Keynote speakers talk Vergas during annual meeting
By Robert Williams
The Vergas Economic Development Authority (EDA)/Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA) held its annual meeting at the Event Center on Tuesday, April 25.
EDA/HRA president Kevin Zitzow emceed the event, introducing speakers and giving a brief history of the committee.
Vice president Bruce Albright opened with a discussion on the EDA/HRA goals and budget.
“From an EDA perspective, one of our goals is to meet with business owners, determine how things are going for them and determine if they need assistance to stay in business or expand their business and survey businesses regarding staffing needs,” said Albright.
Albright acknowledged that one of the main issues in the Vergas business district is available space, both for new business, and more importantly, for parking.
“You still like to think about expansion and if someone was to come to town we’d want to work with them and find a place for them,” said Albright. “The other side of that coin is you also need to work with the businesses you have.”
Albright also discussed how the EDA can assist businesses with funding, working with planning and zoning within the current city limits and within a half-mile radius of town for potential future development growth.
“If somebody were to come to town and want to build a business…where do you put ‘em?” said Albright.
Albright also talked about opportunities that have been discussed about bringing new business to town, like a car wash or a motel.
Regarding parking issues, which was a predominant concern raised during the creation of the village’s comprehensive plan in 2022, Albright touched on the former county garage that will be removed and turned into a parking lot later this year.
On the HRA side, Albright discussed open lots available in town and studies being done to furnish housing based on current needs while working with several developers currently working around town.
The EDA/HRA is funded through city taxation and does a lot with a small budget. The committee was given $7,000 from the city and is working with a current budget near $40,000.
Ian Carlstrom, Regional Director of the West Central Minnesota Small Business Development Center, was the final keynote speaker.
Carlstom discussed the role of his group of consultants in providing technical services to small businesses.
“What that means is we can get into the weeds with entrepreneurs and really take our time working with them on loan applications, business planning, market research and financials,” he said.
Half of the SMBD’s client list is new business and the other half existing businesses. The services are provided free of charge by the non-profit.
Otter Tail County
Marie Noplos, Marketing and Membership Director of the Otter Tail Lakes Country Association, discussed marketing the county as a whole, along with sharing data on how the association promotes the county and its communities.
Otter Tail County Community Development Director Amy Baldwin presented on improving the county and communities by working together and how the county can work with towns like Vergas in areas such as expanding housing opportunities and workforce challenges.
Sherri Hanson, Vergas Park Board chair, discussed the board’s improvement plan for Vergas.
“People pay a lot of money to come here and we get to live here; we need to have our parks and natural resources in tip-top shape for when those people come,” said Hanson.
Hanson discussed how her team partners with EDA/HRA to help promote Vergas as a tourist destination and a place to live.
Recent additions to the town that the park board helped to establish are the pickleball courts and the Veterans’ memorial park. The board continues to work with the North Dakota State University landscape architecture class in working on future plans with the city engineer to improve local parks and infrastructure.
A few of those plans are new bath houses at Long Lake Park, beach erosion, adding an entrance and exit at the park to improve safety, a new dry kitchen and new shelters, natural walkways, a skate park, a dog park, and potentially an amphitheater.
“There are so many ideas that come to us and so many possibilities when we get a lot of people together,” said Hanson.
Julie Lammers gave an update on the Event Center and how it is a hub for people in and around the community. In the past couple years, the advisory committee has overseen a remodel of the Event Center’s exterior, the replacement of the flooring, and painting of the interior. A kitchen remodel is currently in process, along with sound-proofing the meeting room from the kitchen.
Zitzow discussed new businesses that have started up in town and around Vergas since the last annual meeting including: Lori Tjaden’s Cutting Edge salon, JoAnne Knutilla and daughter Kari Heisler’s A Step Up Boutique; Stephanie Jorgenson, the new owner of Otter Coffee and Ice Cream; Bruce Zitzow’s Custom Services and Repair; and Loonies Pub and Campground run by Brady Sirjord, Vickie and Lonnie Ludwig.
A pork chop dinner was catered by the Loons Nest, along with bar service by Spanky’s Stone Hearth. The Vergas Cost of the meal is covered by the EDA/HRA; drinks at the bar are not.