Economic development summit brings more than 150 to Becker County Museum

It was a crowd of more than 150 people that filled the main history exhibit hall at the Becker County Museum in Detroit Lakes on Friday, March 17, for the 2023 Chamber Economic Development Summit.

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Becker County Museum Executive Director Becky Mitchell was one of the early speakers at the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce's 2023 Economic Development Summit, which was hosted by the museum in its new building on Friday, March 17, 2023.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES — The staff of the Becker County Museum got to show off their new digs at the 2023 Economic Development Summit hosted by the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce on Friday, March 17.

It marked the first event held on the ground floor of the museum's new 30,000-square-foot building, which is connected to the Historic Holmes Theatre on Summit Avenue. Approximately 150 people were in attendance, according to Becky Mitchell, the museum's executive director.

"It is so exciting to finally be at a point where we're feeling that we're getting back to normal," said Mitchell. "We are far from normal, but we're feeling like, we're all in the same building, we have offices, we have computers, our phones are working, we have internet — we've come a long way in just a few weeks."

Mitchell noted that the museum was going to have a very full calendar this summer, hosting various day camps and activities. "We're going to be busy this summer and we're super excited about it," she said.

After her presentation, Mitchell asked those in attendance to stay after the summit and enjoy exploring the science center and gift shop. "I challenge every adult group that has come in — play a little bit, have a little fun," Mitchell said, adding that all of the museum's exhibit spaces are designed to be "as flexible and movable as possible ... because that keeps it fresh and exciting."


Construction is ongoing at the facility, though its new gift shop (adjacent to the lobby it shares with the theater) and science center (located on the second floor) are now open to the public every Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. There will be "another big party" when construction on the facility is finalized, which Mitchell said will be "somewhere in the May-June time frame."

"Something that took this long to happen, deserves more than one celebration," she added.

Also speaking at the summit was WE Fest General Manager Mark Bjerke, who provided some information on the history of the festival.

"We are celebrating 40 years at WE Fest," Bjerke said, adding that the country music festival had evolved quite a bit since founder Jeff Krueger held the first-ever event at Detroit Lakes' Soo Pass Ranch in 1983.

Two years after starting the festival, Krueger brought in partners Rand Levy and Chryll Sparks, and later that same year, the Soo Pass Ranch itself was sold to the Mithun family. Levy bought out his partners' interest in the festival in 2010, then sold it to TownSquare Media in 2014. In 2019, the festival was sold to Live Nation, and later that same year, Matt Mithun bought controlling interest in it. He became the festival director in 2021, and brought in Mark Bjerke that same year. Bjerke became the general manager in 2022.

This year's festival, which is set for Aug. 3-5. promises to be one of the biggest since Mithun took over as director, as the VIP and reserved seating is already sold out, with only general admission still available — in large part due to the announcement that country superstar Morgan Wallin would be making his WE Fest debut this summer .

Bjerke added that they are looking to hire about 1,500 people to staff the festival this summer, and working with local volunteer groups to help fill in as well. "We're happy to be back (after a one-year absence in 2020), and happy to be local again," he said in conclusion.

Jane Neubauer of the Northern Dental Access Center was the next to speak, and talked about how the group had been working to bring a dental clinic serving low-income patients to Becker County, with Detroit Lakes and Frazee vying for the honor of hosting the new facility. In the end, Frazee made an offer they couldn't refuse . The new clinic will be located on a piece of land that was donated to the organization by the Frazee Economic Development Authority. The city is looking to gain about 35 new jobs when the facility opens.


Also speaking at Friday's summit were Detroit Lakes City Administrator Kelcey Klemm, who updated the group about current and upcoming city construction projects; Jeff Leighton of Leighton Broadcasting, who talked about the radio broadcasting group's plans to celebrate 60 years in Detroit Lakes this summer, as well as to move into their new home on Randolph Road in June.

City Alderman Ron Zeman introduced the city's new fire chief, Mike Hanson, and a group of five Detroit Lakes High School students, along with their teacher, Aaron Swenson, gave a presentation on the high school's Academy program.

The keynote speaker for the summit was Anthony Schaffhauser, Northwest Regional Analyst for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED).

Schaffhauser spoke at length about Becker County labor force trends, noting that the county's 1.7% unemployment rate, as recorded in May, September and October of 2022, was "an all-time record (low)," dating back to when DEED first began tracking employment data in 1990. He noted that there were "two and a half job vacancies for every job seeker," which reversed the previous decades' trends toward more job seekers than jobs.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at
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