An Update From Fueling Our Future

Written by: Brady Drake

In May 2019, the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation announced a joint venture called Fueling our Future (FOF) to “provide a platform for regional leaders to convene, identify, understand, discuss and invest in macro-economic and community-based initiatives that will have lasting regional impacts.” Now, in its fourth year, the initiative’s governance board has some critical information and insights to consider, and some important decisions to make for the next phase of the long-term project.

In September, the executive committee, which includes:

  • Judd Graham, Dacotah Bank (Chair)
  • Peter Stenehjem, First International Bank (Vice Chair)
  • Shannon Full, The Chamber (Secretary)
  • Joe Raso, Greater Fargo Moorhead EDC (Treasurer)
  • Chad Flanagan, Eide Bailly LLP (Member at Large)

Spent time reviewing a recently released Master Talent Plan that was produced by Ted Abernathy and Casey Steinbacher with Economic Leadership, a nationally recognized economic development consulting firm, in order to determine a strategic action agenda to improve the quality and quantity of the Fargo-Moorhead region’s greatest challenge— workforce development. In the coming months, the board will use this report, feedback from other community leaders, their own knowledge of the area and a host of other resources to determine the future of the region, including future programming and areas for investment within the workforce and other critical development areas.

20 Suggested Strategic Actions From the Report

*The full report can be found at

Note: These are the suggested action items provided by the organization Economic Leadership, but may not be the action items the Fueling Our Future initiative will necessarily be implementing. This is, instead, a highlevel look at the recommendations the Fueling Our Future team will take into consideration when putting together aspects of their Fueling Our Future 2.0 action plan, which will be released toward the end of 2022 and early 2023.

Goal One

Develop and fund a systematic approach to align workforce efforts region wide.

  1. Aggressively promote Ignite FMWF ( and other partner tools to drive regional collaboration and workforce program alignment.
  1. Create contractual agreements between Fueling Our Future, the EDC and The Chamber, and letters of agreements between all other institutional partners, detailing their commitments and their expectations of each other. (In the interim between the start of this plan and the Fueling Our Future 2.0 completion, retain a project manager to maintain momentum.)
  1. Conduct a Fueling Our Future campaign to provide 5 years of commitments to the workforce agenda.
  1. Pursue a dedicated source of public sector funding, like the Job Development Authority model in Cass County and Joint Powers Agreement model in Clay County, to ensure a consistent investment in workforce development and job growth that leverages private investment.
  1. Create an internal communication plan for Fueling Our Future to keep partners and investors informed and engaged.
  1. Adopt a Collective Impact Model with Fueling Our Future designated as the backbone organization.
  • Create a dashboard of regional workforce indicators and plan metrics including target goals for success.
  • Assign lead responsibilities for each of the recommendations.
  • Communicate progress through regular partner meetings no less often than quarterly in the first year. The backbone organization would be responsible for an email each month with news and progress. Hold a regional workforce summit each fall to share successes, the next year’s top goals and what you need from attendees.
  • The designated backbone organization would be responsible for engaging new members, securing needed financial commitments, and maintaining focus and momentum.

The Fueling Our Future Governance Board
Judd Graham, Dacotah Bank (Chair)
Peter Stenehjem, First International Bank & Trust (Vice Chair)
Shannon Full, the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber (Secretary)
Joe Raso, Greater Fargo Moorhead EDC (Treasurer)
Bernie Dardis, City of West Fargo
Chad Flanagan, Eide Bailly
Jusin Forde, Midco
Al Hurley, Essentia Health
Tim Mahoney, City of Fargo
Tiffany Lawrence, Sanford Health
Taya Spelhaug, Microsoft
Steve Swiontek, Gate City Bank

Goal Two

Expand and Retain the Regional Labor Pool

  1. Enhance Support for, FM Welcome Party and Campus FM.
  1. Create a community acclimation program with concierge services for regional employers that includes a dedicated staff position to engage and connect businesses with fewer than 200 employees to workforce services with ongoing support.
  1. Actively engage the region’s five colleges and universities in collaborative recruitment and retention initiatives that leverage their assets as part of an aligned regional workforce strategy.
  1. Refine the branding message by conducting a social media audit to provide a review of what both locals and others are posting about the region on digital platforms and utilize it to deliver more strategic messaging and engagement of key influencers.
  1. Build on the recent collaborative workforce campaign to build awareness in the Minneapolis-St Paul Region through a two-year campaign. Investigate Chicago and other Midwestern metros as additional targets.
  1. Convene Fueling our Future and related stakeholders to assess and possibly invest in programs to scale the regional capacity to integrate immigrants and previouslyincarcerated individuals into the workforce.
  1. Support the development of specific policy and program strategies to elevate and address workforce solutions at the State legislative level in North Dakota and Minnesota. Prepare an annual legislative agenda.
  1. Support the North Dakota and Minnesota State Chamber efforts to modify childcare rules and regulations to encourage additional childcare capacity.

