Dave Hengel, Executive Director of Greater Bemidji
“Reflect upon your present blessings of which every man has many - not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.” Charles Dickens
Those who know me well are aware that winter is far from my favorite time of year. I don’t hide it well. I am not a fan of the increased hours of darkness that winter brings, nor the bitter cold spells we occasionally experience. Yet what I have found is in winter – when it’s easy for me to be cranky - it is also easy for me to recognize my blessings and be thankful.
And I have so much to be personally thankful for. I have a great life in a great community. I have a large, truly wonderful family now blessed with six (soon to be seven) grandkids. I have genuine friends here – friends that support each other and celebrate great times together. I have many blessings. But today I want to put my “Greater Bemidji” hat on and reflect on the blessings we at Greater Bemidji have experienced especially this past year. They are blessings of partnership, of hard work and of community in the truest sense of the word. These are just a few – certainly not an exhaustive list.
- We are blessed by the outstanding work of our Bemidji Alliance partners at Visit Bemidji, the Bemidji Chamber and the Bemidji Downtown Alliance. At Greater Bemidji, we have watched as these critical community organizations transformed themselves. Today they are the best-of-best in northern Minnesota.
Visit Bemidji is producing the best tourism marketing in the state – all in house. Radio. Television. Social media. Even the State Fair. Visit Bemidji ads are everywhere. If you haven’t seen them, take a peek at www.visitbemidji.com.
The Bemidji Chamber has emerged strong and healthy after two years of transition. They are growing both in members and in their support for our region’s businesses. Their networking and advocacy are so important at this stage in our community’s history. They are central in ensuring the greater Bemidji region is a great place to do business.
We believe that Bemidji’s downtown is one of the most vibrant in the state. That doesn’t just happen. It takes hard work and leadership from the downtown businesses themselves. The all-volunteer Board at the Bemidji Downtown Alliance are the keepers of the vision for our downtown. Remember, it’s everyone’s downtown and we need to support it.
- We are blessed to work side-by-side with our fellow non-profit organizations. When I think of all the work of Bemidji’s non-profits, I am so proud. Incredible work is being done throughout our region to ensure we support our community members who need a hand up. Here are a few examples of those who have partnered with Greater Bemidji over the past year. The Nameless Coalition works to support our homeless community members with safe shelter. They not only operate the Wolfe Center for overnight shelter, but this year they also launched a new Day Center. Exceptional leadership. For the past several years, the United Way’s impact has grown exponentially and today is providing truly life-changing support to so many. Along with their partner organizations, they have supported (brace yourself) over 60,000 community members in the past year. The Northwest Indian Community Development Center provides resources and support for American Indian families throughout the region. In the spirit of partnership, they have challenged Greater Bemidji to use its influence to build a more inclusive economy. Our community is blessed to have these and other compassionate, mission-driven organizations.
- We are blessed to have a respectful partnership with our local elected officials. Over my 35-year career, I haven’t always agreed with our city council, school board and county board members. But I don’t question their commitment to serve as stewards of our community. We honor their public service.
- We have been blessed by past leaders who positioned Bemidji for future growth and development. It took difficult and bold decisions to successfully position Bemidji for the future. Today we benefit from Paul Bunyan Communication’s visionary decision to lay one of the nation’s largest all-fiber broadband networks. We benefit from the joint work of the City of Bemidji and Beltrami County to build the state’s fourth-busiest airport. We benefit from the commitment by the members of the Bemidji Development Corporation to prepare a shovel-ready industrial park to support our business growth. We benefit from those community leaders who fought to locate a University - Bemidji State University - here. More recently, we benefit from the efforts to bring Sanford Health into Bemidji, and the City Council’s bold decision to build the Sanford Center. These decisions and many others – difficult at the time – are now paying significant dividends in the form of economic growth.
Finally, we are blessed by those who invest in Bemidji today. For the past six months, Greater Bemidji has led efforts to raise funds for the proposed sports and wellness complex. I have been blown away by the generosity of the community members I have visited with. Individuals, families, businesses and organizations like the George W. Neilson Foundation share their resources year in and year out, all to the benefit of our community. I am sure other communities have generous leaders, but Bemidji feels different. I truly believe that philanthropy is in the DNA of our community.
Greater Bemidji has a committed Board of Directors, a passionate staff team and partners that share our vision for the region. We have so much to be thankful for.
Our community has its struggles and issues – “past misfortunes” as Charles Dickens calls them. Every community has some. But we shouldn’t let them prevent us from acknowledging our many present blessings.
On behalf of all of us at Greater Bemidji, I’d like to wish all our community members a safe and joyous Holiday Season.
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