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Boosting our local economy by investing in our schools

This letter is paid content. Here in north central Minnesota, our communities are great places to live, work, and raise a family.  While the past several months have been challenging for all of us, I am proud of our strength and resilience. Nothing about this “new normal” has been easy.  For many businesses in our region, COVID-19 has forced different ways to provide services that keep employees and customers safe.  Our leadership team at the Headwaters Regional Development Commission is committed to providing critical support to our local businesses as they strive to overcome the economic challenges as a result of the pandemic. As we move forward, the need for a vibrant workforce is more important than ever.  It is clear that prosperity in the future will be driven by a combination of a vibrant workforce and innovative businesses - and that starts with our schools.  Providing a quality education to future workers and entrepreneurs remains a priority among business leaders from Baudette to Park Rapids.  Strong schools also increase property values and attract new families and businesses. As a graduate of Park Rapids Area High School, I’m thrilled to see the district’s continuous innovation in the classroom.  Over the years, the district has greatly expanded its career-training curriculum to prepare students for jobs after graduation.  This includes programs such as Panther Tracks, which exposes students in grades 7-12 to many different professions, including agriculture, health care and business management. The $58.2 million school bond referendum on the ballot in Park Rapids would enhance and expand these vital programs, providing students a launchpad for lifelong success.  In addition to renovating and increasing spaces for shop classes and technical training, the plan would align grades to give 7th and 8th grade students the same opportunities as grades 9-12, among many other benefits. Several factors, including historically low interest rates and widely available project labor, mean that now is a good time to consider long-term investments in school buildings.  Construction costs go up each year, so the longer these kinds of projects are delayed, the more the cost increases for local taxpayers.  For the owner of a $200,000 home in the district, the monthly tax increase would be $9 per month if both questions pass. This is a wise investment not only for our children, but our wider community as well.  In fact, the three-year project would spark $30.9 million of additional economic activity and create 117 jobs in the Park Rapids area, according to Maxfield Research and Consulting, an independent firm that studies the economic impacts of construction projects. This return on investment is about double what businesses would pay in property taxes to help finance the school project.   Ultimately, it’s up to residents in Park Rapids to decide whether to make this investment in the future of our area’s schools, students and local economy.  If residents approve the referendum, our entire region will reap the benefits of a more robust workforce - now and for decades to come. Ryan Zemek Bemidji, MN Economic Development Director Headwaters Regional Economic Development  Commission