So you run a small business in some town in the Red River Valley, maybe small enough where many might call you a "mom and pop" operation. Things are going well for you and you're starting to think about maybe expanding, possibly even opening up a second store location in another town. But you're not sure what to do, you don't know what your options are, and, frankly, you really don't know if you have the time to do what is necessary to take the leap.
Could a University of Minnesota, Crookston student studying entrepreneurialism in UMC's Center for Rural Entrepreneurial Studies – a student working as an intern for the Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority – be the catalyst that makes something happen?
Well, not necessarily, CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth said in making the case to CHEDA's Executive Committee. No intern would be asked to serve as the critical spoke in the wheel that results in a small business in the region expanding into Crookston. No student intern would be asked to craft development agreements and lead the way through a maze of regulations, statutes and other bureaucratic red tape.
But, Hoiseth said, such interns could drive on down the road and get valuable face time with entrepreneurs in towns across the region, and in the process build a database with valuable information about the entrepeneurs, what they do, and what they might be interested in doing if expansion is within their grasp. At that point, paid professionals like Hoiseth could potentially make valuable use of that information.
"There are lot of folks succeeding out there in small towns around here, and getting them to grow here would be great for our storefronts as we work to redevelop downtown," he said. "They're not just surviving, but they're thriving. Maybe they're thinking about doing something, but that's as far as they've gotten."
Hoiseth figures it would cost a "couple grand" per intern to cover their pay, plus some fuel costs. Hopefully, he said, the interns would be able to utilize vehicles in the UMC fleet, and even live in on-campus housing if need be.
Hoiseth said he's spoken with a trio of "mom and pop" operations in the region in the past year about possibly growing into Crookston. He said he realizes what a huge decision it is for entrepreneurs to make, to essentially double their operation across the board. "But if you can get a storefront here, if you can potentially get a family here, or get someone here to be hired as manager or get someone to move here to be manager, it's worth exploring, I think," Hoiseth said, adding that although downtown has a major need, businesses could expand elsewhere in Crookston as well.
Page 2 of 2 - Utilizing a valuable asset
During the Crookston InMotion strategic visioning/community stewardship initiative, Hoiseth said better utilizing UMC students has been a popular topic, and is a "destiny driver" as Crookston InMotion looks to the future.
Every UMC student must successfully complete an internship in order to graduate, he said, "But we do a pretty poor job overall in providing those internships in Crookston."
So the students go back to their hometowns or elsewhere to intern and, likely, once they graduate they go home or elsewhere to start their careers, Hoiseth said, without a future in Crookston likely even entering their thought process. "An internship in many instances becomes a great recruiting mechanism to keep a young person somewhere," he said.
Committee members liked what they were hearing. Hoiseth said he'd have some cost projections for them to consider the next time they get together, with the goal of hiring a couple interns this summer.
Craig Morgan, store manager at Titan Machinery in Crookston, said Titan hires UMC interns every year. "It gives you a great opportunity to potentially keep a student around, and someone who does a great job for us could find themselves filling a full-time position if one surfaces," Morgan said. "Or maybe there's an opening somewhere else in the community, and we know we have a real diamond in the rough, so to speak, who could fill it."