By Steinar Opstad
SARPSBORG, Norway -- When people ask me about practical results from the various sister-city programs we have between Sarpsborg and Grand Forks and a small number of cities around Europe, I answer "for innovation, look to Grand Forks."
It started early in 1990, when I first met Mr. Innovation in Grand Forks -- Bruce Gjovig, founding director of the Center for Innovation at UND.
He spread the "gospel" of innovation with great enthusiasm as the only way to make progress and necessary renovations in traditional business life. I went home and suggested to Mayor Engsmyr in Sarpsborg that we invite Gjovig to lecture for the City Council and business leaders in our city.
His ideas caught fire, and last week, Sarpsborg was voted as the No. 1 municipality for innovation in Norway from a list of about 400 participating municipalities.
In itself, a victory does not create new industry, but today -- nearly 20 years after Gjovig, with his elegant persuasiveness, charmed the people in Sarpsborg -- we see results.
Last year, some national media appointed Sarpsborg as the best place for innovative business startups in Norway. This week, construction started on a 76,000-square foot innovation and science center with a very innovative architectural solution.
A week ago and next to the innovation center, workers began to erect a new multilevel building for an information company. Also next to the innovation center and across from the science center, several office buildings were built after the early 1990s and house hundreds of professionals.
All of this is gathered around the Hotel Quality location (for those of the readers who know Sarpsborg) and is a result of strong and clear mandates from the mayor and his partners.
But I think it is fair to say that the kick the mayor and others got from Gjovig's visions 20 years ago testify to his ideas and clairvoyance.
I have only mentioned one side of the benefits from the Sarpsborg-Grand Forks sister city program. For years, teachers and students in the Grand Forks public schools, under Tori Johnson and Bruce Morlock's batons, have developed a student program of impressive size and quality. In Sarpsborg, people still ask when the Red River High School band and choir will be coming back to take part in our 17th of May celebration.
In the fall, a band from Sarpsborg with teachers and parents will visit Grand Forks. In past years, several artists, scholars and politicians from Sarpsborg have visited Grand Forks and UND.
To me, this is international understanding and relation-building in practice.
With Sarpsborg now again on the top in the national media as a prize winner in innovation, my memories go back to Gjovig and his people for taking time to "force" us to focus on innovation and entrepreneurship.
Thank you Bruce, Grand Forks and UND.
Opstad is the founder of The American College of Norway in Moss, Norway, a project he undertook in cooperation with UND. Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown appointed him an honorary citizen of Grand Forks.