By Keith Lund

If you would have asked an economic developer in 1980 how to recruit new industry and create a prosperous region for its residents, it would have involved infrastructure development; advocating for business-friendly policies at the state and local level; and ensuring a talented, skilled labor force, among other principles. Though all these principles continue to remain core to economic development, workforce recruitment and retention has risen to the top.

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We live in an era where the importance of workforce attraction has never been more essential. In North Dakota we have more than 15,000 open employment opportunities; in the Grand Forks region, 1,400. We also happen to live in a region where we have the ability to benefit from the state's chief opportunity engine: the University of North Dakota.

We need to continue to make concerted and fundamental efforts to keep UND's graduates in our region, otherwise we will miss opportunities for business recruitment and expansion because there simply is not the trained, skilled workforce needed to support it.

The University of North Dakota's administration recognizes the invaluable role they play as a partner in our efforts, working alongside community and industry leadership to ensure a 21st century workforce with crucially needed skills is not only trained, but intentionally connected to the Grand Forks region business community.

President Kennedy and Provost DiLorenzo have consistently listened to the needs of industry leaders, finding and addressing the workforce and skills gaps that could make the difference between industry growth and stagnation. It's why they have invested in new programs like cyber security to support the rapidly growing advanced data and unmanned systems sectors. It's why they've invested the Air University AU-ABC program to help thousands of airmen and airwomen achieve their bachelor's degrees right here in the region, instead of forcing them to go elsewhere.

In a Viewpoint published last Thursday in the Herald, Mayor Brown admired UND's leadership, particularly President Kennedy and Provost Tom DiLorenzo and their efforts to work alongside community leaders to sow the seeds for positive outcomes in areas where we have shared values like workforce and economic growth, and I couldn't agree with him more.

There is no doubt UND's current administration has worked tirelessly with regional leaders to not only understand the needs and identify partnership opportunities, but to make certain that when a UND graduate enters the workforce, they are equipped with the skills employers demand. Kennedy and DiLorenzo don't merely pay lip service to the One UND goal of experiential learning, they are allocating actual dollars and putting the university's money to work for our region. Last year, Provost DiLorenzo asked the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation to partner with UND's Center for Innovation to create internship opportunities that didn't exist here.

Students need hands-on experience in their chosen career fields to be competitive within their fields after graduation. Employers need a skilled and talented workforce. Provost Dilorenzo invested $35,000 to establish InternGF, which our local business community matched with an additional $35,000 in wages. We are pleased to partner with UND in 2019 to continue this programming into its second year.

Eleven new internships were established in 2018 and supported training in fields like data analysis, mechanical engineering, videography, and news reporting. No longer do we have to send our UND students to other labor markets; we can connect them to the Grand Forks business community while they are in college, strengthening the likelihood they will remain here after college.

Additionally, Provost Dilorenzo has intentionally sought ways to further connections to the community.

The university was a major investor and promoter of the Main Street Grand Forks Challenge launched by Evolve Grand Forks earlier this year.

The Challenge gives students the opportunity for social entrepreneurship, connects them to state and local leadership, and invites them to build their own vision for an even better Grand Forks region. Ten students are now carrying out projects related to clean energy, workforce development, substance abuse prevention, event creation, and New American resettlement needs.

UND's administration is strategic in its evaluation of the needs of our region. They understand the importance connecting students to hands-on learning opportunities. We have an administration that is investing in our region; the business community has responded and there is even more opportunity to leverage these partnerships for continued growth.

President Kennedy and Provost DiLorenzo, thank you for your bold leadership.

Keith Lund is president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation.