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ANALYSIS: The changing face of economic development

Posted: Mon, Aug 25, 2014 6:59 PM

Winneshiek County Development Incorporated Executive Director Randy Uhl will leave his position on September 12th—a job he has held for the past 15 years.

Uhl says economic development has changed greatly during that decade and a half: "Education, healthcare, quality of life, recreation and a lot of other community needs will occupy the time of an economic developer in the present day.  Long gone are the days when economic developers simply chase smokestacks."

That smokestack chasing can wind up causing a community a lot of disappointment because nationally there are about 15,000 economic development organizations pursuing about 1,500 or fewer major projects each year.

Winneshiek County Development has placed strong emphasis on quality-of-life issues such as trail development and increasing available housing.  WCDI's Community Housing Assessment Team or "CHAT" study outlined clear steps the city of Decorah and Winneshiek County could take to build up housing for the workforce.  The study showed a need for about 300 new housing units in the county over the next 10 years or so, with about 210 of those units being in Decorah alone.

Uhl also says community leaders need to think more regionally and more cooperatively for future economic development efforts.  Says Uhl, "The competition is not the town 20 miles away, the competition is usually at least an ocean away. Our workforce draw does not magically stop at a city or county boundary."