Talk at the annual Rochester Economic Development Inc. luncheon focused on ways to grow the community.

RAEDI actively supports Mayo Clinic and the Destination Medical Center initiative, but that's not the only way to make the area stronger. The group is partnering with the Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce to create a five-year plan that aims to improve the economy from a different angle.

The $150,000 project is being paid by the chamber and RAEDI.

Elaine J. Garry, chairwoman of the RAEDI board and president/CEO of People's Energy Cooperative, explained the project to a packed Doubletree Hotel ballroom filled local business leaders.

"While DMC focuses on the medical sector, this plan's focus is on assuring that the area economy grows and becomes more diverse," she said. "We must take the steps necessary to diversify and grow our economy, so we don't become overly dependent on one sector and one major employer. Some of you may argue that it's past time to do that. Well, there's no better time to do that, than right now."

A steering committee of 26 business leaders from Olmsted, Dodge and Wabasha counties have been working on the plan, called Journey to Growth, for several months. They drew on community feedback from more than 2,600 survey responses.

Those surveys pointed the steering committee to manufacturing, food/dairy and computer system design/productions as good sectors to develop here, in tandem with the omnipresent health care.

The plan has three major themes

• Expand and diversify the economy.

• Optimize the regional talent base.

• Become a more cohesive and connected region.

Garry ended her talk by emphasizing that it will take the help of everyone to make the region stronger.

"Economic development is a team sport, and that's how we intend to play the game," she said. "Success is just around the corner, if we just work diligently."

Following Garry's talk, keynote speaker Peter Barth discussed how his organization, The Iron Yard, has boosted the economic vitality of communities in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.

Barth originally launched The Iron Yard business accelerator program in Greenville, S.C. It fully funds a start-up firm for three months and then helps the firm find funding to get off the ground. Mayo Clinic serves as a partner for the organization.

The Iron Yard runs many other programs, including educational and training programs for children and adults.

The Iron Yard also has locations in Charleston, S.C., Spartanburg, S.C.; Atlanta; and Asheville, N.C.

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