Albert Lea, Minnesota

If any one town in the United States spells “community planning,” that town is Albert Lea, Minnesota, whose population in 1940 was 12,200. Here is how the people of Albert Lea went about planning to make the town and its surrounding countryside a better place in which to live and work after the war.

As logical step one, Albert Lea set out to “get the facts.” It wanted to know what goals it should plan for and what local assets and raw materials it had to plan with. The first thing Albert Lea’s planning committee did was to make a number of local surveys, most of which were carried out by two hundred “Victory Aides”—women civilian defense volunteers.

The first important fact the committee found was that in 1940 Albert Lea’s labor force consisted of 4,987 people, of whom 4,266 were employed and 721 were unemployed.

Next, the committee examined the current situation, and found that in 1943 the local labor force had increased to 5,655, of whom 5,455 were employed and 200 were unemployed.

Forecasting the future

Then, as its $64 question, the committee tried to find what the situation would be after the war. Their survey of expected changes turned up the following probable increases in the postwar working force

Returning from armed forces 1,012
Returning from farms 125
Returning from other regions 250
Growth and maturity of population (1943–46) 428
Total increase 1,815

To offset this anticipated growth, the committee next made a check of how many workers then in the community would probably drop out of the Albert Lea labor market after the war—with the following results

Returning to farms 125
Returning to other regions 50
Those not seeking postwar jobs 734
Total decrease 909

Subtracting the expected decrease in the labor force from the expected increase showed a net probable increase of 906 people wanting jobs in Albert Lea, or a total postwar labor force of 6,561. This was key fact number one in the committee’s planning program, because it told how marry jobs would be needed.

The next key fact to be determined was how many jobs were being planned by Albert Lea’s employers. A careful survey was made and the number was found to be 5,968. Thus Albert Lea’s planning committee could see that its problem in a nutshell was to plan for 593 new jobs.

Putting the facts to work

The committee felt that the first place to look for 593 new jobs was among the 11 major industries in the community, plus the 442 minor business establishments of all kinds. Secondly, the committee believed that employers would make bolder and more expansive plans if it could be shown that Albert Lea had the potential capacity for such expansion. So they made detailed surveys of what the consumers in Albert Lea were planning to buy after the war, what new construction was planned, and so on.

When they were finished, the facts indicated that whereas in 1940 Albert Lea had done $22,795,000 worth of business, the pressures of war had raised this to $51,443,000 in 1943. And what was more important, the indicated volume of business for the first peacetime year was $49,660,000—more than two and a half times what it had been in 1940.

The committee was able to break this expected business down into such specific facts as these:

1,156 people in the town would buy new automobiles. Surrounding farmers would buy 1,140 more. 442 people were either planning to buy or build a new home.
714 other people were planning to spend at least $300 repairing their old houses.
646 people wanted to buy refrigerators.
578 people wanted new living-room suites. And so on, item by item.

Armed with these specific facts, the committee was then able to go to different employers, such as, for example, a local furniture dealer. He decided that, if such was the outlook, he would hire four more men than he had planned. The local building contractor concluded that he had better double his planned construction crew. Once the committee had had its facts further strengthened by checking with the University of Minnesota, other local employers began to raise their planning sights.

“Jobs Incorporated”

It was in the atmosphere of factual forecasts that 16 Albert Lea businessmen established “Jobs Incorporated.” The idea, in brief, was to set up an organization which would operate under a state charter and with all the procedures of a regular business enterprise. It was to have a capital stock of $100,000, which would be bought and held by local businessmen.

Some of its objectives were:

  1. To do research and locate desirable businesses and industries to be established in Albert Lea.
  2. To encourage and assist present Albert Lea businesses and industries in greater expansion and development.
  3. To provide limited amounts of money as loaned working capital to both new and established businesses.
  4. To assist both present and future businesses with problems of management and research through a staff of experienced technicians and engineers.
  5. To make loans to returning servicemen and others who desire to go into business for themselves and who could demonstrate their qualifications.

Jobs Incorporated has become an integral part of Albert Lea’s planning picture. The community is confident that by the time all-its sons are home from the war, local initiative and community foresight will have found more than the 593 new jobs, which were its immediate postwar goal.

Moreover, the community spirit that has grown up goes far beyond the first goal of more jobs. It covers many other things that can be done to make Albert Lea not only a good place to work but a better place to live and grow after victory.