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Dave Roepke, Published September 24 2009

North Dakota Youth Council to focus on retaining state's youth

North Dakota struggles to keep the young minds it produces.

State Data Center projections suggest a steady drop in the 18- to 24-year-old population through 2020, and only two counties – urban centers Cass and Burleigh – didn’t see a loss from 2000 to 2008 in the 25-to-44 age group.

North Dakota is going to combat the trend by going straight to the source.

State officials announced Wednesday the formation of the North Dakota Youth Council, an advisory board that will eventually include 16 residents between the ages of 17 and 24.

“This really helps give an opportunity to those who aren’t traditionally involved in policymaking to be at the table – literally, at the table,” said Fargo Sen. Tim Flakoll, a Republican who sponsored the legislation that created the group.

In conjunction with the council, the state has also established a Youth Office to act as a clearinghouse for existing programs that are targeted at youth retention and to help implement ideas that spring from the new council.

“They will determine their own issues. The office will really take its direction from the council,” said Kayla Effertz, who will head the Youth Office.

Effertz said some of the projects that will now be administered by the Youth Office include an initiative encouraging internships, an entrepreneurial awareness push, an online job fair and a program linking businesses and classrooms.

“We’re creating a sandbox. We want as many toys in there as possible,” she said.

Flakoll, who will be one of four legislators on the council, hopes it emerges as a think tank of sorts, generating novel ways to attract and retain young people.

“I’m anticipating a lot of exciting ideas floating out,” he said.

One newly appointed member, Shawn Affolter of Mandan, said he expects the Youth Council to focus on retention policies, tuition and job creation.

“Making jobs a career is something that’s important to all young people, said Affolter, a 20-year-old junior at North Dakota State University.

Affolter admits solving long-standing issues won‘t be easy. But the trouble retaining young people in North Dakota is more of an image problem than anything, he said.

“The awareness thing is a huge barrier. There’s a disconnect that needs to be bridged,” he said.

That’s also a role Effertz sees for the Youth Office.

“It’s about matching what people are looking for to what we’re offering,” she said. “We need to do a good job of telling that story to young people.”

Flakoll said he also hopes to see the Youth Council focusing on a few tangible initiatives. Getting bogged down by numerous worthy but difficult goals would be a mistake, he said.