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'Greater Grand Forks: Way Cooler Than You Think!' makes progress since 2017

The initiative began in June 2017 because Grand Forks was experiencing challenges with recruiting talent and maintaining it. Specifically, candidates from outside of the region were not coming to Grand Forks to work as much as the EDC hoped.

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Becca Cruger, the then-workforce and strategic initiatives coordinator at the Grand Forks Region EDC (Economic Development Corporation), is interviewed on-camera by documentary filmmaker Dirk Wierenga (left) early Wednesday afternoon at Half Brothers Brewing Company in downtown Grand Forks. Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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The “Greater Grand Forks: Way Cooler Than You Think!” has had a positive impact on the area in the four years since its inception; drawing new people to Grand Forks, as well as bringing former residents back to town, and Becca Cruger says it is only getting bigger.

Grand Forks Economic Development Coordinator Becca Cruger manages the initiative.

“There are so many cool things about the Grand Forks region, and we in the Midwest have done a very poor job of bragging about those cool things,” Cruger said. “We thought what would be great is if we could put together a one-stop-shop that told all of the reasons that it is really great to live in this community.”

"Way Cooler Than You Think!" began in June 2017 because Grand Forks was experiencing challenges with recruiting talent and maintaining it. Specifically, candidates from outside of the region were not coming to Grand Forks to work as much as the EDC hoped.

“Grand Forks may not be the balmy destination city that everyone thinks of when they think of relocating somewhere,” Cruger said. “On top of all that, if you Googled Grand Forks, you probably came up with pictures of historic flooding, fires and blizzards, so when they were trying to recruit folks from (places like) California, Texas or Florida, that tended to scare a few people off.”

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The "Way Cooler Than You Think" initiative has been combatting those issues ever since. Cruger said it has created progress in how many people are coming to, and returning to, Grand Forks to work in the past four years. It started out small, but now there is a constant stream of new information and opportunities on its website.

“We hire five local writers every quarter to bring new voices to the table, and they share lists of things that they think are cool about the region,” Cruger said. “It’s all in list form, such as ‘5 Walkable Adventures,’ ’10 Things for New Moms to Do in the Region,’ ’12 Public Art Activities,’ and those kinds of things.”

There are three target demographics "Way Cooler Than You Think" aims to reach - the first of which are military members. Grand Forks’ active military base accounts for about 3,000 new families moving to the region each year. There is also a high population of military retirees in Grand Forks, and not just ones leaving the workforce. Military retirees also leave the armed forces in their 30s and 40s to start new careers, and many of them land in Grand Forks.

The second demographic is UND students who have graduated or are about to graduate. The goal for them is to show them why they could live in the Grand Forks area after college and still have fun.

The last target demographic is "Boomerangers," and they may be the most important of the three. They are people who either grew up or went to school in Grand Forks and moved away but still have ties to the region and might consider moving back.

“The ‘Boomerangers’ (are) a real phenomenon,” Cruger said. “In fact, if you look at our demographics, one thing you’ll see is that if you looked 10 years ago, people would come here for college and then leave. At that point in time, the city, the chamber, (and) the Grand Forks Region EDC all got together, and they brought a consultant in town and said, ‘Hey, we want to keep these folks.’”

Grand Forks began to undergo changes. A Young Professionals chapter sprouted in town. Diversity and inclusion initiatives were put in place. Targeted efforts began with the intent to make the community more walkable.

Cruger said the Grand Forks population of people aged 25-39 has increased by 17% in the past 10 years – double the national average.

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“’Cooler’ is another tool in the toolbox, so that when employers are trying to recruit folks outside of the region, they have some of those positive things they can point to,” Cruger said.

There has been a 315% increase in web traffic on the website since launching the ‘What’s Cooler Today?’ section in March. More than 60,000 users have visited the website since it launched, and 85% of it has come from outside of the Grand Forks Region.

“That’s very exciting to us, because it tells us we’re hitting those demographics and telling people outside of the community what we are all about,” Cruger said.

The future of the initiative is bright, with Cruger saying a new expansion coming next year is a series of video projects in towns such as Northwood, Thompson and Reynolds.

“Each of the (towns) have a page on our website explaining what their community is like, but being able to see it in video form firsthand is really important when people are making decisions,” Cruger said. “We’re looking at that project for 2022.”

Related Topics: SMALL BUSINESS
Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at jholley@gfherald.com.Follow him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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