Photos by J. Alan Paul Photography
This interview was conducted toward the end of 2017.
There’s a lot of opportunity and uncertainty in Fargo-Moorhead’s future. It’s a good thing that there are smart, passionate and eager people working to solve some of the area’s biggest problems. While these people may be at the forefront of the discussions, it is not their responsibility to solve all of our problems. As a community, we need to all step forward. So, here’s what they have to think about the future of our community, what can you do to make our region the best place to live?
In 2018, what does the Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo area look like?
Charley Johnson: In Downtown Fargo, City Hall is going to open in April 2018. We’ll tear down the old city hall and that quad will start to take some sort of shape. I think Downtown will continue to evolve in Fargo.
In Moorhead, I think you’re going to see a lot of progress as well. Construction is already underway at the 8th and Main project, which is a huge improvement for that city – our city. It’s going to be the corporate home of Eventide and it’s a mixed-use building, which everyone loves in this day and age because it livens up the block. It’s a very important intersection in Moorhead so it’s going to be wonderful to have some new life there with some retail.
West Fargo has a number of projects underway too. I think you’re going to see there’s no end to development around here in all three of our cities.
Jim Parsons: The revitalization of Sheyenne Street. I’ve been a longtime resident of West Fargo and Sheyenne Street was the hub back in the day. That’s their focus to revitalize that area. You’ve got that high rise that’s going to expand out. It’ll go from deterioration to prosperity along with the convention center they’re going to build.
Charley Johnson: West Fargo’s plans for a convention and visitor’s space at the fairground, I think it’s moving forward.
Everybody knows about developments happening in Fargo, but back to Moorhead, there’s also the development of the new downtown business association there. I think you’ll see a great cooperative effort of the EDA, which I’m part of, and that new business organization and the Moorhead Business Association, which represents businesses all over the city. There’s going to be a real strong push to liven up downtown Moorhead, especially, I hope, with how it links in with Downtown Fargo.
I don’t know when the redevelopment of the Mid-America Steel site is going to happen. It’s still a year or two away I suspect because they have to move. Once that’s redeveloped, I see that as a huge key to connecting the two downtowns. Whatever’s in there, assuming it’s mixed-use, you walk out of that main level of that building on what is NP and then leads into Center Avenue, I think you’re just as close to Broadway as you are to the old FM Hotel Building, which is the US Bank building by the Moorhead Center Mall. I think that’s a real key.
Bruce Grubb: I’m here representing the City of Fargo, but from Fargo’s perspective, it’s not all about Downtown. However, one of the things that they identified in there as one of Downtown’s biggest opportunities, as Charley said, was that Mid-America Steel operation being relocated to the Northside industrial park. There’s a little gem sitting in there because of its location. There are a lot of opportunities to closer connect the cities of Fargo and Moorhead.
Andy Maus: I think if you could summarize where Fargo is in 2018 and beyond, I think it’s going to be marked by continued growth. That seems to be what we’re talking about. Growth downtown. West Fargo is growing tremendously. As Charley said, Moorhead sometimes doesn’t get the attention it deserves for its growth.
Kristi Huber: I’m excited for the schools as well. We’re at a cusp of leadership change. For the schools, I think our leaders have done an extraordinary job of getting us in a position to take the next step with programs that they’ve brought into schools, looking into the needs of the students with the student wellness facilitators work that’s being done there. They are our future and future in the workforce for our community as well.
Susan Jarvis: From the healthcare standpoint, you’ll see continued growth from us. You’ll see additional things taking place on the new campus and expansion of services. Just in response to the growth that we’re seeing in the community to meet those needs.
Two really big things coming up is the expansion of the South University campus for the orthopedic center of excellence. We’re really consolidating our orthopedic services to that campus and we have an orthopedic residency starting next year. We’re really excited about getting everything ortho to that campus.
At the downtown campus, we’re in the beginning stages of an expansion of the Roger Maris Cancer Center. Again, just an extension of services, providers and space that we’re going to be able to use now that we’ve vacated a good bit of the space at the Broadway Medical Center.
Our goal at the new medical center is to get a medical office building out there. We’ve got a really small clinic out there. It’s basically all hospital. The next part of our strategic plan is to move most of our downtown clinics out to the new medical center, with the exception of oncology and some of the other clinics.
Tim Beaton: I have a question, rather than an answer to that. When do we start looking at downtown as no longer downtown but actually North Fargo where the center of the population has moved to?
