Listen: Mainstreet Radio - Community improvements evaluated

Mainstreet Radio’s Rachel Reabe visits Winnebego, Minnesota and reports on the Minnesota Community Improvement Program that the town is taking part in. Reabe interviews residents and officials about the incentives of MCIP.


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CAROL LOOMIS: All right. There is our community bulletin board to the left. And my husband built that with his vocational agriculture students. We plan to plant flowers there next year under the sign.

RACHEL REABE: Carol Loomis of the Winnebago Community Improvement program is showing Judges Mary Foley and Randy Cantrell, some of the projects the people of Winnebago have been working on for the past year. A new community sign board paid for by a fundraising effort, repairs to the town's swimming pool, the volunteer refurbishing of a newly reopened Main Street Cafe.

CAROL LOOMIS: And we do this regularly. We didn't just do this for you today. We have the flowers on the table regularly. We try to do--

RACHEL REABE: The South Central Minnesota town of Winnebago is in the over 1,500 population category in the Minnesota Community Improvement program. The 58 towns involved in MCIP, don't stand to win any money or tangible prizes for their efforts. But Loomis told the judges, Winnebago's involvement in the program has already produced rewards.

CAROL LOOMIS: We think in some cases that people are more likely to volunteer, more likely to put out extra effort, if somebody from outside is going to come and judge as you're doing. We also think that sometimes work just doesn't get done unless there is this real incentive of a deadline, like today. And again, someone noticing, and the possibility of an award. It just helps to bring the community together.

JANE LEONARD: Well, what's special about this program is that it is really a citizen based self-help type program.

RACHEL REABE: Jane Leonard is state coordinator for the Minnesota Community Improvement Program. She says the towns are judged on three basic themes: how aware are their citizens of the need for community improvement, how involved are they, and what do they actually get done. The town's efforts have ranged from fix up clean up kinds of projects, to the creation of industry. A new machine shop in the Iron Range town of Barrett, a fledgling packaging company in Winnebago, have both grown out of MCIP efforts. Gordon Staub, an agent with the University of Minnesota Extension Service was instrumental in the formation of MCIP.

GORDON STAUB: In rural areas, the best opportunities for economic development are things that come out of local initiative. Things that probably aren't very large. And many of them probably will never get very large. But some of them stand a good chance of doing that.

RACHEL REABE: The towns are asked to make a scrapbook documenting their efforts with photographs, press clippings, and the like. They exchange information with other communities in the program. They also gain free access to a variety of experts who can help them make long-term plans. Marvel Pravkee of Bricelyn is sold on MCIP. She's coordinated some cleanup and fundraising efforts in Bricelyn, a town of 430, near Albert Lea. She says MCIP has been a good motivator for the towns people.

MARVEL PRAVKEE: Families have been very much involved with this. And I think, what other way for children to learn and see their parents being interested in a community.

RACHEL REABE: The four-year-old community improvement program expanded its focus to include counties this year. Faribault and Todd counties signed up. The judging team stopped in staples, the Todd County seat in North Central Minnesota. County chairman Becky Selno said the project encourages the communities in Todd County to work together.

BECKY SELNO: We need each other, and we need to get people to understand that so that if Staples has an industry move in here, it's going to help the whole County. Or if Long Prairie on the other end of the County has somebody move in, it's going to help people all the way up to Staples as well. And that's one of our objectives in doing this.

RACHEL REABE: One of Todd county's major efforts this year was a photo display at the County fair highlighting the area's scenic spots. Staples School superintendent Jack Nelson told the judges, the photo exhibit was a nice shot in the arm for Todd County residents.

JACK NELSON: Everybody looks at Todd County as the pits, the poverty area. Who would want to live there, type thing. All you hear is all the bad statistics. And we all felt that hey, that's not true. It's pretty darn good place to live. And we really like living here.

RACHEL REABE: Representatives of the towns and counties involved in the community improvement program will gather in New Ulm later this month to see who will be honored by the judges. The awards presentation is part of a two-day community development workshop. With John Biewen, I'm Rachel Reabe.

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