CEDA Staff Leads Itasca County, MN Communities through Brainstorming Sessions

Article by: Mary Kennedy

Over the past several months, Sarah Carling, CEDA team member serving Itasca County and Itasca Economic Development Corporation (IEDC) has been facilitating brainstorming sessions in communities throughout Itasca County. The brainstorming sessions consist of interactive meetings / workshops held with city staff, community and business leaders, residents, and stakeholders to identify resources, assets, challenges, and ultimate goals for the community’s future.

Carling takes an interactive approach by first facilitating a SWOT analysis, helping the group identify the communities strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. From there, Carling leads the group through several conversations concerning both the economic and commercial aspects of the community, as well as residential and tourism. For example, Carling encourages the community members to consider how all populations are being engaged and best utilized in the community, including senior citizens and youth, and to identify blighted areas. The process Carling uses to gather information throughout the brainstorming session is to have the participants individually write their thoughts on post-it notes for each of the 5 exercises, and eventually post them on a large sheet to discuss as a group. After the brainstorming session is complete, Carling is able to compile a report that will document the shared ideas and potential projects. The report will also include a living breathing Excel document that allows the city to work and track the progress, assists with prioritization, and identifies possible resources available to make these projects more attainable. “Mapping out a wish list is important for every community,” explains Carling. “How each of the communities in Itasca County will use these reports will be different, but they will have the tools and possible resources to get their ball rolling in the best direction possible for their community. I am excited to see what will come for these communities in the future.”