Business growth featured at annual Summit

MARSHALL – There’s a lot to be proud of in Lyon County, speakers said – in the past year, a wide variety of economic development, educational and public works projects have kicked off or come to fruition. However, there’s still plenty of work to do to help sustain that growth.

The fourth annual Lyon County Informational Summit was held Monday night at Southwest Minnesota State University. Speakers included area leaders in business, education and economic development.

A lot of the development featured at the Informational Summit was related to the growth of area businesses. In Marshall, an addition to the city’s industrial park is quickly filling up as companies like Ralco, Action Manufacturing and Runnings expand their warehousing and manufacturing facilities.

“There really are some phenomenal things going on in Marshall,” said Cal Brink, director of the Marshall Area Chamber of Commerce and Discover Southwest Minnesota, the Lyon County economic development partnership.

In addition to business expansion, Brink said there are other coming developments that will have a positive impact. That list included the planned regional sports center in Marshall and safety improvements along the Minnesota Highway 23 corridor. The Marshall Area Transportation Group has been advocating for developments like a reduced-conflict intersection at the intersection of Saratoga Street and Highway 23 in Marshall and construction of more passing lanes along the highway corridor between St. Cloud and the South Dakota border.

“Our mission is to improve safety for the for the people who live here and the people who travel through (Marshall),” Brink said of the Saratoga intersection improvements.

Other business updates and announcements came from speakers like Tim Swenson of Action Manufacturing and Marshall Hy-Vee manager Jeff Mueller.

Mueller said maintaining local partnerships was important for the Marshall Hy-Vee.

“We really believe that we wouldn’t be in business if it weren’t for the community,” he said.

Mueller said Hy-Vee plans to focus on improving customer experience and education and has some new developments in the works to go along with that. A remodel of the Marshall store is planned for the future, with an expanded pharmacy and selection of natural, organic and gluten-free products. Another new addition will be the Market Cafe, a full-service restaurant that will expand on the current store’s dining area, he said.

Swenson said Action Manufacturing is poised to begin construction on a new 24,000 square-foot facility to produce its Action Trackchairs. The company has built close to 1,500 of the motorized chairs with off-road tank treads, Swenson said, and they’ve caught the attention of individual customers and organizations around the world.

“We have been recognized because of a product that helps a lot of people,” Swenson said.

Swenson said he hopes the company will continue to thrive in the Marshall area.

“(The Action Trackchair) is made in the U.S.A. We want it to be made in Minnesota, and we want it to be made in Marshall, and we’re going to keep that promise as long as we can,” he said.

While there have been a lot of positive economic developments in the past year, one major concern is how to maintain a strong local economy. That’s been the focus of a group of area residents who trained with the Blandin Academy of Community Engagement, said Marshall City Administrator Ben Martig. The group held a “Community Cafe” discussion session in February to brainstorm ways to create and fill living-wage jobs in the Marshall area.

While the idea of a living wage is a hot topic at local, state and national levels, determining what a living wage is and how best to help people earn one is “easier said than done,” Martig said.

For example, he said, a family of four in Marshall with one working parent would need to make $38,388 a year to cover basic living expenses. But that amount is about $2,100 more than the median wage in Marshall. The Marshall area also faces challenges like an aging population and very low unemployment, which makes it hard to fill jobs.

The Community Cafe event “had a lot of engagement,” Martig said, and responses from community members identified some trends. Being able to support families was a main concern. Other concerns participants identified included aligning workforce training resources with good jobs and growing Marshall as a regional destination.

Martig said the group planned to hold future community events as well.