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After knocking on 'so many doors,' Grand Forks fundraisers hit $10 million goal in just 70 days

The sum brings the community a giant leap closer to actually building a planned Career Impact Academy.

EDC Becca Cruger Keith Lund 5.jpg
Keith Lund and Becca Cruger, of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., discuss the status of a fundraising project on Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Korrie Wenzel / Grand Forks Herald
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With just a few days to spare, a months-long effort to raise millions of dollars and launch Grand Forks’ career and technical education center has met its deadline.

The news broke Monday that after a 70-day sprint, leaders from around the community had raised $10 million to back the new center. That’s a key figure for unlocking state funding that had to be collected before Dec. 1, when applications for state dollars are due.

The sum also brings the community a giant leap closer to actually building the center, which project backers have insisted is critical to growing the community’s workforce and keeping young, graduating students interested in Grand Forks.

Keith Lund is the president and CEO of the EDC. He said he’s “tremendously excited and grateful” for the community’s support for the project and for its future. And he points out that the EDC couldn’t have done it alone — the behind-the-scenes work drew on support from leaders all around Grand Forks, helping build the idea and sketch the proposed curriculum from the ground up.

“Businesses needed to know what was in it for them before we could sit across a table and ask for an investment,” Lund said.

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RELATED: Grand Forks School Board approves CIA grant application

Becca Cruger, the workforce development manager of the EDC, has co-led the steering committee and helped coordinate the project throughout 2021. She traces the project back years, as local leaders have eyed funding that could help make a local career center a reality.

But things took a turn in early 2021 with news that the state had approved $70 million in COVID relief funds to help back career and technical education. The state would give out $10 million to help support local projects. But that money came with a catch: it had to be matched, dollar for dollar, by local fundraising.

“It’s been a journey,” said Eric Ripley, who heads career and technical education for Grand Forks Public Schools and has been Cruger’s copilot leading the steering committee. “It’s been amazing to think about where we started. … From the very beginning, I felt like there was this strong, widespread interest, both from industry and education and the city as well in this concept.”

Cruger remembers a flurry of research, surveys and trips around the country — to career and tech centers in South Dakota, Ohio and Oklahoma — as Grand Forks leaders sketched out a plan. One survey showed that 117 local companies needed 1,700 workers; about 62% of the companies said a lack of trained workers was hampering their growth.

“That’s creating some huge economic drawbacks for our region,” Cruger said. “Just think about if we were able to hire 1,700 people tomorrow, what that would be able to do (to boost business)."

The new career and tech center — now dubbed the Career Impact Academy, or CIA — is aimed directly at solving those problems. It’s not a community college, and it’s not a trade school; it’s a place where students can earn advanced credit while still in high school, or study for a career while in college — all aimed specifically at generating workers for local employers’ needs.

RELATED: Fundraisers reach goal of $10 million for Grand Forks’ Career Impact Academy

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Amid an ongoing national labor shortage, it’s drawn significant interest from places like Altru Health System and Sanford Health — both feeling the pinch of a tight health care worker market — as well as agricultural technology employers like True North.

Once a plan was in place for the center — a sketch of its curriculum and its role in the community — backers started trying to make it happen. What followed was a 70-day sprint to raise the $10 million in matching money needed to unlock that hoped-for $10 million in COVID funds from the state.

“I think when we were first talking about the intense timeline of trying to raise $10 million in the time it would take to apply for this grant, we all looked around the table and said, 'there’s no other avenue but forward,'” Cruger recalled. “But I think all knew how much we were biting off. Every single person on the steering committee is the reason why this happened. Just thinking about $10 million and 70 days to do that — there were so many doors that were knocked on.”

Here’s a list of all the donors that have so far publicly been announced, totaling $10,292,200 as of Wednesday afternoon:

  • City of Grand Forks - $1,736,200

  • Grand Forks Public Schools - $1,500,000

  • Altru Health System - $1,000,000

  • Sanford Health - $1,000,000

  • Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation - $500,000

  • Grand Forks County - $400,000

  • Core Scientific - $250,000

  • Grand Forks Area Career & Technology Center - $200,000

  • Anonymous Donor - $150,000

  • JR Simplot Company - $150,000

  • Rydell GM Auto Center - $150,000

  • Acme Tools - $125,000

  • Hal and Kathleen Gershman Family Foundation on behalf of Harry's Steakhouse - $125,000

  • Lunseth Plumbing and Heating - $125,000

  • Bergstrom Electric - $100,000

  • Construction Engineers - $100,000

  • Custom Aire, Inc - $100,000

  • Edgewood Healthcare - $100,000

  • Grand Forks Herald/Forum Communications - $100,000

  • Jim & Marydale Hansen - $100,000

  • JLG Architects - $100,000

  • Minnkota Power Cooperative - $100,000

  • Northridge Construction - $100,000

  • Simonson Station Stores - $100,000

  • True North Equipment - $100,000

  • Valley Memorial Homes - $100,000

  • PCL Community Contractors - $100,000

  • AE2S - $75,000

  • CL Linfoot Company - $75,000

  • Northern Tier Seed - $60,000

  • Alerus - $50,000

  • Bears Home Solutions - $50,000

  • Brady Martz - $50,000

  • Choice Financial - $50,000

  • Crary Homes & Real Estate - $50,000

  • Dakota Commercial - $50,000

  • Development Homes Inc - $50,000

  • Ideal Aerosmith - $50,000

  • Lunn Family - $50,000

  • Northern Plumbing Supply - $50,000

  • Opp Construction - $50,000

  • Pro Transport - $50,000

  • RDO Equipment Co. - $50,000

  • RJ Zavoral & Sons - $50,000

  • Steffes Corporation - $50,000

  • Vilandre Heating, AC & Plumbing - $50,000

  • Kost Materials - $50,000

  • Lumber Mart - $30,000

  • Hugo’s Family Marketplace - $30,000

  • Bremer Bank - $25,000

  • Dakota Sales - $25,000

  • Forx Builders Association - $25,000

  • Fusion Automation - $25,000

  • Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber - $25,000

  • Greenberg Realty - $25,000

  • Knight Foundation Donor-Advised Fund at the Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks & Region - $25,000

  • Midco - $25,000

  • North Dakota Eye Clinic - $25,000

  • Retrax - $25,000

  • Strata Corporation - $25,000

  • Webster Foster Weston - $25,000

  • RDO Truck Centers - $20,000

  • Bolton and Menk - $15,000

  • Sterling Carpet One - $15,000

  • Widseth Smith Nolting - $15,000

  • Anderson Steel and Crane Service - $10,000

  • Butler Machinery - $10,000

  • CPS - $10,000

  • EAPC Architects Engineers - $10,000

  • Houston Engineering - $10,000

  • Jeff and Janell Regimbal - $10,000

  • Northstar Insulation - $10,000

  • Skinner Roofing - $10,000

  • UND Foundation - $10,000

  • Tecta America - $5,000

  • Goodin Co. - $1,000

The $250,000 commitment from Core Scientific, a company developing a data center in Grand Forks, is one of the largest from a private entity. The company was previously listed as an anonymous donor.
“Core Scientific is committed to supporting the communities in which we live and work. The Career Impact Academy is a program that will help young people interested in technology build successful careers and we are proud to support it,” Mike Levitt, Core Scientific CEO, said in an EDC release Friday.

Lund said that there’s still plenty more work to do before classes start — from getting the state money to the hoped-for start of construction in 2022.

"We’ve reached a milestone,” he said, “but we really haven’t reached the finish line yet.”

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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