Five Chisago County communities that are working together on economic development plans have significantly improved their odds of winning big money to support their ideas.

The Chisago Lakes Area on Wednesday was named one of 15 semifinalists in the American’s Best Communities competition, a $10 million, national community-based sweepstakes aimed at stimulating sustainable small-town revitalization.

Chisago Lakes, one of 350 communities that initially applied for funding, is seeking up to $3 million to support its plans. Its application, submitted by the Chisago Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce and the Chisago Economic Development Authority, was made on behalf of the communities of Chisago City, Lindstrom, Center City, Shafer and Taylors Falls, which share a school district and cooperate on tourism promotion.

The cities already earned $50,000 when they were selected last April as a top 50 community on the basis of an application centered on needs in the areas of arts, culture and tourism; broadband access; economic development focused on school-business career links, a clean energy hub and a technology center; and quality of life improvements such as improved walkability and bike trail connections.

Some of the planning work already has paid off. For example, conversations about broadband needs led to millions of dollars in investments to upgrade that access by Frontier Communications, one of the contest sponsors. Those investments began last year and are scheduled to be completed by the end of 2016.

“It’ll make us a more attractive area,” said Tangi Schaapveld, who coordinated the area’s contest.

Community representatives will travel to Durham, N.C., in April to make pitches to a panel of judges that will select eight finalists. Each will be awarded $100,000 to advance their plans. The top three communities selected from that group a year later will be awarded a minimum of $1 million and a maximum of $3 million to implement their plans.

Win or lose, however, the community planning effort already has paid off for the Chisago communities, Schaapveld said.

“Many of the plans are still moving forward regardless of whether we get to the next stage or not,” she said.


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