Cooperating beats competing

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By Steve Burian
Co-chair, Valley Prosperity Partnership

How does prosperity in the Valley look?

Your answer likely differs slightly from your neighbors’ but there are commonalities that lead our collective prosperity.

Success for the northern Red River Valley isn’t a mirror image of the southern Valley, nor should it be. However, our economic growth is threaded with common elements we can enhance more effectively when we approach them as one.

The Valley Prosperity Partnership (VPP) is addressing the areas we can impact together. We believe this is the first time in history that Valley-based private industry and higher education are collectively mobilizing to address challenges and opportunities that have the potential to redefine the Red River Valley.

While the six priorities we’ve identified intersect at various points, we are initially focusing on three:

Attracting, retaining and developing workforce is our most immediate challenge and provides significant opportunity for collaboration. We are investigating ways to expand on innovative initiatives and launch new ones that will ultimately bring more people to the region to work for companies that are continuing to grow in this robust economic time.

In the Grand Forks area, there are innovative examples like the Northern Valley Career Expo. The event introduces approximately 1,500 high school sophomores to careers available throughout northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota. Last year, 76 percent of students surveyed said the Expo increased their interest in staying in the region.

A local consortium, including The Chamber, Grand Forks Region EDC, Job Service ND, and human resource professionals, is banding together to strategize ways to enhance internship experiences, as well as identify ways to support industry efforts to build their workforce.

Innovative programs and funding models will attract students to our post-secondary programs. We need to do more to enhance workplace experiences and keep students here when they graduate.

Research is repeatedly shown to drive economic growth by fostering innovation, entrepreneurship, and job creation. We have two outstanding universities anchoring our Valley. The VPP is intent on expanding their capacity and relevancy to steer continued growth.

UND’s research in unmanned systems and energy and natural resources, as examples, are already transforming two leading industries for the state. Now is not the time to slow down, but rather to leap ahead. Investing in research programs at our universities and strengthening their ties with our region’s industries will have far-reaching, long-term impacts on the entire region.

Ensuring water security and management in the Red River Valley is a critical priority for on-going development.

Valley communities need flood protection solutions for businesses and industries to make long-term investments with certainty and to continue attracting residents. Grand Forks/East Grand Forks is fortunate to have flood protection in place. Communities including Fargo, Moorhead, Valley City, Grafton, Wahpeton, and Breckenridge need greater protection.

Conversely, a ten-year drought, which has happened historically and could realistically happen again, could have a potential $20 billion impact on the Valley’s economy. We have a clear need for Missouri River water to supplement the supply our cities and towns rely on from the Red River and its tributaries.

The VPP is a regional voice supporting the efforts of the water districts and authorities already working diligently to address water issues in the Valley.

This is a historical and pivotal time for the Red River Valley. We are working toward common goals at local, state, and federal levels to help key programs evolve and increase funding support when necessary.

There has never been a better time for us to put friendly rivalries aside and take advantage of our strengths to plan for a vibrant economic future for the entire Red River Valley.

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