Stirring the Pot: Chisago Lakes Area quest as America’s Best Community!

As originally posted on Blandin on Broadband

This month I offer congratulations to Chisago Lakes Minnesota.  Two years ago, five small towns decided to identify and work together as one community in the America’s Best Communities competition sponsored by Frontier Communications, Dish Network, The Weather Channel and Co-Bank. Chisago Lakes includes Chisago City, Lindstrom, Center City, Shafer and Taylors Falls and several townships, a total population of about 20,000.  Leadership for this initiative has come from all sectors – business, health care, local units of government, community volunteers, the school district, Chisago County EDA/HRA, community foundation and chamber of commerce.  I am honored to have worked with Chisago Lakes throughout this planning and implementation process.  They have proven that both vision and leadership matters.

Chisago Lakes was one of more than 400 communities that submitted initial applications to ABC in pursuit of the top prizes of $3 million, $2 million and $1 million dollars.  Clearly, the prospective rewards were a huge motivation for the Chisago Lakes community to enter this competition, especially in the first several meetings.  After that, the positive rewards of working together towards a clearly defined mission on community-established priorities overwhelmed the focus on the awards.  Of course, the idea of winning $3 million dollars is always a pretty good motivator when momentum slowed!

As one of 50 quarter-finalists, Chisago Lakes was awarded $50,000 to create their economic revitalization plan.  They used these funds for project management outside consulting, feasibility studies and community engagement.  The plan has six elements: Marketing and Branding; Broadband and Technology; Energy; Healthy Community; Trails; and Workforce.  Based on this written plan, Chisago Lakes was selected as one of 15 communities to share their plans via a ten-minute presentation in Durham North Carolina.  So much to say, so little time.  Many hours went into creating and practicing that ten-minutes so that every word mattered.   Chisago Lakes’ pitch moved us forward as one of eight finalists.

Even before being named a finalist, we had begun implementing our plan.  With the $100,000 finalist prize in hand, Chisago Lakes continued to implement its plan using mostly volunteers on self-directed work teams.  They used the plan to guide their work, pivoting as necessary and as opportunities arose.  Late in the year, a housing team formed and began work on a key community issue that had been identified as a priority in our planning process, but had been set aside due to the long timelines on housing development. Success on the other projects encouraged housing leaders to initiate their efforts.

ABC Judges are now at work reviewing Chisago Lakes’ work on the 19 specific projects documented in more than 70 pages of reports. Well over 100 community volunteers worked to implement the plan. Multiple hundreds participated in ABC – related events.  Several million dollars were invested in these projects – by telecommunications providers, electric utilities, local businesses, and government. Needless to say, the excitement is building in Chisago Lakes.  The announcement is April 19th in Denver.  Such amazing results! Good luck Chisago Lakes!!

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