In the past 10 years, Grant County's population dropped by 1,000.

People left because their jobs disappeared.

Their businesses couldn't survive.

Or more reliable jobs beckoned elsewhere.

One thousand isn't just a number. It's families drawing kids out of schools. It's business owners no longer around leading civic affairs. It's young people taking their energy to other communities.

Opportunity, it seems, has left Grant County as well.

Or has it?

A bunch of us think opportunity still abounds. Oh, there are reasons to say, "We're sunk." We'd rather not concede, not yet. For now, we'd like to tap Grant County creativity and spunk. There must be good ways to finish the sentence: "Say, why don't we try [blank]..."

Can we get you to help fill in that blank? What COULD we do to create new jobs here? What CAN be done to make a small company grow - and hire? Who CAN help someone move a great idea from paper to production?

People - our most vital asset - will gather Feb. 18 for Grant County Economic Summit II. This isn't a stage for pointy-headed academics to lecture on Keynesian economics. This is about pulling together folks to kick around ideas and walk out the door with a "can-do" attitude. No, make that "will-do" attitude.

This will be about Janet Robertson of The Outpost and Sandra Murray of Prairie Drug and Hardware sharing how business owners can better "stage" their shops to entice more customers.

This will be about Marissa Williams and Phil Gray helping people understand marketing - and getting the most customers for the buck.

This will be about Sondra Lino and Bob Quinton and Ken Olson helping entrepreneurs understand that yes, they can start a business, and here's how.

Experts are coming from all over the state to help. They believe Grant County can grow businesses and jobs. On their own nickel, they're coming to help us figure out how. With those experts on hand for advice, job-creating ideas could come to life right there at the summit.

Much of this summit will aim at tourism and recreation. You may shrug and say, well, that's not for me. You'd be wrong.

Every business in the county can benefit from more visitors - even if it's just helping other businesses serve those guests. Every person looking for a new career might find a satisfying one here. Love to hunt? What about hiring out as a guide to Grant County's premier hunting spots? A fisherman? People pay guides elsewhere a lot of money to catch fish.

Know horses? Why not run a pack string into Strawberry Lake, hauling paying guests eager to hear your stories? Got a ranch? City folks might pay dearly for a genuine "Western" experience.

Tourism and recreation is really about importing cash to Grant County. That cash that can help keep a father employed so the kids can grow up as Grant Union Prospectors. It's cash that can allow a Squeeze-In or Hitchin' Post to put on one more employee. It's cash that can find its way to the schools, the hospital, and the charities that make Grant County strong.

More than 70 people already plan to attend the summit, and you'd be among friends if you joined them.

And maybe you'll be the one who comes up with the best finish to "Say, why don't we try..."

Les Zaitz is the chair of the Grant County Economic Council. He can be reached at leszaitz@gmail.com.

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