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By November 30, 2023Blog7 min read
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Do Relationships Still Matter in Business?

Summit Held To Spark Business Growth in Rural Minnesota

If you are an entrepreneur or new business wanting to build or grow a business in western Minnesota, who should you talk to?

For starters, you’re not alone, and the MNwest CEO Forum and Entrepreneur Summit has become one place to hear from some of the many voices eager to provide an answer.

The annual summit, now in its fourth year, is actively working to bring together the region’s current and future business leaders who want to find solutions to grow a local ecosystem that allows entrepreneurs to succeed and the region to thrive.

Some of the leading voices in that effort were in attendance at the recent 2023 summit, where the theme, “Relationships Matter” was in the spotlight.

Arvig was the event’s lead sponsor this year, with several of the company’s leaders in attendance to give presentations, network and hear from other business executives in the region. Here are our biggest takeaways from the event.

State programs provide a financial jump-start
In the economic development sector, it’s no secret that some of the towns in western Minnesota are getting smaller and young people are leaving. The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is helping to address the issue of population decline by offering incentives to set up shop locally and stay in their communities. A variety of financial support programs are available for anyone wanting to make a go of it.

Local and loving it
Talk to some of the business owners like Arvig, Lakeshirts or Outstate Brewing —all of which have a large western Minnesota presence—and most of them will tell you they live and work in the region because they enjoy their communities and their rural surroundings with natural wonders like trees, lakes and prairies.

Talk to Lois Josefson from Greater Minnesota Development Services, LLC, and she’ll say: “Our people are very innovative. Industrial parks have businesses in them that, for the most part, grew up from the innovation from our populations. And we also have young people who are leaving and coming back to our communities.”

And then ask any of these people what matters most, and they’ll tell you: Relationships.

Josefson, who has been involved in organizing this MNwest event since 2017, recognized Arvig as not only one of the main event sponsors since the beginning, but as an example of a success story of innovation that drives a rural Minnesota company:

“Arvig has a footprint across a major portion of Minnesota. They equip businesses and households to connect to the internet. This allows us in the MNwest region to be as innovative and creative as we want to be. And to be fully connected to the rest of the world.”

Arvig’s leadership, CEO and President Allen Arvig, Vice President David Arvig, and Director of Business Development and Sales Dave Schornack were all in attendance this year and not only welcomed speakers and attendees but also participated in forums on how relationships matter at any point in the building and growth of a business.

For Arvig, even as a well-established company in business for more than 70 years and now employing more than 900 people, relationships matter.

Relationships and results
While there are many unique experiences and stories of building business in the MNwest region, this blog will focus on a story told by Arvig’s Dave Schornack during a breakout session. Schornack’s story was one of relationships leading to resilience as the city of Perham faced a housing shortage.The story illustrates three steps anyone in business might use to build and grow their business and their community:

1. Get involved
Schornack shared the example of attending Chamber of Commerce meetings and learning about the city of Perham’s housing shortage. It was a problem adversely affecting the local workforce: it was hard to fill positions and retain workers because they had nowhere to live. Perham, whose population is around 3,500, is home to Arvig and other industries who employ more than 2,000 people combined. By attending Chamber meetings, Schornack and other members regularly discussed the lack of affordable housing. But the day soon came to move from discussion to action, and Arvig and other local businesses decided to do something about it. 

There is no better way to build relationships than by getting involved in your community. Not only is it a chance to share about your business, but you connect with other people, businesses and area leaders. Everyone wins: you build one-on-one relationships and build your community. The local chamber of commerce is a prime example of a community resource. Attending chamber meetings is a way to get the pulse on what the community offers, and what it needs.

2. Take Risks
Take risks to reach the next level. It may mean a considerable investment in your business. Finding resources may involve entering into a relationship with a bank or lending agency, an investor or even your peers: 

Schornack recalls the day Arvig hosted a meeting for the next steps with the housing dilemma:

“Arvig called in all of the major employers and CEOs of companies within the city of Perham, and I presented two different floor plans for building apartments. I presented the cost of $3 million, and what we needed to put down for the financing. And we said, ‘no more discussing housing, we’re going to build it.’ And that day, we went around the table of our peers, one by one, asking ‘Are you in?’ And that day we were able to raise more than $600,000 toward the buildings.

“Today, we have 13 buildings, 256 units. More than 500 people live in those units. We’d be short of 500 people in Perham if we didn’t build those buildings. I think of not only the workforce. Everybody asks, “what’s the rate of your return?” You know, there really wasn’t a great return initially. (But long term, the goal was to provide employees for your businesses. It was going to feed the schools, feed the hospital, feed Main Street.”

3. Reinvest and build on success
Building on your successes strengthens both your business and your community, but it’s wise not to let that success stand still. Share it. Reinvesting your time, talents and resources can pay dividends, as Arvig’s example shows.

“It was kind of one of those community investments that turned out well,” Schornack said of the housing developments “Right now, it’s going very well. It’s all about relationships. The goal was to use local services for all of the needs that we had for building these apartments. We went to local banks, electricians, contractors—everybody was local. And so the project helped boost the whole community.”

Final thoughts
In the MNwest region, whether you are a budding entrepreneur or a seasoned CEO, talk to anyone and everyone you meet. Building relationships is important to growing your business and strengthening your network of connections. Success of any kind—in business and life— involves diving into your community, taking risks and reinvesting back into the community.