FARGO, N.D. • As a fairly new executive with her chamber, Shannon Full is full of ideas and excitement about the business community.

Full started her new role as president and CEO of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce in early December, after moving to the area from Wisconsin. She was drawn to the region, in part, because of the chamber’s reputation for being an outstanding organization that is known not only locally but recognized nationally.

Full had never been to Fargo before accepting the position last year and said when she arrived, she was “pleasantly surprised at the region, everything from the diversity of industry to the diversity of cultural and dining and community aspects.”

And then she met the staff: “I was blown away by the expertise, the professionalism and the passion of our team,” she said. “I made a very good choice in coming here to Fargo.”

Since taking on her new responsibilities, those positive experiences have amplified, even during a time of social distancing. She still tries to get in front of as many as she can, and gives a nod to how much the organization that crosses state borders helps business professionals during otherwise uncertain times.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live
Newsletter signup for email alerts

That doesn’t mean everything has gone smoothly over the past several months.

“It's been a pandemic – it's been challenging,” she said. “But we've learned a lot and because we have been nimble. … We've actually seen some positivity come out of it.”

One positive she’d like to see more of is enhanced promotion of the area to attract a skilled and talented workforce.

“Everyone talks about (the area) as a hidden gem – though I wish it wasn’t so hidden,” she said. “I do think one of the initiatives that we need to get really serious about is really finding what the brand is of our region and of our state. How do we do more to attract, not only businesses, but people and talents to this region? It truly is a spectacular area of the country.”

Part of that initiative is working with businesses as well as institutions of higher learning, which the chamber already does but what Full would like to enhance.

She has had a number of meetings with area professionals in an effort to gauge the atmosphere and work currently being done in the community, as well as those areas that need attention.

“I'm really trying to establish what is the ecosystem here, what the landscape looks like, and doing an assessment of what areas are of greatest need,” she said. “I will tell you that, without a doubt, all but a small handful of companies are saying the ability or inability to attract, retain and develop talent is their number one challenge.”

The chamber and the Fargo Economic Development Corp. are trying to find additional ways to attract a talented workforce to help find iconic projects associated with “people, place and prosperity.”

One initiative to “fueling our future,” as she called it, is a collective workforce strategy to engage with K-12 schools and postsecondary educational institutions “to increase student engagement within the community.”

She calls it a “workhorse strategy that will be at the top of priority list for us to embrace and embark on.”

Full, who is not sitting on the chamber’s laurels, said her goal is also to continue to elevate the organization’s influence in the public policy realm.

“We're very active already at the state level in North Dakota and Minnesota, and then doing policy work at the local level, meaning the city and the county level,” she said. “We've got a tremendous policy team here, so we'll continue to work on business policies that affect our businesses and their ability to prosper and grow.

“One of the other key strategies we will be looking at is further enhancing and developing collaboration and strategic partnerships.”

Full said she likes to work with those businesses and organizations that have a similar vision as hers, those who want to advance the overall prosperity of the region. One of those partnerships is with North Dakota State University.

Dean Bresciani, president of NDSU, said the school has a good working relationship with the chamber and he appreciates what it does to promote and strengthen the business community.

“NDSU and the FMWFC are closely aligned in building and maintaining the workforce for the community and region,” he said. “The chamber has been wonderfully supportive of higher education in North Dakota and NDSU in particular, as they recognize our ability to draw and educate future leaders, and add richness to the area via arts and athletics and diversity of people.

“We all would be in a less prosperous and less lively community without their persistent and meaningful leadership.”

Ultimately, it takes many players to diversify and strengthen a community and the state’s workforce. Full plans to continue to analyze and enhance the chamber’s programs, including working with small and mid-sized companies that are looking for practical assistance and greater connectivity with other business leaders.

Applying lessons learned from the pandemic, she said the chamber will most likely always have a digital component moving forward, in which both in-person and virtual events and meetings will be held.

“The pandemic was really the accelerant for us to look at embracing technology,” she said. “We've always talked about it … but this forced us to really say, ‘OK, how do we run effective virtual events?’

“I would also say the value of the chamber and the community has really been elevated because the chamber has been very catalytic as it relates to recovery, resiliency, and connecting business leaders and business professionals to resources that help them weather the storm for the pandemic, all the while still doing what I would call the critical services of the chamber, which are our public policy work and our small business services. … We've actually seen some positivity come out of it.”

Andrew Weeks may be reached at 701-780-1276 or aweeks@prairiebusinessmagazine.com