Mayor Michael R. Brown presented his 18th State of the City address to a sold out in-person audience and to online viewers on Friday, February 21, 2020 in an event is co-hosted by the Chamber of Grand Forks and East Grand Forks.
The Mayor presented on the theme “This Place”, meaning Grand Forks is unique in its history, in its strengths, in its character and in its challenges.
“Grand Forks is solid and resilient to its core,” said Mayor Brown, “and with bold actions will flourish in the 21st century economy.”
Brown provided an update on what he dubbed last year, the “Billion Dollar Boom” of construction over five years with more than $329 million already in progress.
Brown set a vision for Grand Forks to be the “growth center for the digital innovation economy” focusing on recruiting and nurturing high tech startups in the “intelligent technology” sector of data science, artificial intelligence, and cyber security.
Calling for a tech campus in the heart of the city, Brown painted a picture of high tech workers and a cluster of companies inhabiting the downtown area where new housing, offices with “upload ready” infrastructure and amenities like a grocery store, green spaces, and restaurants attracted and retained workforce.
With a continued focus on UND, Brown said the relationship has never been better. He noted several workforce, student experience and applied research efforts underway and reiterated the quest for Grand Forks to be a recognized Top 10 “College Town”.
Brown also outlined several challenges and initiatives setting a goal to improve community health rankings with a Live Well Grand Forks initiative and a Destination City 3.0 initiative to respond to the evolving retail sector reflective of the changing national retail economy.
Brown noted Grand Forks County was ranked 21 out of 49 in North Dakota counties for overall health outcomes and set a five-year goal to climb to the top 5 healthiest counties . “We can do better,” Brown said, “and must do so in a holistic way that achieves the optimal level of health through a “Health In All Policies” approach”.
Brown’s Destination City 3.0 is rooted in the work, including market data, of the Regional Market Capture Committee. He outlined key steps the City would lead with in the new “experiential economy” including realigning staff for a Business Concierge service, supporting a Shop Local, Attend Local campaign led by the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, and called for a Chamber of Commerce-led effort to develop new “differentiators” or unique attractions.
“To begin, we will remove bureaucratic obstacles for new and expanding ventures,” Brown said of the City’s role to assist business development. “I have asked our City Administrator to realign our community development staff to this end and prioritize what Barry Wilfarht would call a Business Concierge service.”
On the Shop Local, Attend Local campaign, Brown focused on the role of Grand Forks residents: “Let me be clear: Every one of us has the opportunity every single day to support a local business.”