Daycare could be key to Benson area’s growth

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Community developer and “therapist” Doug Griffiths speaks to citizens at the Benson Golf Club Thursday evening. His talk focused on the points he raises in his best selling book 13 Ways to Kill Your Community. Griffiths also met with high school students, senior citizens, young parents and the business community during his two days in the community.
Doug Griffiths talks with students at Benson High School about his years as a junior high teacher in Canada and how he motivated his students to examine their lives and the destructive behaviors that could derail their future success.

School-industry collaboration and city beautification also important

 

By Reed Anfinson
Publisher Swift County Monitor-News

Editor’s note: This is the first part of a two-part story on Doug Griffith’s two days in Benson. Next week’s story will get more into who the community seeks to bring here and what shapes a community they find attractive.

Through his two days of meetings with students, senior citizens, business people, young adults, and local government leaders Doug Griffiths was always seeking an answer to a two-part question: What is the most important thing to the future of your community and what assets do you have that will help you ensure your future is bright?

Young families moving to Benson was the first answer and excellent, affordable and readily available daycare the second.

Certainly, there were a lot of discussions about the challenges businesses face in filling job vacancies, about the lack of available and affordable housing, a lack of entertainment, losing kids to other schools districts, and not enough stores with the things local people need forcing them to shop out of town.

But there was also a focus on Benson’s strengths:

- With the passage of a $26.3 million bond levy in August, the Benson area addressed one of the most significant hurdles to its future growth – replacing aged education facilities with new and remodeled structures.

A performing arts center, 21st century education collaborative learning spaces, and new class areas for trades education at the senior high will be constructed. Daycare and Discovery Kids classrooms will be built at the Northside Elementary allowing the programs to move out of the basement of the Junior High.

- The new Scandi Haven Village facility for those with assisted living and memory care needs is near completion.

- Swift County-Benson Health Services has a full compliment of medical professionals offering care in the community.

- Brightmark Energy of San Francisco is moving ahead with a $100 million biogas project to replace the loss of Benson Power, Inc. Other potential economic development projects are on the horizon and can be assisted by the $20 million the city will be getting from Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund over four years. Already, $4 million of that money is in the bank.

Griffiths is the co-author of 13 Ways to Kill Your Community, a book that looks into the things that hold a community back, sabotaging its efforts to improve. His company, 13 Ways, uses strategies developed in the writing of the book and through his time working in economic development for the Alberta, Canada, provincial government.

Daycare – Benson’s most attractive asset

With Griffiths on his trip to Benson was Heather Thomson, the brand and business manager for 13 Ways. She also is the executive director of the Alberta School of Business – School of Retail.

It was Thomson, Griffiths said, who saw the most important issue to the community while talking with young women around her age that were struggling with daycare. Griffiths said that without her along, he might not have picked up on the significance of daycare to young people in a community and how intertwined it was with many of the challenges the community faced.

Thomson pointed out that the most important thing to young couples is their children. They’ve read the literature that says the ages from birth to 18 months are the most critical in a child’s development. That makes quality daycare essential and parents will pay a lot, move to new communities, and drive long distances for it.

Benson Public Schools offers daycare for children six weeks to fifth grade. Its extended hours help out working parents with the work schedules, starting at 5:30 a.m. and going until 6:30 in the evening. Swift County, the City of Benson, Swift County-Benson Health Services and local businesses have contributed funds to make the program financially sound.

What makes the program even more unique today is that there is no waiting list to get into it.

There are few programs like it in the state, if not the entire nation. Griffiths and Thomson were impressed with it, especially after a tour of the current facilities. The new facilities to be built in the coming year will be a vast improvement over the current rooms.

It is a program that sets Benson apart from most other communities and gives it a significant asset to market to the young people it is trying to attract to the community to fill job openings, Griffiths and Thomson said....

Limit your priorities

While daycare was identified as the primary asset Benson could build its message around, there were two others that were also identified through a process of forced elimination.

“Pick a place to start,” Griffiths told city leaders and citizens who had many ideas for improving Benson. “If you try to do everything, you will end up doing nothing.”  Daycare was that starting point from which other goals were identified that could draw people to Benson and help keep young people here.

The second strength that Benson should work to enhance is the working relationship it is developing between the schools and local industries. Students from BHS are interning at CNH, the Chippewa Valley Ethanol Company, and Custom Roto-Mold. CNH donated $25,000 to the school for the purchase of a plasma cutter and welding machines so that its students could learn how to operate them....
 

Building the brand

A community should identify one fictional person that it calls its muse. That muse is the person who exemplifies all the qualities of the person you are targeting to attract to your community.

Each time a community thinks about an initiative aimed at bringing that muse to Benson, it should ask, “What would Alice think about this?” “Would this attract Alex to our community?”

Identifying that muse is essential to developing a consistent branding for your community, Thomson said....

$20 million from Xcel

Griffiths said that 80 percent of the people who win a big lottery have lives that are worse off a year later. Governments will go for big grants for their communities, get the funds, but then be tied to the regulations that govern the grant’s use.

First focus on what the community needs; be solution focused, he said. Develop a culture around what is key to the identity that you are trying build for your community. Don’t let the funds become the objective, he said. They will limit your focus. “If they help develop your culture, that’s a bonus. But don’t let the funds define your community’s focus,” Griffiths said.
 

What’s next?

Griffith’s two days in Benson was an intense, meeting packed experience. The information that was exchanged will take time to digest and formulate into a plan....

 

For more on this story, and to keep up on all the latest news, subscribe to the Swift County Monitor-News print edition or our PDF internet edition. Call 320-843-4111 and you can get all the local news and sports delivered to you!
 

 

Pictured, top: Community developer and “therapist” Doug Griffiths speaks to citizens at the Benson Golf Club Thursday evening. His talk focused on the points he raises in his best selling book 13 Ways to Kill Your Community. Griffiths also met with high school students, senior citizens, young parents and the business community during his two days in the community.

Pictured, bottom: Doug Griffiths talks with students at Benson High School about his years as a junior high teacher in Canada and how he motivated his students to examine their lives and the destructive behaviors that could derail their future success.
 

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