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Stevens FORWARD! The hard work that lies ahead

By Tom Larson

Sun Tribune

Stevens FORWARD! is ready to do just that -- move forward.

For the last 2-1/2 months, a weekly series of stories have introduced the "Destiny Drivers" for the two-year old community-building initiative that began as a rough draft of Stevens County's future almost two years ago.

Now, the real work begins.

"We raised the money to organize it, administer it and promote it," said Paul Watzke, chair of the Stevens FORWARD! Stewards. "Now, we'll look for additional funding and we'll look for additional people so that we can launch the drivers with whatever resources are needed."

Stevens FORWARD! stewards in October 2008 released a list of 14 projects that they believe will make the county a better place to live and do business in the future.

Stevens FORWARD! launched the initiative into the action stage by releasing the 14 initiatives, called "Destiny Drivers."

The Destiny Statement and a list of the drivers can be found later in this story.

Stevens FORWARD! was conceived in 2007 by Stevens County commissioners Neal Hofland and Watzke and is modeled after a successful stewardship program in Bemidji.

A steering group comprised of county residents met for 10 months to set the countywide goals.

Like the Bemidji program, Stevens FORWARD! hopes the drivers will lead county residents to think and work hard to get the region where it wants to be in 15 or 20 years.

The goals now are to keep interest and participation moving ahead.

Each of the Destiny Drivers has a steward to oversee the driver, and champions who have taken on the responsibility to do the trench work. Each team will work with "Progress Logs" to chart their efforts in achieving the goal.

Stevens FORWARD! also has established an executive committee that will meet periodically for updates and to reevaluate the work. The committee is comprised of Watzke, Sal Monteagudo, Carolyn Peterson, Jim Thoreen and Stevens FORWARD! coordinator Roger McCannon.

"Stevens FORWARD! was funded for two years, and many of the Destiny Drivers extend beyond two years," McCannon said. "We have to decide how and by what means are we going to continue on."

The stewards and champions also must ensure that all the Destiny Drivers are afforded equal effort.

"We want them all to have some progress," Watzke said.

The initiative also has been designed to be adaptable to changes that may come up as work on the drivers continues.

"This can change and things can be modified," McCannon said.

"To sit here and think we have all the answers is not the way to go," Watzke said. "There are a lot of talented people doing a lot of things for economic development and community involvement and we want to work together in any way we can."

Stevens FORWARD! is the first initiative based on the Bemidji Leads model, and it's the only example of a group attempting to encompass an entire county rather than just a city.

Since Stevens FORWARD! was conceived, similar efforts are underway in Alexandria, Appleton and Fergus Falls.

Stevens FORWARD! will continue to identify people who want to get involved, and is expecting to update the community about its work through public reports, Watzke said.

"I think we'll do really well with this," he said.

Stevens FORWARD! Destiny Statement

Stevens County will be the model community in rural Minnesota, recognized for our progressive development and our innovations in renewable energy, agriculture, business, and education. We will achieve this by building upon the intellectual and social capital already present within the county, and by attracting new and diverse talent that will drive our economy and increase our population.

Community Assets

• Unique towns and a strong work ethic.

• A solid base of technology and natural resources.

• An entrepreneurial spirit and culture of lifelong learning.

• Initiatives in alternative energy - wind, biomass, hydrogen and methane.

• A balanced lifestyle of work, worship and play in a beautiful and safe locale.

• A strong and diverse foundation of agriculture business, health care, and education.

Destiny Drivers

Innovative Economy

1. By 2009 we will harness the intellectual capital of the University of Minnesota Morris, West Central Research and Outreach Center, U.S.D.A. Soils Lab, and agri-business and associates into an Innovations Incubator that will produce one new commercial venture each year.

2. By 2012 a Stevens FORWARD! Community Fund of $1.5 million will help finance projects that further the destiny of the county.

3. By 2010 we will create a "Green Internship / Mentor Program" that will support 20 high school and college students per year.

4. By 2010 at least ten UMM graduates will gain professional employment in Stevens County that leverages their talents and provides opportunity for career advancement.

5. Over the next ten years we will maintain the highest percentage of high school students in Minnesota going on to higher education (university, college, or technical college).

Social Inclusion

6. By 2010 we will enhance our interconnectedness by better utilizing the technology infrastructure to create a virtual community.

7. By 2013 we will have established an inclusive culture that embraces a diversity of people in our population and encourages their uniqueness to flourish and enhance our community.

Livable Community

8. By 2015 Stevens County will be the first carbon neutral county in the world, demonstrating viable models for green housing, neighborhoods and public buildings.

9. By 2012 we will have the finest retirement community in western Minnesota, attracting 20 new retirees to our community every year.

10. By 2015 revitalization initiatives will energize our downtowns and retail centers, increasing commercial and retail sales.

11. By 2015 we will invigorate our parks, lakes and trails to be the finest in western Minnesota.

12. By 2015 we will construct an outdoor Aquatics Center that will serve Stevens County and the surrounding region.

Working Together

13. By 2012 we will build a stronger coalition between the University of Minnesota Morris and the region to increase enrollment to 2,100 of which 1,800 will be on-campus students.

14. By 2010 an Intergovernmental Council will ratify a Statement of Interdependence that will guide us toward greater efficiencies among our public institutions and services.

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