When North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum visited the 701 Coworking space in downtown Grand Forks last January, he had two questions for the young people in attendance:
What do you do for fun? Why don’t you enjoy the opportunities that exist?
Collin Hanson, executive director of Evolve Grand Forks and one of those young people, began to realize those weren’t the right questions for Grand Forks.
“Rather than ‘what do you do for fun,’ how can we encourage you to do what you want to do,” Hanson said. “Instead of, ‘why don’t you take advantage of existing opportunities,’ how do we empower you to create the community that you want to live and work in?”
His answer, through a unique partnership with UND, is the Main Street GF Challenge. Developed through a web of public and private partners, the challenge addresses the tenants of Burgum’s Main Street Initiative: healthy, vibrant communities; smart, efficient infrastructure; and a 21st-century workforce.
Hanson sees the project as a way to engage younger demographics in civic service. The challenge calls upon high school and college-aged students to pitch innovative ideas that will build a future-ready Grand Forks. Hanson says he’s been receiving a steady amount of applications for what amounts to $50,000 in total prizes.
And word of what’s going on in Grand Forks is starting to spread to other college towns. Community innovators in Spokane, Wash., home to Gonzaga University, are very interested in how Grand Forks is empowering young people to make a difference.