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Extending Impact: Wells, Minn. is a wellspring of economic change

Man visiting quilt shop and talking with owner. Different fabrics are on the wall behind the two people.
CJ Holl visits Kristi Feist, who is working with a local lender and the county economic development agency to expand her business, The Humble Heart.

Wells, Minn. is a wellspring of economic change.

CJ Holl of Wells, Minn., makes “Pelican Pete’s Pistachios,” award-winning smoked nuts that he sells online and in stores throughout southern Minnesota. He’s also a city administrator there, and wants to help keep all businesses strong.

Holl has worked with University of Minnesota Extension four times to examine retail sales and opportunities in rural communities—currently, in Wells, and previously as a community leader in Hawley, Barnesville and Pelican Rapids. He encourages other communities to do similar projects.

“One of the best reasons to do retail profiles is to get to know the needs of customers so that your town can look forward,” says Holl.

Holl sees the internet as a valuable means to help businesses adapt and grow. “Small towns have inexpensive buildings and a helpful attitude among leaders and residents,” he says. “Finding online markets can attract revenue to small towns from around the world.”

“Communities need the data to adapt in ways that are right for them,” says Bruce Schwartau, Extension community economics program leader. “Knowing the situation is a small part of the battle.”

Research and practice point to a few ideas to consider in this new retail climate:

  • Don’t just sell stuff. Create experiences.
  • Be a place where locals meet.
  • Amp up customer service.
  • Sell local.
  • Weigh the costs and benefits of big box stores.
  • Create a welcoming community for visitors and community tourism.
  • Get to know what your town’s customers want and need.
  • Can’t beat online sellers? Join them in selling online.
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