In a state that depends heavily on natural resources for its tourism industry, it's vital that we protect and preserve our environment. That's why Extension tourism educators work to teach local communities how to practice sustainable tourism. Since 2006, the University of Minnesota Tourism Center has taught hundreds of tourism operators to "green up"? their businesses with environmentally responsible practices like recycling, reusing, water conservation and energy audits. Both visitors and residents can enjoy quality experiences ranging from environmental adventure parks to family resorts that use sustainable landscaping or lakescaping techniques. And satisfied visitors can return home and tell stories that bring more friends and relatives to Minnesota.
Retail businesses are vital to small communities. They provide income, jobs and products that people need. But it's a challenge to get people to buy locally and help small businesses compete alongside the "big box"? stores. Two Extension programs help Minnesota communities get the best of both worlds:
Small Stores Success Strategies helps business leaders prosper by providing services and products the large stores avoid. And Retail Trade Analysis gives communities of more than 5,000 people a comprehensive report that compares their retail sector to those of similar-sized communities. Local leaders use this information to help support and grow their own businesses.
Extension's Horizons program helps small communities with high poverty rates to develop their own leaders and create a thriving community. St. James is one of nine Minnesota communities to complete the program in 2008. With a boost from Extension and the Northwest Area Foundation, St. James factory workers, high-school students, business people, educators and civic leaders together shaped an exciting new future for their town.
The secret to success is a "grass roots, not top-down"? approach and getting together everyone in the community to solve their own issues. Since beginning in 2003, Horizons has worked with 21 Minnesota communities. Fifteen additional communities began Horizons programs in 2008.
Extension has been teaching leadership to kids through 4-H for decades. In the 1980s and '90s, Extension saw that Minnesota communities needed more informed adult leaders. Believing that anyone who cares about a community issue can learn to lead, Extension recruited local leaders to attend programs such as Family Community Leadership, Supporting Community Diversity, Building Common Ground and Northwest Emerging Leadership. In two decades, 700 Emerging Leadership and U-Lead program graduates have boosted their skills in leadership, citizen involvement and the legislative process. Today, many of those participants are senators, legislators, mayors or board presidents. Extension educators now teach more than 25 different leadership programs every year.
Extension's first tourism programs were developed in the 1960s for resort owners in northeastern Minnesota. Tourism specialists used the tried-and-true Extension model for working with farmers and small communities. They helped community leaders plan and develop tourism while boosting business activity, respecting the interests of local citizens and protecting natural resources. The programs spread as community development educators provided research and educational programs across the state. Throughout, the Minnesota Department of Tourism provided feedback and support. In 1987, Extension and the University of Minnesota, with private endowments, created the Tourism Center for ongoing educational programs.
President Roosevelt established the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture left it up to individual groups to organize. On their own, local groups asked Extension for help. Two months after REA went into effect, Meeker County Extension agent Ralph Wayne and former agent Frank Marshall organized the first rural electric cooperative in Minnesota. This two-year work in progress became the first demonstration site in the nation.
In 1940, Extension sponsored nine farm and home equipment shows across the state showing how electricity could be used in operating farms and modernizing rural homes.