New program aims to help newcomers 'warm up' to Grand Forks

Stacey Heggen said it took more than two years of living in Grand Forks as a UND student before she discovered the Greenway and other local amenities she now enjoys.

Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals logo

Stacey Heggen said it took more than two years of living in Grand Forks as a UND student before she discovered the Greenway and other local amenities she now enjoys.

Now serving as executive director of the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals, Heggen said a new program the group will soon launch could help newcomers and prospective new employees acclimate to their new city much faster than that -- and give them a taste of local attractions before they accept a job.

"Right out of the gate, they're getting to know people before they've even moved here and they're seeing a small chunk of everything that this city has to offer," Heggen said.

Keith Lund, vice president of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., said there is no "silver bullet" to attracting and retaining young professionals in the community. But the GGFYP's new program could become a "key component" of this effort, he said.

"If a company is recruiting someone from outside our region, the company can give them all the reasons why they should work for the company," he said. "But in many cases, a prospective employee may not realize that the community is right for them. That's where the Young Professionals comes in."


City 'ambassadors'

The idea for "Warm Up to Grand Forks" first came up about three years ago when the GGFYP program committee was brainstorming ways to better connect with the business community.

The committee chairman at the time, Matt Fischer, said it did not take long for committee members to realize many had gone through a common, and awkward, experience -- finishing an interview for a new job only to go out for a meal or event with their prospective new boss.

"It's kind of like you've got to be on all day, and then when the time that you're supposed to let loose and go and see the town, you're still with the boss and it's still kind of that interview scenario," said Fischer. "So we thought of taking that responsibility away from the companies and saying, 'OK, I know it's important for you to have the potential employees see the town and it's not important for you to keep interviewing them.'"

The new program offers up two GGFYP members who, for $50 to $100 an hour and the cost of the outing, will serve as "ambassadors" for Grand Forks. Employers can help customize the night out on the town to the prospective new employee's interests and tastes for a guided tour, meal and other events.

Fischer said the program is similar to a campus tour, which gives interested students a glimpse of the academic and social world they could experience if they choose the school.

It also could help a job seeker find out what they could do in their possible new city -- and help them decide if Grand Forks is a good fit for them as local companies deal with low unemployment and a shortage of workers.

"If there's a job in Grand Forks and there's another job in Kansas, same exact job, exact same pay, why would they come to Grand Forks over Kansas?" Fischer said. "We're saying it's more about what they have to do after hours and not just during the job."


Sharing love of Grand Forks

Heggen said the profits from this new program could help the GGFYP become financially independent from grants over the next year and ensure the group will be sustainable.

The tours also could help boost membership in the group, which has grown by 100 to more than 220 members in the past five months.

"When we take them out, they're already getting to know people, which I think is a very important part of becoming invested in a community," she said. "If you just come here by yourself, it can be a little lonely."

Heggen said the program is a first for Grand Forks, and could be the first of its kind in the state or region.

"It's unique and it's rare, and I think it will be a good experience for young professionals as well as employers," she said.

And Fischer said there is no "ulterior motive" -- the tour guides will remain neutral and will not report back to the employer or recommend if the prospective employee should accept or reject a job offer.

"We're not trying to sell people houses; we're not trying to sell you on a school to go to," he said. "We're just really talking about why we love the community we're in and helping to share that information with people."



To learn more about "Warm Up to Grand Forks," visit .

Reach Johnson at (701) 780-1105; (800) 477-6572, ext. 105; or send email to .

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