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Austin, Mower County primed for improved U.S. economy

Ready for some good economic news? Austin and Mower County are well-suited for what experts expect to be central to an improving economy.

Want more good news? Our community will be involved in a straightforward and proactive economic effort called the Town Meeting Initiative. This is a positive, common sense approach involving the community in economic development. The Town Meeting Initiative will specifically focus on resources related to biobusiness (including renewable energy) and entrepreneurship.

The Town Meeting Initiative, made possible by a Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation grant, focuses on a community’s strengths (or assets) and strives to build upon them. The term for this is Asset-Based Community Development. Over the next several months, a group of volunteers will be leading a process to identify our assets, and ultimately, with the involvement of the community, pick a project related to biobusiness or renewable energy.

This is good timing. It will bring to light our community’s strengths at a time when innovation, energy and health care are described as keys to turning the economy around. From President Obama’s emphasis on science and energy to Gov. Palwenty’s proposed Green JOBZ program, there is a renewed focus on developing strengths in innovative, emerging industries.

I also believe it is good timing because people want to focus on something positive. And, when it comes to bioscience and renewable energy, there is a lot to be positive about in our community.

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Austin and Mower County have world-class strengths in these areas. The Hormel Institute’s growth and success is remarkable and real. Dr. Dong and his staff are drawing support and partnerships from leading institutions from around the world. Fortunately, two of these world-class partners are 40 miles away in Rochester, Mayo Clinic and IBM.

On the way to Austin from Rochester you will drive by several hundred megawatts of renewable energy. The renewable energy capital investment footprint in Mower County and the surrounding area will soon be into billions of dollars. This is enough energy to power tens of thousands of homes.

There’s more: Mower County ranks 4th in agriculture production of all Minnesota counties. Our schools with support from the Hormel Foundation are becoming national leaders in math and science.

Riverland Community College has an exceptional health care "sim lab" and science programs and will be launching a wind turbine technician program soon. Austin Medical Center is considered first-class in its facilities, medical staff and commitment to the community.

Through the Town Meeting Initiative, we will identify possible projects that will help sustain our community’s economy and also strengthen our leadership role in bioscience and renewable energy.

Also, by involving the community in a constructive, asset-based planning project, the best product to come of the Town Meeting Initiative may be the process. Getting the community engaged in a proactive and positive effort, especially during uncertain economic times, is refreshing news in itself.

For more information, contact John Garry at jkgarry@smig.net or at the Development Corporation of Austin, 433-9495.

John Garry is the Executive Director of the Development Corporation of Austin, an economic development agency serving Austin and Mower County.

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