Getting to know Robert Barnes, new Community Development Director

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    Community Development Director Robert Barnes, who also serves as the Executive Director for Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority (CHEDA), says one of the main parts of his new job is to build collaboration and he’s excited to meet people plus see what Crookston has to offer.

    “We already have a few priorities with existing projects on the desk plus some larger priorities we want to address, and communication and collaboration will be a big part of that,” Barnes explained. “The most important part of communication is listening and I’d like to start by meeting people and listen to what they have to tell, to teach me, their perspective; how does Crookston look through their eyes.”

    “When we move to collaboration we’ll then agree on the directions we need to go, run through the process and budget, and, as the relationship grows, those specific answers will become much more clear based on that collaboration,” he added.

    Currently, some of the top priorities on the city’s list, Barnes says, include Epitome Energy, workforce housing, Ag Innovation Campus and understanding the commercial and residential needs of the community.

    “It’s still very early and I think a year from now our conversation will be different,” he continued. “Communities go through growth cycles and we need to look at what we’re in, what helps us enhance that cycle, what comes next over the horizon and what we need to do to prepare for that. It’s the direction of the City Council, the direction of CHEDA; look at what the assets are, what do we need, what do we have, where we can best position ourselves. Sometimes it can take years to do that; we have to come to terms with where we are and what we’re going to do next.”


    Robert Barnes grew up in and around Nashville, Tennessee and went to high school at Castle Heights Military Academy. Following his time at Georgia Military College he enlisted in the U.S. Army where he served roughly 10 years. Other members of his family also have military backgrounds such as his grandfather who served in World War II, his uncle who served in the Navy and fought in Vietnam, and his nephew who is a Marine that also went to the Naval Academy to play football.

    Once he started working in economic development, Barnes said that’s what his professional life has been ever since as it’s the way he thinks and what he knows, and he loves it for many reasons including the people he’s met and the projects he’s worked on.

    Barnes has two master’s degrees, one in Theology and one in City Management/Public Management, and says he’s always been enthralled with city and county government as that’s where the “services get delivered.”

    Barnes met his wife, Laura, in Wyoming and they moved to Minnesota to be closer to family. She’s from East Grand Forks, got her PhD from the University of North Dakota, and currently works as the Provost at White Earth Tribal and Community College, he mentioned.

    Robert has two daughters and Laura has three sons, and between them they have eight grandchildren.

    When asked why McIntosh, Minnesota was their landing spot, Barnes said they found a nice piece of land they liked in the county his wife grew up in and they’ve been enjoying living in the country.

    “The other night with the full moon we just sat outside and enjoyed that for a moment,” he recalled. “It’s fortunate to be able to adapt to change and embrace that, control is something of an illusion sometimes. Life is 10% what happens and 90% how you react to it.”

    “We now have a life on the farm,” Barnes added. “We have a garden and we’re early in the farming relationship; we had chickens this summer and I traded my motorcycle for a tractor.”

Robert Barnes