By Christopher Bjorke, Forum News Service, Published February 05 2013
Red River Valley leaders kick off growth initiative
The Valley Prosperity Partnership brings together 23 leaders of entities investing more than $500,000 to research economic, educational and social conditions and needs in the region and develop a plan to exploit growth opportunities.
Following a $100,000 investment by Forum Communications Co. Chairman William C. Marcil to jumpstart the effort last year, each of the additional members of its steering committee brought $20,000 to the initiative.
“They’ve got skin in the game,” Marcil said following a news conference to announce the first steps of the partnership. “That’s going to ensure cooperation.”
Members of the group include retailers, bankers, university presidents, health system executives, agribusiness CEOs and the presidents of Fargo’s and Grand Forks’ economic development groups.
The group’s chairpersons are Tammy Miller, CEO of Fargo-based Border States Electric, and Steve Burian, CEO of Grand Forks-based engineering firm AE2S. The two companies have headquarters at either end of the valley but oversee offices scattered over North Dakota, Minnesota and other states.
“The stars were aligned,” Marcil said. “You’ve got the leadership of the entire valley.”
The group’s first step will be to find out more about the valley, a task they have given to a New Jersey consultant, Wadley-Donovan GrowthTech. That firm will spend the next six months gathering economic and demographic data on the region and carrying out surveys and interviews with employers, students, educators and a variety of other stakeholders, said Wadley-Donovan President William Fredrick.
“We’re dealing with a very large region. We’re dealing with a very diverse region,” he said.
When the research is finished in August, the steering committee members will develop goals the group can pursue based on opportunities they find in the data.
“We envision a four- to five-year process,” Burian said.
The emphasis in the effort will be on action rather than on a planning process.
“We’re much more interested in implementation than in planning,” Burian said.
Committee members will look at employment, median incomes, population growth, investment and other data to measure the project’s success, said Burian and Miller.
The organizers are starting out with a big advantage in the region’s economy. While similar efforts often start as a way to turn around a troubled economy, the Red River Valley is having unprecedented highs, according to Burian.
“We’re planning this process from a position of strength,” he said.
Marcil said the participation of both Klaus Thiessen of the Grand Forks Region EDC and Jim Gartin of the Greater Fargo Moorhead EDC will help the group avoid competition between the valley’s main cities or seeing one area’s gain as another’s loss.
“Both of the two executives, Jim and Klaus, want to think around that,” he said.
Marcil said the group’s makeup, spread over the Red River Valley, marked a new type of collaboration between the two ends of the valley.
“This is historic,” he said.