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Wanted: ideas for improving Grand Forks

If you've ever had an idea to improve Grand Forks in some way, now is an excellent time to let it out. A national Knight Foundation campaign seeking concepts from citizens hoping to make their communities more successful marked a local kickoff We...

George Abbott, project manager for Knight Cities Challenge speaks to Grand Forks residents about how to pitch their ideas. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)
George Abbott, project manager for Knight Cities Challenge speaks to Grand Forks residents about how to pitch their ideas. (Joshua Komer / Grand Forks Herald)

If you've ever had an idea to improve Grand Forks in some way, now is an excellent time to let it out.

A national Knight Foundation campaign seeking concepts from citizens hoping to make their communities more successful marked a local kickoff Wednesday evening in Grand Forks and is now seeking applications for improvement projects.

George Abbott, project manager of the Knight Cities Challenge, said the program is the Knight Foundation's only "open call" for ideas from residents of the 26 cities served by the foundation.

In total, the program distributes up to $5 million annually through grants distributed to projects selected across the pool of cities. Last year, the foundation received more than 4,500 applications and funded 37 concepts. Abbott said the grants distributed in the past have ranged from $10,000 to $600,000.

"We're looking at every level," he said, "from the block level to the neighborhood level to the city level. Even multi-city projects are eligible."

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Grand Forks was counted among the communities which received a grant last year.

Pete Haga, the city's community and government relations officer, won nearly $107,000 for his New Flavors Food Truck concept, an idea which set a course to purchase and prepare a food truck to be rented out to entrepreneurs in local immigrant community.

Haga attended the Wednesday kickoff event to share his experience and encourage others to submit their own applications for a Knight Cities Challenge grant, which he described as a "fantastic" opportunity that warranted a group-based approach.

"I can tell you personally that it's a lot of work," Haga said. "You need a team to do this-I thought I could do it all by myself, and I was completely wrong."

Criteria for idea submissions are relatively open-ended and revolve around two main guidelines. Abbott said the Knight Foundation is looking to provide capital to innovative concepts that take place in or directly benefit a Knight community, or one of 26 cities where the Knight Brothers owned newspapers, including the Herald.

Projects must also address at least one of three concept areas: Helping cities attract and keep talented people, creating opportunity by expanding economic prospects and boosting engagement and civic involvement.

Abbott said the call for proposals is open to all, from private citizens to city governments. He recommended interested parties browse through concepts previously selected by the foundation to get an idea of what might be successful for a given community.

He also suggested proposal writers make no assumptions as to the local knowledge of those reviewing the applications.

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"The reviewers may not know that much about Grand Forks, so it's important to write out your idea in a way that makes sense and is comprehensible pretty quickly," Abbott said.

The initial application is a set of three questions about the concept which should be answered with only 100 words each. Applicants don't need to provide budgets or business plans for the first round of judging.

Haga implored attendees of the kickoff event to put forward any idea they might have to make the city more successful.

"Don't hold it in, don't protect it," he said. "Let it flourish. Let it get out there and people will help you in building it."

The deadline for submitting proposals is 11 a.m., Central time, Nov. 3. The application can be found with more information at knightcities.org.

Related Topics: PETE HAGA
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