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Grand Forks employers point to attractions, quality of life when recruiting employees

The question often comes up.

When somebody is considering moving to Grand Forks from outside the region for work, they often ask about the weather — specifically the wintery kind. And while employers try not to sugarcoat it, they also point to a number of other assets that they hope will appeal to potential employees.

Attractions like the North Dakota Museum of Art, sporting venues like the Alerus Center and Ralph Engelstad Arena, and quality of life factors like a low crime rate and the public school system are among the things recruiters cite when they’re looking to market Grand Forks as place to work and live.

Still, business leaders said it can be hard to attract people from outside the region, so some focus on finding local talent.

Assets and obstacles

While many positions at Altru Health System can be filled either by an internal candidate or someone within the region, more specialized positions may require a national search.

“We’re really pretty strong in internal recruitment,” said Kellee Fisk, chief people resources executive at Altru. “But we really do try to recruit from the four-state area as well as much as we can. They’re used to the cold weather.”

Kristi Stoltman, the nurse recruiter at Altru, said potential employees often ask about the school system here, “and they’re impressed by our low crime rate.”

“We do have a lot of positive aspects, so it’s really easy to sell it,” she said.

Stoltman said, however, that potential employees have also had problems with finding housing. Some have even turned down offers because of it.

“Affordable housing is an issue that’s putting pressure on us,” Fisk said. “In health care, I think the salaries are pretty reasonable, but even those salaries are having trouble finding something reasonable. So I think we ought to continue to work on that as a community.”

In July, the median sale price for a home in Grand Forks was $197,500, with around 55 residential units listed for sale in April. Median gross rent was $673 in 2012.

Painting a picture

UND spokesman Peter Johnson said UND recruiters take candidates for high-level administration jobs on a “windshield tour” of the area. A document he provided used during the recent search for a provost and vice president for academic affairs touted the region for its short commute times, state and national parks, the Greenway and community safety, among other things.

“We try to paint as honest a picture of what it would be like if they moved to Grand Forks and let them ask the questions beyond that,” Johnson said.

Margaret Williams, the new dean of the College of Business and Public Administration at UND, has been in town for about a month after leaving Wayne State University in Detroit. She hadn’t been in North Dakota until she came for an on-campus interview.

Williams said she had some concerns about living in a smaller town and about the cold weather. But she said she was sold by UND, and the positive aspects of the Grand Forks community were “icing on the cake.”

Williams was particularly interested in efforts to better connect UND to downtown Grand Forks, where she and her husband now live.

“We decided to live there to feel a part of the downtown area, and walk to restaurants and shopping,” she said. “We have so much enjoyed our introduction to the university and the city.”

Thinking local

The early days of the recession was a rough period for architects in the Minneapolis area, according to Lonnie Laffen, co-founder of JLG Architects in Grand Forks. Meanwhile, an energy boom in North Dakota was creating more job opportunities at JLG.

But that didn’t mean people flocked here.

“We were heavily recruiting in Minneapolis, and we absolutely cannot get anybody to leave the metro area,” he said. Instead, Laffen said, they’re now recruiting local architecture graduates, specifically out of NDSU.

Laffen said it wasn’t the job opportunities or salaries that were keeping people in the metro, but rather a “perception of place.” He said people couldn’t imagine living away from lakes, professional sporting events, shopping centers and other amenities. Even getting people to move from Fargo can be difficult, he said.

But in Grand Forks’ case, perception doesn’t necessarily meet reality, Laffen said.

“If we can get them (here), they love living in Grand Forks,” he said.

Advanced Engineering and Environmental Services, or AE2S, has had success connecting with UND alumni who have moved away from the area, said the company’s human resources manager Megan Houser.

 “It is rare for us to conduct in the national search,” she said. “Where we’ve found the best success is finding someone in the Midwest who wants to be in the Midwest.”

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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