County development plan targets small business, workforce

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The Washington County Community Development Agency is concentrating on business growth in its new county economic development plan.

The county board passed the plan last month, contingent upon any comments cities across the county made through June 20.

The plan is comprised of several goals they hope to work on over the next three years.

Chris Eng, county economic development director, said under the program they will roll out grant programs, studies and development resources.

The county will offer Open to Business lending through the Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers to assist small businesses in the coming weeks.

The county became a paying member of the nonprofit organization, and will be able to direct future or existing small business owners to the program for technical resources, loans or other financing.

They also have federal community development block grants they will be able to distribute to three businesses over the three-year action plan period, as well as a revolving loan program for commercial buildings and improvements. The CDA will also conduct business retention and expansion surveys with existing businesses.

They will build off the results already completed in cities such as Cottage Grove. Eng said it will be specific to each community, and the community will take the lead.

"That's our best way to find out what the needs of business," he said.

One goal for the workforce is keeping more workers and residents in the county.

Workforce data from 2014, 77 percent of Washington County residents worked outside the county, and only 42 percent of those employed in the county also lived in the county.

"We're trying to find a way to keep those over 100,000 (people) in the county," Eng said.

To build business and community infrastructure, the CDA will also be working on increasing broadband internet access.

The county will be working to survey communities and find out which areas are lacking, and then helping them find providers or putting them in touch with grant programs.

Eng said they plan to start on this in 2018.

They will also be working on marketing strategies to center the county as a good place to work and to live.

"Historically speaking, Washington County hasn't done a great job of telling their story," Eng said.