ST. CLOUD – About halfway between the Twin Cities metro and where "Up North" begins lies what the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp. (GSDC) calls a "cluster of communities known for a little bit of everything."

The area boasts strong health care, manufacturing and retail industries, has plenty of outdoor recreation options and features big-city conveniences with a small-town feel.

The GSDC, a private collaboration of more than 300 regional business executives and community leaders, uses those selling points to attract businesses and people to central Minnesota.

At the helm of the six-person GSDC is Patti Gartland, who was named president of the organization in 2013. A graduate of St. Cloud State University herself, Gartland is charged with spearheading efforts to nurture and retain the area's talent base as well as identify opportunities to foster business growth.

In a written response to the Star Tribune, Gartland, 62, talked about efforts to support businesses during the pandemic and showcase St. Cloud as a desirable place to live and work. Answers have been edited.

Q: What is the role of the Greater St. Cloud Development Corp.?

A: The GSDC is a private nonprofit collaboration of businesses and community leaders within Stearns, Benton and Sherburne counties. It was formed in 2011 to lead economic development in the region by engaging leaders to grow business and expand the talent base. We strive to make this the region of choice for business, residents and visitors to grow and thrive.

Q: Did the organization's role pivot during the pandemic to focus more on helping local businesses survive and less on attracting new businesses to the region? How else has the pandemic impacted the GSDC?

A: When the pandemic hit, our attention immediately shifted to assisting hundreds of devastated area companies. We assisted in securing coronavirus-related loans and provided guidance on applicable resources, including companies making essential business requests ahead of the state's stay-at-home order. Our fast-response strategy of support, rebuilding and recovery included convening industry-sector roundtables and frequent meetings with funding organizations. These efforts are ongoing.

Q: Can you describe St. Cloud Shines? How did that develop and what are the goals of the initiative?

A: St. Cloud Shines is the most expansive marketing tool the St. Cloud area has ever had for highlighting its many advantages to employees, entrepreneurs, young families and others. What started as a social media campaign — which has generated well over 100 million impressions since its launch in 2019 — is now complemented by, which is packed with information about nightlife, diversity, housing, higher education, job opportunities and many other topics, all presented in a lively, interactive manner.

Q: Are there any business sectors that weren't as affected — or even saw a boon — during the pandemic?

A: Every business sector has been impacted in some form or manner. That said, the scope of impact crosses the spectrum of feast to famine. While some businesses have endured massive declines in revenue and labor force reductions, particularly those in the hospitality and tourism industry, others have faced significant surges in activity and struggle with labor and inventory shortages. Many of the challenges that existed for businesses and their employees before the pandemic were exacerbated — such as child care, broadband access, workforce attraction and retention.

Q: After St. Cloud was featured in several national news stories in the past few years about residents with anti-immigrant and anti-refugee sentiments, leaders have worked to rebuild the city's reputation. Do you think the city has an image problem? If so, what can be done to improve it?

A: A few negative stories can overshadow hundreds of positive ones, whether it's in Minneapolis, St. Paul or the St. Cloud area. That's part of the reason why we launched St. Cloud Shines — to make sure the thousands of great stories about our area and our people get told. There are a lot of opportunities here for everyone, particularly for our immigrant and refugee residents, and we're doing all we can to get that word out.

Jenny Berg • 612-673-7299