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Red Wing rallies all voices to change community story

sprig by Posted in Rural Capacity Building


Members of Red Wing ACE gather to discuss community branding work

You need to go slow to go fast. This mantra reverberates off Ethan Seaberg’s lips as he recounts the genesis story (as he calls it) of Red Wing’s community branding work.

He heard the phrase while attending Blandin Foundation’s Academy of Community Engagement (ACE) in 2014 and it stuck. The ACE program built on Ethan’s previous Blandin leadership training by bringing together a group of established leaders in his community to strengthen relationships and deepen their work on an existing economic development issue.

For Red Wing, it was their re-entry into an important conversation that started in 2008 about how the community is positioning themselves for the future.

Interest in the topic of Red Wing’s community brand (how people talk and think about a place) has peaked and waned countless times over the past five years, says Seaberg, but it’s constantly pinpointed as a primary roadblock to future growth.

Ethan, and eleven others who went through ACE, decided it was high time to remove the roadblock – together as a community. Fortified with skills learned during leadership training, they formed the group Red Wing Forward to break through the issue.

Soon after he entered into the work, though, he realized why it had not received more traction in the past.

“It’s a challenge to communicate about the value of community branding work, even though the community has identified it as a priority over and over again,” says Seaberg. “We know that our success has as much to do with how well we communicate about the work and how well we build relationships than with anything else.”

So they have decided they need to go slow in order to go fast, starting with educating the community about the potential power of a strong community brand.

“We’re struggling with an old story. People know this,” says Seaberg. “We need to find a way to move past it by inviting the whole community to tell a new story. But to do that, we need to hear more than the same handful of voices that are usually the loudest.”

That is why they are being intentional about who is, and who is not, at the table.

“We’re reaching out to non-traditional groups. People who have real interest in the community,” says Seaberg. “This can’t be driven by the same people with the same last names and the same companies. We need to build a coalition so that together we can make an impact.”

So far this includes younger residents, labor unions, and small business owners.

“It’s all about personal recruitment,” he says. “It’s a slower model, but longer lasting.”

Red Wing Forward got its first big win in December when the city council awarded them $10,000 to proceed with planning for the community brand.

“Our community is now talking about the future,” says Seaberg. “We have a committed group that will stick at it for as long as it takes. And as we educate others on the value of the project, we’re gaining support. But you really do need to go slow in order to go fast.”

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