For more than 17 years, Julie Rath has served the Redwood County area as an economic development specialist for the Redwood Area Development Corporation (RADC).
As of Dec. 31, that role came to an end, as Rath opted to retire.
“I came to the RADC June 11, 2001,” said Rath. “It was MIC (Minnesota Inventors Congress) weekend.”
Prior to coming to work at the RADC, Rath had served in economic development roles in Renville County. She had also spent a number of years working in direct sales and marketing for the Mary Kay company.
For Rath, her role at the RADC was all about working with people and helping them develop their vision, whether it was starting a new business or growing an existing one, adding along the way she has seen a lot of changes in the area.
Originally from Albert Lea, Rath moved to Renville County in 1984 with her husband who had accepted a position as a probation officer for the county.
Having established herself within Mary Kay, Rath continued that work in her new setting, adding she never imagined she would end up working in economic development.
What began in a volunteer capacity grew for Rath as she gained experience in roles working with the cities of Renville and Olivia as well as for Renville County before she was encouraged to apply for the position at the RADC.
“I have always wanted to see communities thrive,” said Rath, adding the role at the RADC, as well as the capacities she served in prior to that, gave her the chance to get involved with that kind of work.
Over the years, Rath said she has been mentored by great people who helped her achieve successes in her roles, adding she appreciates those who were willing to help her.
New hats were added along the way for Rath, who began working with the Minnesota Valley Regional Rail Authority.
“Gene Short asked if we would start helping with their finance and bookkeeping,” said Rath, adding in December 2003 the RADC took over the role of administration for the rail authority.
While Rath is stepping down from her position at the RADC, she will continue to provide administrative services for that entity.
During her time at the RADC, Rath got involved with a Blandin group made up of 16 area leaders, and from that program several entities, including Tatanka Arts, the Redwood Area Learning Center and Tatanka Bluffs, were established.
Larger topics such as renewable energy and broadband became part of the effort for Rath, as she sees both of them as critical for the future of the region.
In terms of business growth, Rath has been involved in a number of efforts in the area, as she helped recruit Daktronics, as well as RVI, to the community. While she was involved, Rath will say it was a team effort in the community that ensured those and other companies, such as Brokaw, Grandview Valley Winery and Knott’s Corner, either expanded in the area, were established or transitioned from one ownership group to another.
Many individuals have come into Rath’s office over the years to propose an idea, and she, along with Pat Dingels, were able to work with them to develop their idea. Some worked, but, in other cases, the reality was that the idea did not come to fruition.
“What makes the RADC unique is when someone comes in with an idea it is all confidential,” said Rath, adding they work side by side with the prospective entrepreneurs and then that individual is able to announce when they are ready.
Sometimes things run their course, such as the MIC, added Rath, and at times ideas just don’t work out. Yet, in the end, Rath can look back and see the successes during the past 17-and-a-half years have definitely outweighed everything else.
Rath said she will still be dabbling in economic development in retirement, adding she plans to stay in the area. She is also still selling Mary Kay.
Rath said she is confident the RADC is in good hands as Pat Dingels assumes more of the responsibility in the office.
Looking to the future, Rath sees the labor pool shortage as a significant challenge for the area, adding recruitment and retention are becoming more challenging.
Rath said she is excited about the opportunities for youth through the Technology and Trades on the Prairie Program, adding that program is being held again this coming July in Morgan.
Rath said she has learned a lot over the years, adding she is excited about the opportunities that exist in the region.
There is still plenty of work to be done, and even though she may not be in the office on a regular basis one can be sure Rath will not be far away from the action simply because she wants this area to thrive, grow and succeed for years to come.