Going to the city of Fargo, how far west and south does the city of Fargo go and where is West Fargo? Moorhead has a containment of their growth. I grew up here and I watched the sprawl go all the way down the river to the far end. The question is, when does the infrastructure create such a problem that Fargo can no longer go farther south?
Bruce Grubb: From Fargo’s perspective, growth is good. It’s like former NDSU coach Don Morton said about the Bison each week, you either get better or you get worse. You don’t stay the same. Smart growth is important though. We’ve probably made some not real great decisions with extreme extension of infrastructure and services to people. We’re trying to learn from our mistakes.
Obviously, one of the biggest issues on our plate in 2018 is permanent flood protection. Everybody knows that. The two governors are meeting right now trying to come up with a permanent flood protection solution. That will dictate our future in a lot of ways. I think that’s obvious to everybody. We’re really hopeful.
If the word of 2018 is growth, and that’s apparently been the word of the last couple years, my question is, how are we doing with the workforce problem?
Kristi Huber: I think if you want another word, collaboration is going to be the key to solving some of the biggest challenges. We’re excited about the idea of making sure we’re providing the right opportunity to the right individual at the right time. One of the things that we have been working on is a collaboration with M State and Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership. M State has welding training and Lakes and Prairies has people who need to access the training and what was missing was the case management support, which United Way was able to support. We are identifying the gaps and putting resources to those gaps.
Tim Beaton: There’s a great deal of emphasis in terms of what I look at as the upper 55 percent of the jobs that are here and filling them and educating these people. What we’re missing is that 45 percent of those jobs that pay very low wages. We simply don’t have enough people to fill those jobs.
The question is, where are they going to come from and who has the will to make that happen? As part of that, it’s the childcare costs and the lack of childcare and the housing costs and transportation costs, how are we going to attract people to come and fill the jobs? Anyone has been in a restaurant, grocery store, you name it and there’s a lack of staff there to take care of you.
Andy Maus: I’ve been to so many meetings and discussions over the years where we’ve identified that there’s a workforce gap in Fargo. The gap has been well established. When do we actually talk about investing in Fargo to fill that gap? We know the jobs are there. The job creators are doing their job. How are we going to create the kind of Fargo that is going to attract people to want to live here?
People are choosing where they’re going to live. They’re working there but they’re choosing where they want to live. How are we going to do that? I feel like other people are doing a better job of telling Fargo’s story than we are. We have the ‘Boston Globe’, ‘Midwestern Living’, ‘LA Times’ coming to Fargo. ‘Oh, it’s actually really creative and hip.’ As if their interaction with Fargo is only through the TV show and movie – this desolate place where everybody puts each other in woodchippers. When do we actually begin to embrace the fact that it’s, in my view, going to be arts and culture that drives this workforce gap issue? It’s going to create a lot more investment, but before we invest, it’s going to create the realization that’s what Fargo is.
Kristi Huber: I think a big part of that Andy is that we need to be a welcoming community. Are we maximizing the people we have in the community and do they have the skills or do they need the skills in order to fill those workforce gaps? I think you’re right. The arts do play a part in that overall.
Andy Maus: We have more jobs than people. We need to attract more people.
Kristi Huber: Absolutely. We need to be a community that welcomes everyone.
Charley Johnson: I think the one thing I discovered being a member of the workforce collaborative is that it’s a daunting task to try and solve this problem. We are not the only ones. Minneapolis-St. Paul is going through the same thing. Everyone is going through the same problem. There aren’t enough workers, especially in our upper midwest cities, that can fill those jobs.
The key is, how do we convince them this is a great place to live? Arts and culture? I’m 100 percent with you. I wish we could find some sort of way to find some sort of taxing mechanism that we could support the Arts Partnership and all of the arts to bump that budget. We know it pays off. Our friend Dayna Del Val always talks about what a great place Des Moines is. They have a seven percent lodging tax and I think the arts group gets one and a half of those seven pennies. That’s a huge amount of money in a town like that.
I’m fully supportive of a performing arts center. I think that’s going to really help bring more of that culture to the forefront. I fully support the public art plan. I think we need to convince the businesses in this community to accept the fact that arts and culture are as important to them as they are to those of us who are sitting at this table. That’s how they’re going to fill those jobs.
“I think everything revolves around the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo region. Whatever gets constructed or built in one of those cities is generally good all for all three of us.”
