EDAM Summer Conference 2022

Welcoming Work and Rural Economic Development Take Center Stage at EDAM  

Community welcoming efforts and rural economic development came up for discussion when Northspan presented two sessions during the Economic Development Association of Minnesota’s summer conference on June 1-3 at Grand View Lodge in Nisswa, Minnesota.  


It Takes A Village — Presented by Northspan’s Elissa Hansen, Ali Bilden Camps, and Amber Lewis 

This panel explored how Welcoming Community programming is supporting economic growth, population trends, and workforce development in northeast Minnesota. Panelists shared some background on how the program started and hopes for the future.  

Projects currently underway include: 

  • Inclusion Learning Cohorts — Year-long facilitated process to measure and improve inclusiveness and better understand equity gaps 
  • Intercultural Development Inventory — Free online assessments plus individual debriefs with a certified administrator for qualified individuals seeking to build their cultural fluency skills 
  • Uniting for Democracy in the Northland — Nonpartisan program broadening civic participation with action planning to address local democracy issues 
  • Duluth Lyceum — Learning community and social forum designed to gather the community to talk about local issues and big ideas 
  • NORTHFORCE — A community program connecting candidates with regional employers through initiatives such as Student Connect programming and northbychoice.org 
  • Northeast Minnesota Equity Summit — Building on the success of an inaugural event in October 2021 which drew over 200 virtual participants plus ongoing engagement online, the second summit will take place in-person at Iron Trail Motors Event Center in Virginia, MN, on November 10, 2022    

The presentation focused on how supporting social and cultural growth alongside economic growth creates healthy, thriving communities. You can learn more about the Welcoming Community program and contact Program Coordinator Amber Lewis for more information at alewis@northspan.org 

NS Team at EDAM 2022

Pictured above: The Northspan team at EDAM in June 2022.


Building Back Better in Northeast Minnesota — Presented by Northspan’s Karl Schuettler, IRRR’s Whitney Ridlon, and Minnesota Power’s Arik Forsman 

This panel discussed the triumphs and challenges of rural economic development as experienced by three young professionals who have made their homes in northeast Minnesota. They shared how a 13-member regional coalition came together to submit an application on behalf of three northeast Minnesota communities eligible for over $100 million through the federal EDA’s Build Back Better Regional Challenge grant. The coalition didn’t get the grant, but the grant application process was a model of regional partnership and shed some light on the challenges of rural economic development.  

Main takeaways included:   

  • The approach to rural economic development has been holistic, with collaboration marshaling a full spectrum of economic development partners across sectors  
  • A disconnect between policy and economics results when decisions about rural economic development get made in non-rural places  
  • Even the most promising initiatives can fail due to legal technicalities, lack of resources, gaps in strategic oversight, and other problems  
  • In spite of these challenges, rural areas are thinking proactively about future trends and taking on creative approaches to move the needle, even in difficult conditions 

The grant application process revealed the huge potential for rural economic development in northeast Minnesota. It helped illustrate just how much work had been done to diversify the regional economy and improve quality of life, and it set the groundwork for future collaboration in the face of demographic shifts and a transforming economic base. Northspan contributed data to back up these trends as part of the presentation. For more insights and data on these topics, visit Northland Connection or reach out to Northspan’s Karl Schuettler at kschuettler@northspan.org or Miriam Kero at mkero@northspan.org.