Hilltop Lumber to Receive 2018 BIAD Award

Hilltop Lumber has been selected as the recipient of the 2018 Business & Industrial Appreciation Day award by the Boards of Directors of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission and Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Business & Industrial Appreciation Day (BIAD) event has honored a Douglas County company each year since 1984 and is recognized as one of the largest and longest standing annual events of its type in greater Minnesota.  Annually, one company from the region is selected as the BIAD recipient based upon the following factors:

  • Impact of the business on the job market.
  • Impact of the business on the local economy.
  • Capital Investment; an indication of commitment by the business to increase community capacity.
  • Community Contributions; evidence of the company’s investment of time, skills and resources to assist in community-oriented projects.

The BIAD luncheon will be taking place Tuesday, October 30th at the Arrowwood Resort & Conference Center.  This event will be a celebration of the success, growth, and impact of Hilltop Lumber not only in our local area, but statewide as well. The luncheon is an opportunity to spotlight the organization with a company video and presentation of formal resolutions from local and state leaders. To purchase registration to this significant event please go online: biad_2018.eventbrite.com

A publication focusing on the accomplishments of Hilltop Lumber will be distributed through the Echo Press the week prior to the event. If you would like to advertise and offer your congratulations in the publication, please contact Samantha Graf [email protected] or Kayla Wacholz at [email protected].


A Strong Retail Pull

Over the last year, there have been a number of retail companies who have closed their doors in the Alexandria area, and these closures have caused concern in our community. Ultimately, our location is not unique to this trend. Nationally, the amount of retail space going dark in 2018 is on pace to break a record, as companies with massive floorplans are either trimming back their store counts or liquidating entirely.  Research shows that across the US, retailers are set to vacate more than 90 million square feet of retail space in 2018. This new number comes in the wake of department store chain Bon-Ton being forced into liquidation. RadioShack, Payless ShoeSource, and Toys “R” Us have also filed for bankruptcy protection.

This shift is likely to have a profound impact on the US economy. The retail industry is the largest private employer in the US, according to a study conducted by PricewaterhouseCoopers for the National Retail Federation. Retail trade employs close to 300,000 in Minnesota alone, while nationally, it directly and indirectly supports nearly 42 million jobs.

And although these closures are a change to our community, it doesn’t mean that our retail sector is in dire straits. In fact, there are several indicators that show we have a strong retail economy starting with our numerous nonchain retail stores.  Look around the Alexandria area and you can see that these niche stores continue to be a vital and active part of the community that brings consumers and other retailers to the area.

Another factor is our strong retail pull. The pull factor was developed by Dr. Ken Stone, an economist from Iowa State University Extension Service, to provide a precise measure of sales activity in a locality.  It is derived by dividing the per capita current dollar sales of a city (or county) by the per capita sales for the state.  For example, if a city’s per capita sales are $20,000 per year and the state per capita sales are $10,000 per year, the pull factor is 2.0 ($20,000 ÷ $10,000).  The interpretation is that the city is selling to 200 percent of the city population.

A pull factor index higher than 1.0 usually indicates that businesses are “pulling” customers from outside their community. Alexandria has the 3rd highest pull factor in the state at 3.04. Alexandria continues to be one of the strongest retail centers in Minnesota outside of the Twin Cities metro area. On individual business categories, Alexandria ranks in the top 3 in any category for similar sized cities, with all the tracked retail and service category sales exceeding the expectations of a regional trade center.

While we have had changes in our retail sector, recent closures here point to a retail adjustment, rather than an economic red flag for our area. Many of the stores that have closed were a result of the chains strategically closing many of their stores after waning sales nationwide. This doesn’t mean all physical stores are going away, or that retail is dying, but it does represent a massive shift in the retail industry as we know it.


Click HERE for full Retail Trade Analysis for Alexandria & Douglas County

economic development

What Does Economic Development Do?

What is and what does economic development organizations do? Being that there’s no one definition for economic development is why these two questions are often asked. Although economic development organizations can be a bit different in the services they provide they all tend to have the same similar goals of job creation, community growth and improving quality of life.

The Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission (AAEDC) is just that. The AAEDC’s mission is to provide regional leadership in a collaborative effort to facilitate job growth and our vision is to see the area as a regional center sustaining a vibrant, growing economy that is attractive to businesses and to a capable, productive workforce.

