By Abby Strom

Happy New Year! Have you ever wanted to hear those three words more than now? As we start a new year, we cannot help but look back at 2020 and pick out some of the good that came out of a year that most of us want to forget.

The mission of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission (AAEDC) is promoting prosperity and optimizing opportunity in the Alexandria region. Development and growth continued throughout the year, and our office continued to support new and existing businesses in the region, assisting eight new projects, which will create 64 new jobs in Douglas County. Old buildings were torn down and new buildings continue to break ground.

Digital meeting spaces became the new normal for all to keep up to date and in the loop with what was happening around us and continues today. The AAEDC partnered with community members and organizations to bring a series of informational webinars focusing on resources for businesses and the challenges many were facing trying to keep their doors open. As shutdowns continued, so did those conversations through the year.

Communities throughout Douglas County are fortunate enough to have diverse industry, helping keep many residents employed throughout the pandemic. One of the big drivers for the economy in our region is hospitality, and those businesses continue to struggle. With support from the Douglas County Board of Commissioners, we were able to facilitate a relief grant program, awarding $3.35 million dollars to Douglas County businesses and nonprofits affected by the virus.

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In efforts to retain and increase the success of Alexandria area businesses and enhance our entrepreneurial ecosystem the AAEDC launched Develop with Douglas. This is a brand-new resource for local entrepreneurs, giving them access to business startup coaching, business management coaching, roundtable discussions, panel discussions and technical assistance.

The entrepreneurial lab will provide ongoing support and services to local startups and existing businesses at no cost to a resident of Douglas County. Entrepreneurs will get unlimited one on one on demand coaching to help them move from a business idea to “open for business” through the business startup coaching. They will get help overcoming the many obstacles that pop up along the way. Business management coaching helps established businesses overcome common challenges and develop clear goals to keep them focused on the things that matter.

Monthly entrepreneurial roundtables will expand their access to business owners from across the country and will help entrepreneurs tap into useful resources. The panel discussions will give entrepreneurs direct access to expertise in all the right areas to grow their business. The AAEDC partnered with the Rural Ideas Network to offer a growing selection of technical assistance classes to help small businesses manage and grow their business. We are thrilled to watch this program take off in the coming year.

Although looking back at 2020 none of us expected a year like that but it was encouraging to see our communities rally together. They continue to do so to support the businesses that make the Alexandria area what it is. Goodbye to unprecedented times, we warmly welcome 2021.

Abby Strom is the Community and Workforce Development Coordinator for the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission. Nicole Fernholz is the director of the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission. In the Know is a rotating column written by community leaders from the Douglas County area.