Economic Development Commission executive director lives to sell small towns
HILLSBORO, N.D. – After living in Traill County for 20 years, Jim Murphy knows first-hand what the county has to offer and what it’s lacking. Now, as the economic development commission executive director, Murphy is touting the former and figuring out ways to improve the latter.
Murphy has lived in Cummings, N.D., with his wife and family for 20 years, most of the time working in newspaper industry sales. Before that, he worked in the newspaper industry in Montana and Iowa. Murphy was ready for a new challenge in August 2018 when the position of Traill County Economic Development Commission executive director opened, he said.
“I’ve been working with businesses my whole life in one capacity or another, so the skill set matched up,” Murphy said. “I love the challenge of learning about people’s businesses and asking them where they’re going to be a year from now, or how technology and politics will affect them.”
Meanwhile, Murphy was attracted to the executive director job because he already was part of a network of people, such as school administrators and firefighters, who actively support their communities.
“Another thing I find fascinating is that there are so many moving pieces – public input, private input, personalities that make things work,” Murphy said. In his role of Traill County Economic Development Commission executive director, he can put those pieces together.
Working as an economic development director in a county made up of small towns isn't just about developing jobs, Murphy said. It also is about ensuring prospective workers have childcare, housing and other amenities, such as recreation areas, that make those towns attractive to current and prospective residents. At the same, prospective residents want to experience the safety and friendliness that are unique to small towns , Murphy said.
In his first year as Traill County Economic Development Commission executive director, Murphy has used social media, including Facebook and Instagram, to promote the county. This winter, he plans to work with an area high school student on ways to more effectively use Twitter to promote Traill County, Murphy said. He believes that will benefit the county in more ways than one.
“We’re working to engage youth more. Someone who is engaged in the community is more likely to stay,” he said.
No longer should small towns fear being victims of “brain drain.” Instead, he said, it's important to encourage “brain gain.”
"There’s opportunity right here. The world has changed. You don’t have to work at the same place that signs your paycheck,” he said. “That’s what we try to tell people: you can have a small-town life. Your kids can compete in three things, instead of one.”
Another way Murphy promotes Traill County is by setting up a YouTube channel that features testimony from people talking about why they “Come Home to Traill.”
“Your best sales person is the person who is happy with your product,” Murphy said.
Meanwhile, Murphy promotes economic development in Traill County by organizing “Lunch and Learn” sessions for businesses on topics such as using social media for your business, tips for securing bank loans and recruitment and retention of workers.
“I think the Lunch and Learns have been successful. Just the fact that we’ve been helping people and they can share that, exponentially,” Murphy said.
Down the road he'd like to expand recreational opportunities in Traill County, he said.
"I would like to build a bike path from here to Mayville," Murphy said. Another idea he has is to establish a kayaking route from Mayville to Hillsboro. Murphy doesn't expect either one of those ideas will come to fruition overnight because economic development takes time.
"You've got to be patient with things like this," Murphy said.
“You don’t get fruit from the seed you planted yesterday. It takes awhile for that seed to grow.”