There’s maybe one other tiny little thing: they might need to pay a little more. I’m the one who gets to say that. I think that’s one of the things we discovered in the workforce study, especially if you’re talking about the 45 percent of the jobs, which are entry level. Nobody can live on $13/hour, especially if they have a family with childcare, single mothers.
Tim Beaton: You look at it as the shortage of childcare, affordable housing, we can probably fix several of those things. That still doesn’t guarantee that we can bring people in from someplace. They’re not going to come in busloads from Denver or Omaha because they want to earn $13/hour. Somehow or other, there has to be an influx of folks from someplace else. We’ve danced around this issue and we continue to dance around this issue. The history of the United States is that folks come from someplace else and they take less than stellar jobs but they advance and they become part of whatever else it is.
The Johnsons and Beatons, at some point in time, we were immigrants. I think the guy’s name was Jim Paulson. He’s an economist that’s brought in every year. He was asked the question a couple of years ago about how to solve the workforce issue in America. He said, ‘There’s only one way to do it and that’s to reopen Ellis Island. We are not having enough kids here to populate the jobs. We’re doing a great job of building jobs, contrary to what we thought 30 years ago, but we’re not having enough kids to fill those jobs.’
I’m curious to hear your thoughts, Susan. Staffing has to be one of Sanford’s biggest struggles.
Susan Jarvis: Yeah. I think Kristi said the second word that is important as we work on the workforce issues and that’s collaboration. At Sanford, to open the new medical center, we had to hire 600 new staff. Most of those were lower paying positions. We have targeted other areas of the country. We’ve gone out and recruited in other areas of the country.
Kristi Huber: One of the things with the workforce collaborative that we have at M State and Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership is where Lakes and Prairies Community Action Partnership provides a case manager who helps assist individuals who may not have the skills in our community right now but they want to be a CNA. We knew there was a need for that. It’s been so exciting because, beyond getting the CNA classes and skills, they have built a community with their cohort and to see that community building is huge. It was social capital that they didn’t have prior to going into that program. Also, it’s solving the needs of one of our biggest medical employers in the community.
How do we look at the gaps differently? And how do we look at partners that we may haven’t tapped into to say, ‘All options are on the table. We’ve got the pieces. It’s about either putting the resources – like this case manager that works directly with the individuals. It’s incredible because some of the individuals’ biggest challenges are getting to class. The case manager will be their cheerleader so they make it through the program and now that they have graduated and passed their test, there’s a whole new opportunity beyond a $10 an hour job and there’s a career path.
Tim Beaton: Something we haven’t tapped into as we talk about this is that money is the mother’s milk of making all this happen. If you take a look at all the banks and brokerage companies throughout the community, this is an extremely wealthy community. Somehow, there has to be the will of the institutions and the individuals who are involved in that to make the change. We talk collaboration, creativity and I would throw will as being the third thing that has to take place in this community.
Andy Maus: Are there cities or communities like Fargo in the U.S. that are well-known for being welcoming of others and as places of opportunity?
Susan Jarvis: We looked at some of that – and it’s been a couple of years now – with the attract subgroup. There were a few – I’d have to go back and look at what we looked at. We came up with the idea of the clearinghouse of what you’re working on. What we found, at Sanford, is that people come into the community, they don’t know what the community has to offer. Say they’re interested in the arts, where do they go to find that?
Charley Johnson: There is finally a website under construction after the first of the year.
Kristi Huber: It’s a very wide platform. There’s a lot of information. I think part of it is when you talk about attracting other people, it’s about all of our community members sending out the link, sharing this and being active in sharing this. How do we each feel ownership of how we need to take that step and invite others?
Charley Johnson: A website is no good if people don’t share it and know about it. We go through that discussion all the time at the CVB because we’re always trying to distribute all this information we have. How do we distribute them? If videos just sit and live on YouTube and nobody knows exactly where to find them. Now we have to distribute that.
Jim Parsons: We’ve got 30,000 college students. Those are the ones that we need to make it happen. They’re the ones that will share because they’re not from here.
We have our leadership class from last year. There are seven groups that put things together. One of them was called Experience Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo where they’re trying to tap into the university college students. It’s starting small to get the college students to understand Fargo-Moorhead and the business community and keep them here. What they found out is that the majority of times, they’re stuck in the university system. They got their own community but they don’t understand the broader side of the community.
