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Economic development summit uplifts & inspires

Local artist Hans Gilford displays a little bit of what he can do to survive as an artist in a tough economy.1 / 2
Detroit Lakes native Brent Stromme and webcast company founder speaks to a crowd at the Economic Development Summit2 / 2

Detroit Lakes ninth-grader, Maddy Schiller and her big sister, sophomore, Claire Schiller, sat smack dab in the middle of the Economic Development Summit in Detroit Lakes Thursday, taking in a very adult view on life as an entrepreneur.

"I want to start up my own advertising agency someday," said Maddy, with Claire adding, "I would like to start up a treatment center for those suffering from addiction."

The sisters were there with a small group of fellow bright eyed, enthusiastic Lakers who are already preparing themselves for a life in the businesses world.

While you might expect optimism from these young people who have not yet been touched by a bad economy, it was the speakers of the event who truly inspired listeners at the Summit through their stories of losses and successes.

Although nobody at the Summit painted 'rainbows and unicorns' while talking about economic opportunity, the message was one of adversity.

"All the best innovation happens after an economic downturn," said keynote speaker, entrepreneur and author Pam Slim, "that is when people wake up their entrepreneurial spirit."

Slim, who wrote "Escape From Cubicle Nation: From Corporate Prisoner to Thriving Entrepreneur," quit her job working at a retirement funds investment company and employed herself as a successful blogger and consultant on how to revamp corporate structure.

She says even though quitting your job to take a chance on your passion can feel like 'jumping off a cliff with no net,' there are ways to do it while still taking care of yourself and your family financially.

"I'm not here to tell everybody to go out and quit your job," she told the crowd, "You should always be working on little side gigs, and as you start to develop them, you will see which one can become a viable business."

The motivational speaker went on to say that everybody, even those working for somebody else, are actually working for themselves.

"Nothing is for sure with layoffs and all that, so you have to be actively thinking about the market and how you can contribute to it - what role you can play."

Detroit Lakes artist Hans Gilsdorf knows all too well about the scary nature of self-employment.

Speaking at the Summit, Gilsdorf told the crowd his theory on failing.

"I always tell the art kids I work with that it's OK to fail because not everything is the final piece."

This is the frame of mind that has kept Gilsdorf one of those rare, successful, working artists in a down economy.

He has literally carved out his own niche after creating art for movies, zoos, and museums.

"I just had to keep throwing ideas out there to see which ones would stick."

Gilsdorf remains flexible, letting the market take him where it wants to.

"Creating art of the private sector might not be as good right now because in a hard economy the last thing people are going to buy is art, but commercially businesses are still trying to upgrade and get people in their doors."

Gilsdorf's 'go with the flow' attitude now has him doing his own art for children's hospitals.

But not everybody's passion is built-in, like Gilsdorf's. Some comes in the form of an idea.

Detroit Lakes native and Summit Speaker Brent Stromme is like so many others out there, who one day just 'had an idea'.

"I thought, wouldn't it be great if I could better connect my mom in Detroit Lakes with my sons here in Annandale?"

Stromme set up a camera with a live feed from his son's football game so his mother could watch it live via the internet.

The DL native knew he had something big, but also knew he'd never be able to do it alone.

"I didn't know that much about technology, business development, or financing, so I went out and found some people smarter than me."

Although Stromme is modest, he also had the drive to put one foot in front of the next until his idea became reality.

His company, Webcast America, now sets high school and college students in front of cameras all across the U.S., as they host and stream their school events live for their friends and relatives to see.

But the Summit also hosted a speaker whose business has to actually battle technology a bit.

Beth Schupp, general manager of Fair Hills Resort in Detroit Lakes, told her story of resilience as her family's resort competes against the Internet.

"We are the old fashion, safe, 1950s type of place where we will bend over backwards to make people happy, but the internet can send people anywhere."

Every speaker's story was as different as the untold ones from the audience, but one theme stayed relevant throughout.

"Listen to your young people to find the trends," said Pam Slim.

"I love working with the young people in the schools," said Hans Gilsdorf.

"I hated the fact that this 19-year old kid knew more than I did about technology," joked Brent Stromme.

"I knew I had to listen to the young people on my staff about social marketing," said Beth Schupp.

So, surrounded by businessmen and women and community leaders, there sat Maddy and Claire with their friends -- smack dab in the middle of the Economic Development Summit, exactly where they belonged.