Red Wing Port Authority ready to deliberate on directorThe Red Wing Port Authority is nearing a decision on the right candidate to fill the open executive director position.
By: Danielle Killey, The Republican Eagle
The Red Wing Port Authority is nearing a decision on the right candidate to fill the open executive director position.
Presentations and a community open house held Wednesday were the last steps in the interview process. Now come discussion and negotiations.
“We’re all kind of processing the whole interview process,” which ranged from sifting through applications, distributing questionnaires, one-on-one interviews and Wednesday’s events, Port Board member Chris Simonson said. “Everyone is going through their own evaluation process to determine who they like as their top candidate.”
The board plans to meet at 7:30 a.m. Friday to discuss the candidates, choose the top one and make a recommendation to the personnel committee to move forward with negotiations, board President Mike Grove said.
Simonson, who also heads the personnel committee, said the board hopes to have a director in place by July 1, if not sooner.
Community stakeholders from groups including Minnesota State College-Southeast Technical, the Chamber of Commerce, the city, Xcel Energy and more watched presentations Wednesday afternoon, asking questions of the candidates and providing feedback to the board members.
“It was an opportunity to get one more different facet of how (the candidates) perform,” Simonson said, adding “we really tried to get some outside community comments and engagement.”
The job requires a variety of skills ranging from personal conversations and listening to large presentations and developing innovative ideas, he said.
“Everything we tried to do for this process is really put them through the paces of a normal day,” Simonson said.
Candidates were given a scenario ahead of time to address Wednesday: They had been hired as director and on the job for six months. They have been talking and listening to stakeholders throughout the community and were to present the area’s challenges and some potential solutions to the Port Board.
The scenario purposely was kept relatively open-ended so the board could see where the candidates would take it, Simonson said.
“Each of them presented vastly differently, and we kind of anticipated that,” he said. “Each candidate brings a different skill set.”
Most of the candidates did list similar challenges for the area, including geographic constraints, branding and marketing, transportation, workforce development, finances, retaining and attracting businesses and housing.
The first presentation came from Larry Thompson. He has worked in city administration throughout Minnesota and Wisconsin before shifting to private work.
“My heart still lies in the public sector,” he said.
He emphasized marketing and branding as a key step for the city. He said when he worked in Farmington, for example, there was a contest to develop an icon for the city.
“I think it’s important to get buy-in from everybody,” he said.
He also said the role of unifying the various economic development and business agencies should come from the Port.
“It has to be coming out of one umbrella organization,” Thompson said.
Next was Randy Olson, who has led economic development efforts in the public and private sectors. His background is primarily in manufacturing and technology startups, he said.
He proposed ideas for increased marketing, programs to help business startups, especially technological ones, new ways to revitalize downtown outside of retail and more.
He cited specific programs such establishing an angel investor network and creating a Red Wing ambassador program to promote the city throughout the country and even the world. He also suggested a summer event that would draw a younger population.
He said the port should bulk up its ability to provide financing and loans to businesses.
“We’ll need to be at the table to do deals,” Olson said.
The final presenter was Mike Ericson, most recently city administrator for Hugo, Minn. He also has worked for other cities, counties and in politics.
He said the focus should first be on helping existing businesses maintain or expand operations.
“We need to first work with the businesses already here,” he said. “It’s knowing the local business community has an advocate at the port.”
Ericson said his style is to listen to what business owners need to be successful and to bring a group approach to tackling issues.
“It’s always about the team,” Ericson, who described himself as “high energy,” said. “I’m a ‘let’s work together’ type of person.”
Simonson said the board is overall happy with the process and prospective new directors.
“We have three strong candidates that are capable of doing the job,” he said. “It’s about finding the right person that’s going to sit well with the community.”