University of Minnesota-Crookston growing its outreach, engagement with area businesses
CROOKSTON – The University of Minnesota-Crookston is growing its outreach and engagement with the regional business community.
The Office of Outreach and Engagement works to develop relationships, plan, deliver and manage innovative pathways to strengthen the vitality of the campus and the region.
UMC’s Office of Outreach and Engagement offers business consulting through the Northwest Minnesota Small Business Development Center and the Economic Development Administration Center, as well as education opportunities for individuals and organizations. Those educational opportunities can vary from things like classes and workshops to certificate programs on popular computer software and business and leadership skills.
Chancellor Mary Holz-Clause, who has been with the university since 2017, said while the university did have a center for rural entrepreneurship before she arrived on campus, it didn’t really have a concentrated strategy on the topic. Holz-Clause has a fairly extensive background in economic development.
People in the university began having conversations with the regional business community about their needs. Slowly, the ideas began to snowball to what is now the Office of Outreach and Engagement at UMC. The office now includes three staff: Christine Anderson, Small Business Development Center consultant; Lee Groeschl, EDA consultant; and Michelle Christopherson, director of outreach and engagement.
“We're in the very (beginnings) of really putting this ecosystem together,” Holz-Clause said. “We're just really starting to get started and working with the region to put that together.”
Each semester the EDA and the SBDC integrate projects into courses offered on the University of Minnesota Crookston campus. These projects become an integral part of the course curriculum and are designed to benefit small business owners and entrepreneurs while providing students with real-world business experiences, the office notes on its website.
As a land-grant institution, UMC’s mission is to serve the public good, Christopherson said. Northwest Minnesota has a unique workforce and the university plays a significant role in educating students to become workers in the region, she said.
“ I think the university plays a significant role in educating the students specifically in those areas so that we can contribute not only to new employees and the workforce but also help that workforce within northwest Minnesota provide new products or innovative ways to serve not just the state and their global expectations with different clients but, more importantly, to communities where all of these businesses are housed or owned,” she said.
Paul Gorte, economic development director for East Grand Forks, said it’s important to build economic development from within, whether that’s building workforce, growing local businesses or helping entrepreneurs. He said it's all important to the regional economy. It can be difficult to bring in businesses from the outside, so having institutions like UND’s Center for Innovation, the training work Northland Community and Technical College does, and what UMC is doing now is critical for creating an environment for people to generate new ideas.
Gorte said he is excited about UMC's efforts.
“It creates an opportunity for people to start a business and be successful and then this can sometimes grow into large businesses like American Crystal, Northern Valley Machine or Dakota Peat,” he said.
Gorte said all those businesses started from a local idea that grew, in some cases because of organizations like the Center for Innovation and UMC.
A large majority of jobs are typically created by local companies, Gorte noted. If there’s economic growth in the region, it’s generally because there is growth in local businesses.
“If we find ways that can help create new businesses, or that can help existing businesses expand, that's how we're going to grow our economy,” Gorte said. “So, having a network of support, and including training programs, financial resources, and technical support, all are ways to help people ... succeed and be successful with their ideas.”