The years-long “Greater Grand Forks: Way Cooler Than You Think!” initiative to promote the region and attract more skilled workers to the area is still up, running, being shared across various forms of social media and having an impact on recruitment in Grand Forks.

The digital campaign was started in July 2017 by the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation in cooperation with other city, county and local entities, such as UND and the Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce. It's a play on words about the perception of Grand Forks' cold weather, but it paints the city as a place that is – according to the campaign – “Way Cooler Than You Think.”

“Essentially what we’re doing is trying to create a narrative that anyone can use to talk positively about the city,” said Becca Cruger, workforce and strategic initiatives coordinator for the Grand Forks EDC.

“You know, when people hear 'Grand Forks,' they think it’s a frozen tundra wasteland,” Cruger said. “But the truth is we do have so many cool things to do here, and once you get people here for an interview, it’s really easy to then get them to accept the job. It’s just getting them here in the first place and dispelling those misconceptions.”

Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Barry Wilfahrt said he, too, believes the campaign has helped quash misconceptions about the area.

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“I feel it has helped raise the profile of Grand Forks," he said.

“Way Cooler Than You Think” is a digital media campaign that uses the website and spans social media – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – using the #GFisCooler hashtag, creating a space for people to positively comment on the area. The Instagram page for #gfiscooler has more than 7,000 posts from local people promoting their town.

“We have had over 6 million impressions of our content in the two years – where it comes across somebody’s screen,” Cruger said. “We get about 2,000 people going to the site a month from all over the country and 75 percent of the people visiting the site are from outside the Grand Forks region, which is good because that’s how you know it’s working.”

Arnessa Dowell, who relocated to Grand Forks from the Washington, D.C., area to become the director of information services for the Grand Forks Public Library, used the Grand Forks is Cooler website to get information about the area.

“I checked the website, kind of seeing what North Dakota had to offer. We have a 3-year-old so we liked the education system here,” she said. “I like just how it draws you in: ‘Oh, it’s way cooler than you think.’ I like the play on it being cold, but it’s ‘cool.’ As far as the look, I like the color. I like the play on the words."

The campaign uses a targeted ad approach across the country.

“The way that we choose where we’re targeting is we look at places that have a high concentration of UND alumni, then we target our ads to those areas,” Cruger said. “We delve down even further than that, because say we’re pushing out information about manufacturing jobs, we will target specifically people with manufacturing backgrounds or who have manufacturing degrees, so you target by industry, age and location.”

Some of the areas targeted include Denver, Seattle, Washington and Minneapolis.

Altru Health System Director of People Resources Marlene Miller was involved with the groups that informed the development of the campaign. The “Cooler Than You Think” information is sent out not only to prospective medical staff, but also recruiters as well, so they can more effectively speak to life in Grand Forks.

“We’ve been doing more national recruitment for nurses than ever before. There’s a continued lack of available nurses nationwide, so we’re not unique to that, but we’ve been successful to recruit individuals,” Miller said. “In the last year, we’ve had 25 registered nurses coming from 19 different states outside North Dakota and even in Canada. We think having the 'Way Cooler’ information has helped, because we’ve never done that level of national recruitment before.”

According to Mike Fridolfs, director for Northrop Grumman Corporation’s Grand Sky site, the digital campaign has been helpful in attracting new workers. Recruiters for the company use the website in job postings and share the hashtag across social media.

“The campaign has been a useful tool for our Northrop Grumman recruiters to share with potential candidates,” Fridolfs told the Herald. “The Way Cooler Than You Think Campaign is effective in demonstrating the opportunities here in Grand Forks and building excitement about what the region has to offer with the candidate and, when applicable, their entire family when making a decision to relocate.”

Though the “Cooler Than You Think” campaign is an effective, even fun, tool in attracting new people to the region, it may become a necessary strategy in the future, as workforce challenges become more pronounced.

“Every spectrum, there are workforce shortages, and that’s not something that Grand Forks-centric. Our state has a very low unemployment rate, and we’re experiencing workforce shortages,” said Cruger. “All the economists forecast that the workforce shortages are going to get more severe. So if we don’t, as a community, have a strategy for how we’re addressing that, and talking positively, then we’re going to continue to experience those things.”