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Alerus director recognized nationally

Cheryl Swanson, director of the Alerus Center, was named Venues Today Woman of Influence. (Darren Gibbins / special to the Herald)

She was recently named one of five “Women of Influence” by Venues Today, a national trade publication.

“It’s very validating to be recognized,” she said. She will be personally accepting the award July 27 in Portland, Ore.

Swanson started at the Alerus Center in 2010, and since then, the event center has seen a sharp spike in profit and number of events.

For Swanson, venue management was a second career, after her professional life in health care, first as a registered nurse and then in health care administration.

But the second career is the one that she loves, she said, having previously worked at the Sioux City (Iowa) Convention Center, the Eastern Michigan University arena and performing arts center and the Breslin Center at Michigan State University.

Swanson answered a few questions last week about her philosophies for the Alerus Center and the experiences that lead to her receiving the “Women of Influence” honor.

Q. How does it feel to receive this award?

A. It’s absolutely an honor … Based on the quality and the caliber of women that were nominated, I was stunned (to win). It still is kind of a dream.

I also feel that it’s very validating for me that after many, many years in this business, it’s very validating to be recognized, and I certainly want to be very worthy of that award for all of the people that supported me.

I can’t thank everyone who supported me enough, which is probably what this industry really is all about. We support each other, between my mentors, my colleagues, the employees I’ve had the pleasure to work with.

Q. So, is the venue industry kind of a tight-knit group?

A. I’ve been in the industry a long time, and I’ve been in a lot of leadership roles with IAVM, International Association of Venue Managers. I think throughout my career and the roles I have had with IAVM and some other organizations, there’s name recognition.

And certainly we do support each other in our industry. When I first got in this business there wasn’t formal education particularly to run a venue like this, but that has since changed. Many universities have specific programs, but I would say years ago people just relied on each other as far as how to manage these facilities.

Q. What philosophies did you apply to the Alerus Center when you came here?

A. The philosophies I’ve always applied, even when I was in health care, is complete analysis of your expenditures.

Here, there were cost controls already in place, and financially, from a cost control perspective, this facility was very well managed. There was not any unnecessary spending, they had cut back everything that was reasonable to reduce expenditures. What this facility needed was revenues, plain and simple.

So, to sum it up, we looked for more methods, more sources, sponsorships, events.

I think that we also worked a bit on the culture and the environment within the Alerus Center. The city has guiding values that really are what I believe. It speaks to teamwork, integrity, honesty, and I think that knowing that my values align very well with the city of Grand Forks also makes it to be successful at the Alerus Center.

And sometimes, plain and simple, change just for change’s sake makes people react differently, too. Not saying that I brought anything different to the table other than that I was someone else.

The biggest value that I think I see is the people here, we work as a team. And the people that are on the team. I’ve been very, very fortunate to have some very qualified people join our team that came from other facilities. We’ve got a very strong staff right now. I think that’s a big part of the turnaround.

This industry really isn’t a job, it’s a lifestyle, and everyone either loves it or hates it, there is no in between. It’s a lifestyle because it’s demanding, it’s long hours, but everyone that’s here right now understands that, embraces it and has fun doing it.


Call Haley at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1102; or send email to

Charly Haley

Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.