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Crosslake EDA chair Patty Norgaard discusses goals for economic development

Patty Norgaard moved to Crosslake right when the recession was hitting, and she noticed a lot of vacant buildings in town.

Always a bit of a “political junkie,” she felt like when she retired, Crosslake might be a great place to “cut her teeth” by getting involved in local politics and doing her best to help the city at the same time.

In addition to her interest in the Economic Development Authority (EDA), she said, “I was not the type of person to sit at home and vacuum and dust.”

She also felt a civic duty.

“If you live in a community, it’s a person’s responsibility to get involved,” she said.

Four years after first joining the Crosslake EDA, Norgaard is chair. She’s also a member of the Crosslake Parks and Recreation Committee, the Brainerd Regional Airport Marketing Commission and the Brainerd Lakes Area Economic Development Commission (BLAEDC).

One of the Crosslake EDA’s goals is 12-month economic stability.

“We want a sustaining economic environment that has decent paying jobs,” Norgaard said. “We have a lot of seasonal employees. When people are employed in a good, 12-month job, it comes back to the community.”

It comes back to the community in the form of taxes paid and money spent in town, she said.

Instigating change in Crosslake is not always easy, though, which is something Norgaard said she learned since joining the EDA.

“It has really made me aware of the challenges that cities go through,”  she said.

For example, Norgaard said, Crosslake has a mix of people from many demographics. To get all the players from those demographics working together isn’t easy.

“The city has a large number of retired people who bring a wealth of experience and volunteerism, but some don’t want to see change,” she said.

“A lot of the stagnation in the community comes from fear. As we get older, myself included, fear is a big factor in taking risks,” she said.

The EDA’s focus for 2014 is to retain and grow current businesses and attract other businesses that feel like Crosslake would be a good place to come work and play.

Norgaard hopes community members will become more knowledgeable and informed, and if they already are, she hopes to see people become more vocal about what they think is good for their city.

She envisions a downtown area in Crosslake. She’s called the effort the “bridge to bridge project,” referring to Crosslake’s two main bridges by the dam and by C & C Boat Works.

The project wouldn’t strictly follow those boundaries, but would include as many businesses as possible. The area would connect with green space and more walking paths.

Norgaard said Crosslake has a lot going for it. She pointed to the community center.

“I’ve called it the economic engine of Crosslake,” she said. “There are not very many communities that have a community center with the programs that we offer.”

She said there are more things happening at the community center than anyplace else in Crosslake.

In addition to raising public awareness of the community center, Crosslake needs to expand on its other assets — for example, the dam, the historical society and the Northern Trackers Railroad Association.

Norgaard said Crosslake has something to offer families that they might not be able to get in the Twin Cities.

“My grandkids can bike to golf, the community center, to get ice cream. They have a freedom here that they don’t have in the Cities,” she said.

She hopes the EDA can keep a balance in the city of younger families with assets like the Crosslake Community School.

Norgaard grew up in North Dakota and lived in the Twin Cities for many years. She and her husband knew they would retire “up north” but weren’t sure where. For eight years Norgaard scanned real estate websites looking for homes.

The two simply wound up in Crosslake, and they love the area.

“In retrospect, this community is just the perfect place for us. We just ended up in the place where we were supposed to be, I guess,” Norgaard said.