Kristi Huber: The thing I’m hearing over and over from employers is that when they have their younger workforce who are coming in and they’re interviewing them, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but we’ve hired some younger individuals and they want to interview you and they want to know what does your organization do to engage in the community. What does your company do to support volunteerism and giving back? That’s a part of what makes them want to be part of a community.
We started an Emerging Leaders program, which people from the community can self-select in. Anybody who’s around the age of 40, to be able to give them an opportunity to network, but also beyond networking, serve together. Last year, we had more than 400 people who signed up. This year, we’re expecting close to 700.
This is a movement within the community. I think a big piece that will build community and work towards that welcomingness. People want to be a part of something. I hear this over and over again. How do I get involved? Where do I get involved? This is a hard community to break into.
Andy Maus: If we’re relying on two organizations – the Chamber and the CVB – to share the story of everything that happens in Fargo, then we’re doing it wrong. It’s all of our responsibility.
Kristi Huber: It’s not just one organization at a time. The big issues are not going to happen with one organization doing something for it. It is going to be multiple organizations, multiple leaders, multiple people who are the doers coming together to make it happen. It’s more complex than just listing them out. Then you get the duplication of efforts across all the different areas. That’s why this collaboration piece is crucial.
Andy Maus: I have another Tim Beaton question and that is what differentiates Fargo from other smaller mid-size cities in the U.S.? There could be a key there. We have a diversified economy so it’s not like we’re Rochester, Minnesota. We have a great health care system but we also have great lots of other stuff. It’s more complicated but it also may help with the key as far as how we communicate our great city.
Tim Beaton: Part of it, I think, is there are 30,000 students who are in this town. This is a vibrant community as a result of that. Having lived in some other places that don’t have a college in the town, there’s an entirely different mentality here about, “Let’s make it happen.” You see it, you feel it. Whether that’s football at NDSU, theatre at Concordia and MSUM, it’s all there. There’s a different atmosphere and I think that’s a sellable point for this community. Come here and be young.
That is a step-up. “You want to move to a community where you can grow with the community, here’s your chance?”
Andy Maus: We do have youth. The youth of Fargo is a unique trait.
Jim Parsons: Which has changed. It wasn’t that way. That was the worry that we were aging out and we wouldn’t have enough people.
Susan Jarvis: Our easiest recruitment for physician positions is people who grew up here, went off to medical school and come back because they want to raise their families here.
Charley Johnson: I think one of the keys to the workforce problem is tapping into the colleges and the alumni basis who are 10-15 years out and saying, “Look at the opportunities back here. It’s not the same when you were here.”
Where are we growing, how are we growing and are we growing in the right direction? How is the city is thinking about everything that will be happening with technology, including automation, the future of the automobile and how is that factoring into the way the city is growing?
Bruce Grubb: We have our sights on the introduction of autonomous vehicles and transportation already. Right now, there’s an effort to attract the drone industry to the Fargo-Grand Forks corridor, whether it’s R&D, manufacturing. There’s a big opportunity there. This past summer at the Civic Center downtown, we hosted TEDx. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to one of those but it’s really interesting entrepreneurial thinkers there. And the first ever Drone Focus Conference, we got Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Transportation at the national level.
From an infrastructure standpoint, I’m an engineer by trade. I deal with sewer and water pipes and that kind of stuff. I think we positioned ourselves for whatever permanent flood protection can deliver. You’ve probably heard that we’ve started to regionalize and partnered up with West Fargo, which was a land-breaking idea that Fargo and West Fargo can work together.
I think that whole concept of regional assets to share and use is such a mind shift of our little area. We’re even speaking with the City of Moorhead. They’re a separate state and their own separate deal. We worry about flooding but the drought is as big as a flood to me as an engineer. Who knows? We might be going into a real dry cycle. We’ve done all sorts of studies that have shown that the Red River Valley is in big time trouble if a Dirty 30s type drought comes back.
We’re working on something called the Red River Valley Water Supply Project to get the Missouri River water over here. We’re trying to partner with Moorhead because they’re on the Red River as well. Water is life. I think we’ve positioned ourselves well from an infrastructure standpoint. I’m not bragging here, but we’re in a really good place to deal with growth, deal with higher density type land uses. All those types of things. We have a $120 million water treatment plant expansion that we’re just completing now. Next year, we’ll be starting a wastewater expansion project. Guess what? We regionalized with West Fargo and Horace and we’re speaking with Mapleton and Kindred right now.
Kristi Huber: Thank you, Bruce. I never thought of water treatment as cool but now I do.
