While there have been many strategies for growing North Dakota’s economy over the years, it is hard to argue that the cornerstone to any strong state economy is healthy, vibrant communities. Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative is built on three pillars: smart, efficient infrastructure; healthy, vibrant communities; and a 21st century workforce.
Improving the health and vibrancy of our communities has always been a goal of local chambers, convention and visitors bureaus, service clubs and rural electric cooperatives, and this new approach will assist those efforts by focusing state support to reinvigorate our communities. Every community has strengths and unique attributes that help differentiate it from others. A cross-collaboration team of state agencies – focused on the healthy, vibrant communities pillar – is working to help activate downtown cores, which are a key asset in attracting and retaining a 21st century workforce.
What does healthy and vibrant look like? That answer will vary greatly as every community has its own unique assets. It may be a community that offers a variety of entertainment and recreation opportunities for residents of all ages year-round, as well as the amenities that residents want in their hometown. This can be as basic as having a great coffee shop that serves as a gathering spot, a variety of events and festivals, or perhaps accessible health care and access to the great outdoors. When looking at livability factors, there are many categories, ranging from arts, culture, parks and recreation, community engagement and offerings, to safety, health and wellness services.
One of the first steps communities can take is to involve youth in conversations and community development projects. Engaging youth in these efforts is key to creating communities where they want to live, and be involved long term. Youth are a great resource for fresh ideas and energy.
Currently, the work has been divided into two areas across the healthy, vibrant pillar: health and wellness, and experiences. Health and wellness is focusing on improving the health and well-being of community members by assisting with education, and development of a toolkit to begin community conversations. Experiences is working to broaden the “extracurricular” activities offered to help people have more fun and stay in love with their communities.
Think about the last time you took a road trip. What enticed you to stop along the way? Great antique shopping, a highly acclaimed food truck, the freshest farmers market or the art gallery you heard had one-of-a-kinds? All of these same experiences that attract visitors also attract and retain new residents. They are the elements that help us differentiate and sustain healthy, vibrant communities that will attract a workforce to help our state continue to grow.
Sara Otte Coleman is the N.D. Tourism director with the N.D. Department of Commerce.