“Along with our communities and businesses, the AAEDC has continued to forge strong partnerships. With assistance for our efforts, our businesses continue to create jobs, wages, and tax base; three critical components in measuring economic success and vitality. Using our economic development programs, the AAEDC assisted many of our companies with opportunities to grow and prosper in the Alexandria area and Douglas County”.
-Nicole Fernholz, AAEDC Executive Director

In in growing the embarked on and completed a strategic plan that spells out our focus for the next three years. The greatest area of need and opportunity is workforce development. The AAEDC in partnership with the Alexandria Area High School Academies and the Center of Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS) network have helped prepare students for their future, whether they continue their education or step directly out into the workforce. The AAEDC also partners with the Alexandria Technical & Community College to offer regional small business trainings for entrepreneurs and small businesses in the Alexandria area.

As we move forward the AAEDC is also looking to develop a process for linking housing needs and community assets to expand workforce housing options in the region. Along with expanding and diversifying the pipeline of skilled workers for the Alexandria area businesses both current and prospective. In assisting those efforts, expanding visibility of the Living Alexandria Area marketing efforts to both future workforce and businesses.

The AAEDC also offers many different services for startup or expanding businesses.

  • Business Planning: The AAEDC works with a wide variety of businesses and individuals to assist in the business planning process. We create and analyze financial projections to identify potential needs of the business. Within the financial packaging and planning process, the AAEDC does not recommend any specific commercial lending institution(s) to clients.
  • Site Selection Assistance: In a continuously growing effort to assist area realtors and property owners in marketing commercial properties throughout the area, the state, and the nation, the AAEDC maintains two supplemental property listing databases of “for-sale” and “for lease” properties throughout Douglas County. These databases are free for the listing of commercial properties in Douglas County and serve as a database of properties that can be easily accessed by individuals, businesses, and site selectors from throughout the nation.
  • Financial Incentives: Our organization works with new and existing businesses on startup and growth projects, some of which can be supported through incentive programs including, Tax Increment Financing (TIF), Tax Abatement, Industrial Revenue Bonds, and the State of Minnesota’s Job Opportunity Building Zone (JOBZ) program. In addition to commercial tax incentives, the AAEDC has Revolving Loan Funds at its disposal to assist businesses with growth and expansion projects in the area. Funds are specifically used in coordination with primary financing through a financial institution and cannot be used as the primary means of project financing.
  • Demographic Information: The AAEDC strives to be a demographics, statistics, and information clearing house for our area and produces different publications each year focusing on the growth and changes of our communities and all of Douglas County.
Small Town Feel

Falling in Love with the Alexandria Area

Meet the Auran Family…

My husband Nathanael and I were born and raised in Minot and Maxbass, North Dakota.  We had planned to live there forever, but with the oil boom came more traffic, higher prices, and more crime.  We wanted to relocate somewhere that had the small town feel where we could raise our family.  We both worked from home, I as a childcare provider and my husband a web developer, so we could essentially choose anywhere to live.

We had never been to Alexandria, but my parents had been many times and they loved it!  Upon their suggestion, we came here to visit in April 2014. As we explored the area, it became very clear that Alexandria was the perfect fit for our family.  We packed up and moved to Alexandria in June 2014 with our son Tai (13), and our daughters Savannah (11), Adeline (7), Emory (5), and Cambree (3). My parents also moved here a week later!

We had a few requirements we wanted from our new town; excellent schools, four distinct seasons, a small town feel but with lots of action in the community, a great church, closer proximity to a large metropolis and Alexandria met every item on the list!

We recently opened a new business in Alexandria in December 2016 – Escape Room Alexandria.  Every week, we get to see people come together and use their communication and problem-solving skills to successfully escape!  It has been so much fun for us!  We are so thankful we live in a place like Alexandria, where the community is growing and thriving.  It’s the perfect place to become an entrepreneur and it has been the perfect fit for our family.

We LOVE so many things about Alexandria.  We love having so many beautiful lakes to play and fish on.  We love spending winter Friday nights snowboarding down the runs at Andes Tower Hills.  We love biking and rollerblading on the Central Lakes Trail.  We love spending Thursday evenings on the courthouse lawn listening to local musicians.  We love the Douglas County Fair.  We love camping at Lake Carlos State Park.  We feel so lucky to live in a beautiful place where it feels like you’re on vacation every day.

