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Highway 371: Businesses hear tips to 'survive and thrive' during construction

About 25 people, mostly Pequot Lakes business owners, learned tips to "survive and thrive" during Highway 371 construction last Wednesday, May 18, in the Gathering Room at Pequot Lakes High School.

About 25 people, mostly Pequot Lakes business owners, learned tips to "survive and thrive" during Highway 371 construction last Wednesday, May 18, in the Gathering Room at Pequot Lakes High School.

The construction of Highway 371 to four lanes from Nisswa to Jenkins over the next 18 months will bring change, along with both challenges and opportunities, J.P. Gillach, with Minnesota Department of Transportation District 3 communications and public affairs, told the crowd.

"You really just have to embrace the change to be successful," he said.

Gillach urged everyone to spread the word that people can get to where they want to go. Businesses must communicate with their customers.

"If you tell people that you can't get to my business and it's horrible, they're not going to come to your business," he said. "It's up to the business community as leaders in the community to communicate that message - you can get to us."

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The County State Aid Highway 11 detour is only a couple of miles, and nine signs were put up encouraging motorists to "Experience Pequot" and "Shop Pequot During Construction."

"There are signs letting people know the city wasn't moved during this construction project," said Dave Domm, project manager for Mathiowetz Construction, the contractor in charge of the highway project.

Gillach also encouraged people to let others know about the temporary signal light at Highway 371 and Derksen Road. When people are driving fast and not expecting that signal light, rear-end collisions can occur, he said.

Dean Brandt, owner of Expressions Shoe Center on CSAH 11, asked where the "road closed" signs would go, saying he and nearby business owners didn't want to discourage people at the Highway 371-CSAH 11 intersection from going east.

"I do 75 percent of my business in these four months. I just hope the crew is sensitive to our businesses," he said.

Dan Frank, senior program manager for community development with the Initiative Foundation in Little Falls, talked to the group about the foundation's Thriving Communities Initiative as a resource.

"At the end of the project, traffic will be different. People won't drive through Pequot Lakes as they used to," Frank said. "We're going to be in a different situation - as a community and as businesses."

He encouraged people to look at new opportunities, engage the community and determine impacts together.

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"There are going to be downsides, but there are some potential upsides," he said, noting people need to work together to identify those.

Frank said Pequot Lakes has an opportunity to create itself as a destination where people want to come.

"People who shop Nisswa will shop Pequot. We're a big, beautiful area with lots to offer. The question is, how does Pequot Lakes fit into that with the changes coming," he said, noting marketing and communication are vital.

Gillach also said to stop calling the highway "the Pequot Lakes bypass," which is telling people to go past Pequot Lakes.

"Call it the Pequot Lakes gateway," he said. "When it's done, you'll have three nice, safe entrances to Pequot Lakes."

Related Topics: PEQUOT LAKES
Nancy Vogt is editor of the Pineandlakes Echo Journal, a weekly newspaper that covers eight communities in the Pequot Lakes-Pine River areas - from Nisswa to Hackensack and Pequot Lakes to Crosslake.

She started as editor of the Lake Country Echo in July 2006, and continued in that role when the Lake Country Echo and the Pine River Journal combined in September 2013 to become the Pineandlakes Echo Journal. She worked for the Brainerd Dispatch from 1992-2006 in various roles.

She covers Nisswa, Pequot Lakes, Lake Shore and Crosslake city councils, as well as writes feature stories, news stories and personal columns (Vogt's Notes). She also takes photos at community events.

Contact her at nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com or 218-855-5877 with story ideas or questions. Be sure to leave a voicemail message!
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