Bruce Grubb: The only way the regionalization is going to work is it has to be good for everybody participating in the region.
Charley Johnson: I think everything revolves around the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo region. Whatever gets constructed or built in one of those cities is generally good all for all three of us. I was just at the opening event of the Hulbert Aquatic Center in West Fargo. That’s a fabulous world-class facility that’s going to allow events to come here that would never have dreamt of coming here before. It’s an Olympic swimming pool for swimming and diving. It’s probably one of the fastest pools in the world because of its design and it has seating for 1,100 people.
Scheels Arena was the same way. All of these things that there’s sometimes controversy surrounding them, my view on that is, ‘Get over it!’ Look at what a gem you have in this community with that Scheels Arena, especially now that there are two sheets of ice. What world would you have been told to go away to if 15 years ago, you said, ‘Someday, the Division I West Regional Hockey Championships will be held in Fargo.’ Everyone would have said you’re kidding. We don’t have a hockey team or an arena.
Bluestem in Moorhead, another fabulous gem that had controversy surrounding it. Stop carping about it and get with the program. What a great thing it was when they finally struck a deal with Jade Presents and now there are concerts in there sometimes twice a week.
Sports, arts and cultures, we have all these great gems. Stop thinking about it in terms of Moorhead and Fargo, every city has something. I just named three different things in three different cities. These are fabulous things and people should understand that this is a regional approach. They all bring people to our cities.
Jim Parsons: That comes back to West Fargo-Fargo, Moorhead-Fargo, whatever. There’s a group of people pitted against each other. Now that’s changed. It’s the dynamics of people. I look at West Fargo and the controversy over the schools. I’m a Packer. I went to school there. How many times did the new school get shut down just because they didn’t want to lose their identity? Who suffered? It was 800 plus kids. What took the change was the new people that moved here because of the development.
What do you want to say to the community and what do you want them to act on in 2018?
Charley Johnson: I think there’s way more collaboration going on in this community that people don’t understand. That’s one of the things I would like to tell people. Get involved because there is tremendous collaboration happening in this community and people should engage with that. People should take an interest in how their community grows. Think in terms of the fact that progress is important for every community. We’re not looking to become Detroit, Michigan, or even Minneapolis-St. Paul, but progress is important to a community to keep it healthy. People should get involved in that and become ambassadors for your own community. At the very least, help spread the word when people ask you. Don’t say there’s nothing to do here. Say, this is a great place to live and if I don’t know what to do, I bet I can help you find it.
Kristi Huber: Going back to being more welcoming, is that each year in November, we do United Acts of Kindness. It’s not meant just to be about promoting United Way. It’s meant to be a tool for the community that for one day, everybody keeps top of mind how important it is to do something for somebody else, regardless of what they would get back to them. It’s about building community and being welcoming through that. How do we take that and make United Acts of Kindness every day? How do we make that as part of the norm? The true differentiator that we can provide to people who move to our community and will draw more people is the strength and generosity of our community and the willingness to be a great neighbor for each other.
Andy Maus: I think great cities are built on people who are really invested and care about that city. My call to action would be to participate in something, whatever that is. My wife and I have two boys and we would go to the humane society and just play with the animals. We love animals. It’s therapeutic but it’s also part of our community, it’s something we can do. I think the more activated people are, the more long-term investment you see in cities.
Bruce Grubb: As the local government employee, most of what I hear about is what’s wrong with our community. That’s human nature. I happen to know because I also live here that there’s far more good than there is wrong. I would ask your readers in 2018 to take the time to talk to somebody about the good going on here. There’s all this going on but nobody’s talking about it.
Susan Jarvis: I would like to tell people that the winters aren’t as bad as people think. Quit complaining about the winters because they’re really fun. I would also ask people to take a step back and really appreciate what we have here and share it.
Jim Parsons: Develop a passion. Dayna (Del Val of the Arts Partnership) has a passion. You hear her talking about it all the time. She’s developed a passion for what she does and she wants to make a difference in the community. That’s the only way that something is going to happen. You have to have a passion and then follow through on it. We start 20 different things and we don’t follow through on them because we maybe lose the passion. Continue the passion.
Tim Beaton: Get involved and whether that involvement is to support something that you really enjoy and it’s marvelous for this community–the arts, theatre. Or, if you sense that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed, get involved. Don’t stand back and just be a spectator to that. Become part of it.
*This article originally appeared in Fargo By Fargo.