business owners and entrepreneurs in business planning. Close to 70 percent of those surveyed did not have a transition plan or business plan. Better training can help those businesses have a more planned future.

  3. Encourage entrepreneurship.

  4. Pursue out of the box childcare solutions. Childcare has been a steady conversation in the community. She spoke on working to get a project going that would work and be profitable.

  5. Improving community promotions. This will focus on ways to promote the county as a whole.

Get involved

These topics and more will be discussed further during a Community Kickoff event from 6:30 - 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29 at the Whitetail Run Golf Course. All are welcome to attend.

By the numbers

Here’s a run down of some of the unique numbers of the survey.

97 business owners contacted in survey.

98 businesses. One business person owned two businesses.

33% of surveyed businesses were retail.

90% of surveyed were locally owned businesses.

11% of surveyed were home-based businesses.

70% of employees within 15 minutes of workplace.

24% of businesses had a written business plan. And number of businesses with a transition plan.

9 full-time employees per business.

18% of businesses had difficulty recruiting unskilled service workers, the highest category. This is also the category that would likely see the most growth in the county.

52% used word of mouth to locate new employees.

34% used advertised in the local newspaper to find employees.

53% said they needed training for their employees.

53% said they planned no major changes in their location in coming years.

61% said Wadena County was either excellent or above average place to live.