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Corridor presents optimistic Emmet business report

By Staff | Jul 8, 2009

Business may not be booming in Emmet County or the four-county Iowa Lakes Corridor region.

However, there’s still an undersurge of optimism among area business and industry – something that’s hinted at by area business plans for continued hiring in anticipation future growth.

Shawn Arneson of the Iowa Lakes Corridor existing industry call program updated the Emmet County Board of Supervisors on the program Tuesday.

Noting that the corridor did its third existing industry call program survey early this year, Arneson said 37 businesses and industries were surveyed in the entire corridor region and seven in Emmet County.

In the survey, Arneson said questionnaires and company background forms were sent to businesses to be surveyed. Corridor representatives – or corridor member-volunteers – then visited the businesses.

Of seven companies surveyed in the county, Arneson said four own and three lease their facilities. And, with 1,128 employees total, he said four intend to introduce new products or services in the next two years while three say they already spend over 3 percent of their gross on research and development.

Two of the companies in Emmet County report increasing sales. That compares with 19 percent corridor-wide. That was up from just 4 percent throughout the corridor in 2008.

Four of the seven companies plan expansion in the next three years, bringing in 57 new jobs. Five out of seven see no reason they wouldn’t consider the community for expansion. The two who are not planning expansion cite infrastructure difficulties with water and wastewater.

The good news is that Emmet County has weathered the financial downturn pretty well.

Arneson noted 67 new jobs added the last three years at the companies surveyed, with none lost. Throughout the corridor, 408 jobs were added for the same period with 19 lost.

Community strengths include a good pool of workers, quality of life, small-town feel, a community college, good community support and promotion of regional/community collaboration.

Weaknesses were infrastructure limitations, rural perception, distance from suppliers, lack of leadership for industrial development, difficulty in hiring skilled employees, and the ability for the local community to accept change.

One issue holding back business expansion is the availability of workers with necessary skill sets.

Overall, Arneson said the corridor was “somewhat surprised by the results”, thinking the jobs loss would be higher.

With a total of 80 employers taking part in the survey, Arneson said the corridor tries to interview roughly half each year.