A focus group met recently to discuss the Building Better Business (B3) program. The meeting’s goal was to assess whether the guidelines were meeting the vision of the program when it was created, said Crookston Housing and Economic Development Authority (CHEDA) Executive Director Craig Hoiseth. “The B3 program was established a couple of years ago,” said Hoiseth. “We put together an application that included all the guidelines that would be used for the program. Since then, although all the applications that have come in primarily have met the guidelines, they weren’t meeting the specific purpose intended for the B3.”

Hoiseth said the primary goal of the program was the exposure and vitality of Crookston businesses. “Essentially, the specific purpose of the B3 program was to gain more community vitality,” said Hoiseth. “Try to help the businesses wither improve their look, their storefront, signage, exposure, things like that. You could include things such as advertising. We wanted to make sure they advertise with our local media. If they built a sign, it was with our local proprietors. Somehow or another, just trying to establish that vitality and exposure. We thought advertising was a good venue for that.”

Over the last year, several requests meeting the guidelines have come in for funding on maintenance projects. “Some of those things were being done more in the line of maintenance,” said Hoiseth. “Trying to make the business competitive that way, but that wasn’t really the spirit in which the B3 was created. So, we visited a focus group of CHEDA Board members, City Council members, City Administrator Amy Finch and myself. We sat down for a couple of hours, went through the program, and realigned that vision to what the program should do. Those recommendations will be brought to the CHEDA Board next week.”

The committee came up with a few items, such as making landlords eligible for the program, that will be presented to the CHEDA Board next week. “A couple of things that will come forward for discussion are making sure we’re aligning with that advertising, vitality, exposure,” said Hoiseth. “But also, if you fill out an application, maybe there should be a review group instead of just the executive director at CHEDA. I’d like to see a smaller committee established that would review the pending application and maybe have the person who is making the application come into visit with the committee and give a narrative of what they plan to do with the dollars. I think that it would be really good to help the businessperson recognize that when you’re  reaching out for these public dollars, we’re monitoring those and being good stewards for the taxpayers.”

Hoiseth also added that CHEDA’s other programs could potentially meet the emergency maintenance needs for Crookston’s businesses. “We do have a couple of other programs that might fit that bill, and maybe even a little better,” said Hoiseth. “If we do see that being an ongoing problem, I think what we want to do is create some focus group. If our businesses in town struggle with a non-routine or an emergency maintenance issue, how can we help them out without forcing them to go to a bank and maybe be turned down for some lending? We did talk about that, but just didn’t think it was a good fit for the B3 program.”