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Chamber partners with Center for Small Towns on community initiative

Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce branding chair and board member Greg Holder of Rustic Cabin Decor, left, Center for Small Towns student Brenna Cook, CST Program Coordinator Kelly Asche and CST student Tayler Vetsch helped lead a community branding discussion last week at the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. (Submitted photo)

What does it mean to live in the Park Rapids Lakes Area? What does it mean to work here? Why do people buy cabins here? Why do generations of families visit? What are the connections that we all share?

These are questions being asked as part of a strategic community branding initiative by the Park Rapids Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce & Tourism, with the collaboration of a large group of stakeholders. The answers to these questions are beginning to weave a story. A new narrative is being developed to share a common vision across all dimensions of community when the opportunities this area holds is discussed.

The goal is to build on the economic durability of this region; to be methodical in progress; to attract a desirable workforce and to consistently share this unique story with residents, seasonals and visitors establishing a deep and connected pride of place.

"We already have a brand, everything does to some extent," says Nicole Lalum, president of the Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. "Your brand is what people think of first when they think of you. What we are trying to do is shake down the essence of what the Park Rapids Lakes Area is to people."

The benefits of the strategic community branding initiative are to enhance the community's economic development efforts and the community's competitive advantage include attracting new businesses, industries, investments and high profile events. This also includes increasing tourism; supporting coherent local development efforts overall as physical, social, economic and cultural sectors come together to deliver the community's brand promise; putting the Park Rapids Lakes Area on the regional, national and global map; increasing a sense of local identity, well-being and pride; drawing in new populations with a diversity of skills and talents; developing and maintaining a clear and consistent sense of community identity and messaging for the outside world.

For the first part of this journey, the Chamber partnered with the University of Minnesota Center for Small Towns to facilitate small group discussions with 26 community members last Thursday. The information gathered will be refined to develop a survey instrument that we will then distribute to second home owners, seasonal and current residents and visitors.

The Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships (RSDPs) give communities in Greater Minnesota access to the University of Minnesota in order to help solve problems and take advantage of new opportunities. As a part of University of Minnesota Extension, (Region) RSDP brings together local talent and resources with University of Minnesota knowledge and seed funding to drive sustainability in four areas: agriculture and food systems, tourism and resilient communities, natural resources, and clean energy. CST is a community outreach program housed at the University of Minnesota, Morris and serves as a point-of-entry to the resources of the University of Minnesota. Small towns, local units of government, K—12 schools, non-profit organizations, and other University units are able to utilize CST's resources as they work on rural issues or make contributions to rural society. CST's mission is to focus the University's attention and marshal its resources toward assisting Minnesota's small towns with locally identified issues while creating applied learning opportunities for faculty and students. This project is also supported in part by the Otto Bremer Trust.

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