Looking for more information about Living in the Alexandria Area >> CLICK HERE for more information











Family Living Alexandria Area Minnesota

Minnesota Named Second Best State to Raise a Family

New study cites family finances, health and safety, and high-quality education and child care among top factors

Minnesota is the second best state in the nation to raise a family, according to a new study from WalletHub. The new study ranked all 50 states across 42 factors, with Minnesota scoring especially high on measures of median family income and poverty, health and safety, and high-quality schools and child care.

“Minnesota’s great schools, excellent quality of life, and good work opportunities are some of the reasons why we have been rated the second best state for families,” said Governor Mark Dayton. “But the report got one thing wrong: no other state holds a candle to Minnesota!”

Minnesota scored especially strong in median family salary, ranking first out of all 50 states. Below, see additional scoring for Minnesota in the new study:

1st – Median Family Salary (Adjusted for Cost of Living)
3rd – Percent of Families in Poverty
4th – Separation & Divorce Rate
5th – Health & Safety
7th – Housing Affordability
9th – Percent of Families with Young Kids
9th – Violent Crime Rate
11th – Education & Child Care
12th – Unemployment Rate
15th – Infant-Mortality Rate
16th – Child-Care Costs (Adjusted for Median Family Income)

Click here to learn more about living in the Alexandria area >>

Other Top Rankings
Today’s new study follows other recent recognitions of Minnesota’s successes. Below, see some of Minnesota’s other top rankings from recent years.
#1 Best-Run State

Minnesota is the best-run state in the nation, according to a study published by USA Today that cites Minnesota’s strong fiscal management, low unemployment and poverty rates, above-average median household income, and the state’s nearly perfect credit rating. Since ranking tenth in 2012, Minnesota has consistently climbed in the rankings under the same study, including ranking second last year.

#1 Best State to Retire In

Minnesota is the best state to retire, according to a study from AARP – the nation’s largest advocate for seniors. The study looked at affordability, housing, health care, quality of life, supports for family caregivers, and more.

#1 Best State for Women

Minnesota is the best state for women, according to a study from WalletHub. The study looked at women’s wages, health and safety, and economic and social well-being across all fifty states.

#2 Best State for Families

Minnesota is the #2 Best State to Raise a Family, according to a report from WalletHub. The study looked at family salaries, education opportunities, family fun, health and safety, affordability, unemployment rates, and more.

#3 Best State for Business

Minnesota is America’s #3 Best State for Business in 2017, according to a report released by CNBC. Minnesota moved into the third spot this year, after placing fourth in 2016 and coming in first as America’s Top State for Business in 2015.

#3 Best State Overall

Minnesota is the #3 Best State in America, according to a study from U.S. News and World Report. The study cited economic opportunities, great educations, and quality health care in Minnesota. It also ranked Minnesota as the #1 Best State in the Region, when compared to North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Iowa, and Missouri.

New Release from the Office of Governor Mark Dayton: http://mn.gov/governor/newsroom/index.jsp?id=1055-323143

Anderson Funeral Home

Honoring Anderson Funeral Home & Crematory

With roots going back to 1872, Anderson Funeral Home & Crematory has given many years of service to the Alexandria area. From the dedicated and caring staff to their commitment to the community Anderson’s has built a legacy of meaningful relationships and compassionate service. The Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission & the Alexandria Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce were proud to have awarded Anderson’s Funeral Home & Crematory as the 2017 Business & Industrial Appreciation Day recipient.

For more of the Anderson Funeral Home & Crematory story please watch the video below:

The Business & Industrial Appreciation Day (BIAD) event has honored a Douglas County company each year since 1984, and is recognized as one of the largest and longest standing annual events of its type in greater Minnesota.  Annually, one company from the region is selected as the BIAD recipient based upon the following factors: 

  • Growth in number of employees; the impact of the business on the job market
  • Increase in sales and/or unit volume; an indication of continued growth
  • Capital Investment; an indication of commitment by the business to increase community capacity
  • Community Contributions; evidence of the business’s investment of time, skills, and resources to assist in community oriented projects

West Central SBDC Consultant in Alexandria Area

Shannon Berns is the newest consultant joining the West Central – Small Business Development Center (SBDC).  Shannon has a Masters of Business Administration degree from Hamline University.  Shannon has been an entrepreneur, small business owner, banker, Economic Development professional, marketing director and small business consultant.  Shannon is Founder of Du Nord Consulting located in Alexandria, MN.  The West Central SBDC has added Shannon Berns as a consultant to better serve clients in the Douglas, Stevens, Grant and Pope counties.

