Dakota Electric’s new economic development director aims to harness the power of human connections

by Jennifer Chick
Sun Thisweek

Mark Lofthus has been the new economic development director for Dakota Electric Association for about two months. He brings to the cooperative 24 years experience working in the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Photo by Jennifer Chick

Mark Lofthus has been the new economic development director for Dakota Electric Association for about two months. He brings to the cooperative 24 years experience working in the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Photo by Jennifer Chick

As the new economic development director for Dakota Electric Association, Mark Lofthus will be connecting the electrical cooperative with small business owners, governments and entrepreneurs who rely on that electricity to keep their businesses running.

“Economic development can be a mystery to people,” Lofthus, 58, said. “We want to help our members to be as successful as they can be. At Dakota Electric, it’s being a resource for our members and that involves also helping the cities and the counties that are in our territory. Overall, having a thriving business sector in our territory is an advantage to all the people who live and work in Dakota County.”

He will also be working with Dakota Electric’s website to maintain and enhance the economic development section of the website, www.ecd.dakotaelectric.com. If a business or individual is looking to start a business or expand a business in Dakota

Electric’s territory, Lofthus hopes to become one of the resources they will turn to first.

“Economic development, there’s a lot of technical things, but a lot of it is information and the network,” Lofthus said. “If you’re part of the network, you can get things done. That’s what it says on our card, ‘the power of human connections.’ ”

Lofthus brings more than 30 years experience in economic development to Dakota Electric. He first heard about the opening this summer, when LaDonna Boyd, t

he cooperative’s longtime economic development director, announced she was retiring. Lofthus had been working for the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development for the last 24 years and was looking for a change. He had been there through five governors and 10 different commissioners and was looking for a way to work more directly with economic development projects. He found that at Dakota Electric.

He describes the work environment at Dakota Electric as having a “family feel.” Several walls are lined with photos of employees who have spent more than

25 years working for the cooperative, and as he walks those halls every day, he is reminded why people stay with the cooperative.

“People enjoy their work,” Lofthus said. “It’s a palpable feeling of satisfaction.”

Lofthus will be relying on his years with the DEED to bring many personal and business connections to his new role at Dakota Electric. He ha

s started to investigate ways that Dakota Electric can continue to help members grow while providing resources to help existing businesses and those interested in starting businesses in Dakota Electric’s territory. He aims to reinvigorate existing partnerships and create new ones, meeting face-to-face with those who are the drivers of the economy.

“If you can’t partner with people on a regular basis, economic development doesn’t work very well,” he said. “I’d like them to look to me with confidence and trust. You’ve got to be able to work behind the scenes with partners to get things done.”
One of the biggest challenges he sees facing the business community, from an economic standpoint, is filling open positions with qualified workers. He will be working with other partners to ensure workforce development centers are providing customized training to create qualified workers for those open positions within Dakota Electric’s territory.

What Lofthus most enjoys about economic development is the ability to learn new things.
“A lot of economic development is information,” he said, “to be able to be that resource. I’ve discovered already that there are existing businesses that are looking to grow or looki

ng for another location. The role that I can play is to be there on behalf of Dakota County and listen to them.”

He can then advise them as they contemplate the next steps in the process, matching businesses with the services they will need to succeed.

Lofthus lives in Edina with his wife, Marian. They have one daughter, Emma, who is studying at Luther College in Decorah, Iowa.
Lofthus will be attending many early morning and late evening meetings, but in his free time, he enjoys playing golf and guitar.

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