Innovative Ideas Emerge from Itasca Summit

Child care cooperatives. Cutting legislative red tape. Music festivals. Mentor speed dating. Sweat equity boot camps for college gap years.  

These are just a handful of ideas that emerged from an Innovation Entrepreneurship and Workforce (IEW) work session facilitated by Northspan’s Elissa Hansen at the Itasca Summit held by the Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) on October 19-20, 2021 at Sugar Lake Lodge in Grand Rapids, Minnesota.  

The two-day IEW work session group brainstormed innovative, substantial actions, programs, and efforts the community could undertake to move Itasca County forward. Major themes that emerged included the importance of skill building, data-driven solutions, and career readiness efforts.  

The group took these areas of focus and further defined four arenas of potential work, recognizing the sometimes tough lessons the community has already learned in each case:  

  • Child Care: Accessibility and affordability are key. 
  • Community Identity: Effective change is needed for a sustainable future.   
  • Small Business Development: There are many barriers to entry. Entrepreneurs are isolated. They need an ecosystem.  
  • Skill Building: The schools are failing our children. We need to set them up better for life.   

The group explored actions to aid each of the four key areas with the experiential aim of generating excitement about collaboration and new commitment to practical possibilities. Participants then dug into these actions to define who should be at the table, what success would look like, first steps to move toward action, and potential funding partners.  

Action steps included:  

  • Organized regional advocacy with the Blandin Foundation, IRRR, IEDC, major employers, and more partners 
  • Launch child care coop concept 
  • Waive property taxes for relocation incentive working with county commissioners and more partners 
  • Work with city administration, zoning, building trades, and the public to offer less restrictive zoning for housing  
  • Market existing community branding including IEDC, Thrive Up North, Innovate 218, NorthByChoice, and more partners 
  • Create an entrepreneur network coordinating with IEDC, SBDC, Entrepreneur Fund, and more partners 
  • Career pathways as a graduation requirement 
  • Computer coding classes in middle school 
  • Critical thinking to encourage students to be more self-reliant and schools and parents to be more accountable 

“There are so many great ideas out there, and it was inspiring to see an overarching vision begin to crystalize as community members shared their perspectives,” said Elissa. “This session helped identify the huge amount of resources available in Itasca County and shined a spotlight on the great work already underway. We now have a much firmer grasp on how to combine resources, fully utilize existing assets, and pull together as a community to bring about the changes we want to see.” 

You can read about more ideas and action steps that emerged from the IEW session here: IEDC IEW Results

Could your organization or community benefit from a facilitated work session? Contact us to learn more.