OUR OPINION: A sharp observer's welcome return to GF
"Too many hats for not enough heads." That's one of the catch phrases that sticks in the mind from Ned Hill's first visit to Grand Forks in 2001. It described Grand Forks and East Grand Forks' failure to recruit enough new leaders to step into co...
"Too many hats for not enough heads."
That's one of the catch phrases that sticks in the mind from Ned Hill's first visit to Grand Forks in 2001. It described Grand Forks and East Grand Forks' failure to recruit enough new leaders to step into committee memberships and other top posts.
Another is, "Remember Jimmy Durante's nose" -- Durante being the entertainer who won fame in part by playfully calling attention to his most noticeable feature: his schnozolla.
In like manner, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks should celebrate our own "weaknesses," such as our long winters, Hill suggested.
Good advice then, good advice now. Have Grand Forks and East Grand Forks learned those lessons?
We're about to find out. Hill -- a consultant and professor of economic development at Cleveland State University -- is back in town, this time to deliver the keynote address at today's annual meeting of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.
The meeting will be held at the Alerus Center beginning at 4 p.m.
In 2001, Hill visited the Grand Cities as part of a Knight Foundation study on the cities' economic development strengths and weaknesses. The strengths he found (which included our flood recovery successes, which were notable even then; our good schools, fine university, superb work force and so on) -- and the weaknesses (such as poor cooperation between Grand Forks and East Grand Forks and a seeming aversion to entrepreneurial risk) were much talked about at the time and since.
So, what's the current scorecard?
In our view, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks have come through the past decade in reasonably good shape. The cities advanced on some of the items Hill mentioned, kept the "status quo" on others -- and maybe progressed in some unexpected ways.
Progress on the Grand Forks-East Grand Forks cooperation front would include merger of the cities' chambers of commerce. The Greenway is another impressive feat. For all intents and purposes, it's a "bi-state park" with beautifully parallel networks of bike trails, green space and recreational areas.
The local tolerance for "entrepreneurial risk" also seems to have improved. Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, noticed this as recently as Tuesday, when he visited Crookston and Grand Forks.
UND's Center for Innovation now ranks as the eighth-best undergraduate program of its kind in the country, Karlgaard noted on his blog. And "this morning at the Grand Forks Hilton Garden Court, which is connected by closed walkways to UND's Center for Innovation, I heard Irish accents and Norwegian accents, and I saw two Southeast Asians working on a presentation.
"An American urban coast dweller looks at Grand Forks and sees the sticks," Karlgaard wrote. "An Indian or Irishman sees opportunity. It all happens virtually, too. ... Risk capital is now figuring out how to invest in heartland start-ups."
Notably, one of the region's most promising growth areas arose from a synergy that included not only Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, but also the U.S. Air Force and North Dakota's congressional delegation: Grand Forks Air Force Base's new focus on unmanned aerial vehicles.
The coming of UAVs -- the aviation industry's fastest growing sector -- means exciting things, not only for the base but also for UND. As soon as the base won a UAV mission, UND got specialized UAV training and research programs underway.
Today in Dickinson, N.D., the university formally will ask the State Board of Higher Education for a new major in operating unmanned aerial vehicles. It'll be one of the first such majors in the country and is another step toward making Grand Forks a national center of UAVs.
All this and a steady housing market, too: Clearly, Grand Forks and East Grand Forks have done pretty well since Hill's last visit. We welcome this creative thinker back to Grand Forks and look forward to hearing what he has to say.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald