A project is taking shape that could solve a growing problem that’s hindering business growth and development in the Greater Grand Forks region.

It’s called the Career Impact Academy, billed by its backers as a collaborative partnership that includes K-12 school districts, postsecondary education institutions, private-sector employers and the community in general.

If it comes to fruition, participating high school students can enroll to complete their high school diploma while also earning credits toward a college degree, or they can begin training for specific jobs in the region. Adult learners can use the program to earn degree programs that can result in new job opportunities.

The benefit is that private-sector employers also will be involved, helping develop a workforce specific to the job needs of our region. The facility also will provide space for regional employers to retrain and recertify current employees.

It isn’t unique. This model is already being used elsewhere, including at some traditional technical schools, where the needs of a community are considered and curriculums are built around them. It’s an idea that not only fosters a relationship with the local business community, but helps those businesses by providing skilled workers to fill their open jobs.

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If done correctly, it creates an endless loop of benefits: businesses help strengthen the academy, while the academy helps strengthen the community and its businesses. And so goes.

The timing is crucial. North Dakota has thousands of open jobs, yet not enough workers to fill them. In the Grand Forks region, a recent survey showed that there are no fewer than 1,700 positions that local employers could immediately fill if enough workers were available. Further, 71% of employers surveyed said worker shortages are limiting business prosperity in the region.

Will it help? We believe it will – so much that the Herald has committed $100,000 to the project. More dollars are needed, though, since it requires $10 million in location funds to qualify for a $10 million grant from the state. As of this week, more than $5 million has been raised locally. A notable addition to the pot came earlier this week from the Grand Forks County Commission, which committed $400,000.

Deadlines are approaching. In late November, the Grand Forks School Board must give its final approval; on Dec. 1, all applications (and the $10 million in local fundraising) must be complete.

Only about half of the needed local funds have been secured, and fine details are still being worked out. We specifically are anxious to see a business plan – projected revenue vs. projected expenses, for instance – but have been told the plan is not yet complete.

The state will help pay for certain portions of the project, including a portion of ongoing building expenses and staff costs.

Meanwhile, we hope it all comes together in time, since we’re confident that if the project happens, it will help ease the region’s workforce crisis.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Herald Publisher Korrie Wenzel is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. board of directors. The EDC is among the entities working to develop the Career Impact Academy project.