Shannon lives in the Alexandria, MN area. Shannon is an outdoor enthusiast who finds adventure in everything she does. She works directly with businesses and entrepreneurs to navigate their organization toward growth. Shannon believes in the importance of supporting and engaging a collaborative environment for our business community. In your backyard or across the globe.

Click HERE for the first steps to starting a business!

New Training Projects from MN Job Skills Partnership

The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has awarded workforce development grants totaling $2.2 million under the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership (MJSP) to train 2,744 workers.

“Minnesota is forecasted to have a shortage of more than 100,000 workers by 2020. We can’t afford to leave Minnesotans unprepared for good job opportunities,” said Lt. Governor Tina Smith. “These grants will help train thousands of Minnesotans, in every corner of our state, for diverse opportunities, including manufacturing and health care.”

“Over 295,000 Minnesotans have received training funded by the Minnesota Job Skills Partnership program, which has seen tremendous success in preparing Minnesotans for careers of the future,” said DEED Commissioner Shawntera Hardy. “These training grants are used to upgrade employees’ skills and effectively make Minnesota businesses more competitive and desirable places to work.”

Under the program, educational institutions and businesses work together to secure MJSP funding. Businesses initially meet with an accredited educational institution to explain their training needs and to learn options. Once they agree on a plan, the educational institution contacts DEED to determine eligibility for a grant.

The following grants were awarded in the Alexandria Area:

Alexandria Technical and Community College and Douglas Machine, Inc., Alexandria – $43,785
Alexandria Technical & Community College will create a training platform to allow Douglas Machine to train 130 employees via short video training modules specific to Douglas Machine.
Local contact: Greg Sandeno, Alexandria Technical and Community College, 320-762-4553

Alexandria Technical and Community College and 3M, Alexandria and Staples – $221,309
Both 3M locations are undergoing infrastructure improvements and technology updates to meet growing global demands. A total of 488 employees will receive training to address skills gaps and prepare for future challenges. 3M plans to hire an additional 28 employees over the next two years.
Local contact: Greg Sandeno, Alexandria Technical and Community College, 320-762-4553

(contributed: Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development)

Alexandria 7th Best Place for 401(k) plans in MN

Rank City Employer Contribution % Investment Performance Administrative Fees Best 401(k) Plans Index
1 Champlin, MN 91.2% -0.7% 0.3% 96.16
2 Jordan, MN 78.1% -0.8% 0.1% 90.53
3 Little Falls, MN 63.5% -0.5% 0.2% 82.90
4 Willmar, MN 62.0% -0.3% 0.1% 82.66
5 Belle Plaine, MN 52.4% -0.1% 0.1% 78.12
6 Redwood Falls, MN 50.5% 0.4% 0.2% 77.23
7 Alexandria, MN 51.3% -0.5% 0.3% 76.70
8 Woodbury, MN 47.1% -0.9% 0.2% 74.74
9 Farmington, MN 46.0% -0.8% 0.2% 74.37
10 Falcon Heights, MN 45.1% -0.6% 0.2% 73.86

Additional information on the SmartAsset study, including the full results, methodology, and interactive map can be found here: https://smartasset.com/retirement/401k-calculator#Minnesota

Benefits Survey

West Central MN SHRM Wage & Benefits Survey

A Comprehensive Wage & Benefits Survey of Compensation, Company Benefits and Policies
for the West Central Minnesota Area.

Are you a business located within the counties of Becker, Clay, Douglas, Grant, Otter Tail, Pope, Stevens Traverse & Wilkin? Do you wonder if your business is competitive in the wages and benefits that you offer your employees? Would you like to receive local data on wages and benefits offered by employers in our area?

If so, we encourage your company to participate in the 2017 West Central MN Wage & Benefit Survey. This opportunity is provided by the West Central MN chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management and Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission. This is an excellent opportunity for businesses to receive information on wages and benefits of companies and organizations in west central Minnesota.

Area businesses of any industry and size can participate in the 2017 West Central MN Wage & Benefit Survey, open June 1- June 30, 2017. All survey results will be compiled by the AAEDC and all company information will be kept strictly confidential. Final survey results will be based upon aggregate data compilations to protect individual company information. There is no cost to participate in the survey, but final data will only be provided to participating employers.

All data will be held in the strictest confidence by the AAEDC, compiled and released in aggregate form with minimum job data being required to protect individual company information.