Goal Three

Prime the Workforce Pipeline

  1. Continue support for the Cass County Career Innovation Center and the Moorhead Career Academy.
  1. Integrate the Ignite FMWF Components into the overall K-12 engagement strategy
  1. Work with all the school systems to create a guide of all CTE offerings in the region and widely distribute to businesses and parents of students.

Goal Four

Enhance and Match Adult Skills

  1. Continue support for Emerging Digital Academy with three cohorts per year of immersive coding bootcamp.
  1. Integrate the Ignite FMWF Components into the overall skills development strategies including online training opportunities and resume building.
  1. Explore designating an intermediary organization to support private apprenticeship growth in technology, healthcare and construction trades.

Initiatives Developed and Supported by FOF so Far

  • Ignite FMWF – a systematic workforce initiative constructed through regional collaborative relationship development supported by a strong robust technology platform.
  • Building Inclusive and Equitable Workplaces – a free six part educational video series put on by The Chamber and hosted by Kira Kimball which was designed to help bridge gaps in the workplace.
  • Campus FM – an initiative focused on student engagement with a goal of retaining more college students in our metro.
  • Career Workforce Academies – FOF provided support for both the Moorhead Career Academy and the Cass County Career Academy, which are two career and technical training centers to provide career exploration and training for some of the region’s most in-demand careers.
  • Emerging Digital Academy – an immersive 20-week course teaching the concepts of coding. It is North Dakota’s only immersive coding bootcamp.
  • Document-Ready Sites – helped establish two “documentready sites” where much of the planning, zoning, surveying, title work, environmental studies and other necessary steps for opening an office can be proactively completed. This was done in order to make it easier for businesses to discover and develop in our region.
  • Workforce Exposure Initiatives – started the intern development series “Building Successful Internship Programs,” a training series offered to businesses to start to grow or improve their internship programs.

Q&A With the FOF Leaders on the 20 Suggested Strategic Actions

I noticed in the investor report that an objective was set to create a campaign to improve public perception of the initiative. What are some of the misconceptions about the program you’d like to clear up?

This is a young partnership between The Chamber and EDC and over half of its existence we were going through COVID. Some people may not know about the many initiatives we have developed and supported. So using our recent investor report to share our progress in these areas is important. It also shows the importance of collaboration between the region’s two largest business development organizations.

-Joe Raso, President & CEO, Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation

Could you give our readers a little more insight into how the 20 action items were created?

The consultants we worked with have an incredible amount of experience in developing reports similar to the workforce and talent strategy they developed for our region.

To expand our labor pool, or those who are working within our community, we can either (1) attract more people to live in our region or (2) help people who have left the labor pool to re-engage in it and bring them back. From this, there are additional focuses, which the consultants outlined via these 5 points: Growing the labor pool can be achieved in 5 ways: (1) attracting more working age adults to move to the region than move away, (2) capturing more graduating students to live and work in the region, (3) aggressively promoting the region for international immigration, (4) engaging more of the people living in the community to join the labor force (mothers, older ex-workers, transitioning parolees, disengaged youth) and (5) as a long-term strategy, having more children that grow up and stay local.

-Peter Stenehjem, President, First International Bank & Trust

How can businesses get involved?

There are numerous ways for businesses to get involved. Leaders can find more information on the Fueling Our Future outcomes, initiatives and future direction on the website, fuelingourfuture. net. In addition, if companies are interested in growing and sustaining their talent pipeline, they can visit the website where businesses can create a simple profile, post jobs and internships and see a list of all of the skill-based volunteer opportunities that currently exist. These include opportunities such as speaking in a classroom or to a group of job seekers, providing a job shadow or internship, mentoring a student or job seeker and sitting on an advisory board to bring industry experience to the table. In addition, businesses can reach out to the team at The Chamber or the EDC to discover opportunities that specifically align with their individual business goals. In addition, advisory councils are currently being formed in 8 major industry sectors. One other opportunity that is launching soon is the Community Concierge Program which will feature community and business people that are passionate about this region serving as community champions to others moving here. This is a very simple and low-time commitment offering. For more information on this program, people can contact the team at the Chamber Foundation to get involved.

-Shannon Full, President & CEO, the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce

Why should local businesses care about Fueling Our Future?

In essence, FOF is about the future of the region, with a targeted focus on business development and economic vitality. That alone should have all local businesses interested in its development, financing and ultimate success.

-Joe Raso, President & CEO, Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corporation

Why are, FM Welcome Party and Campus FM all so important for expanding and retaining the regional labor pool?

Regional branding and placemaking are critical aspects as communities across the country battling for talent. Liveinfmarea. com is a place where people interested in the Fargo region can go to learn more and start to explore. FM Welcome Party is an opportunity for those new to our region to learn more and develop meaningful connections. Our region has tens of thousands of college students and Campus FM is critical in ensuring we are able to keep those students in our region post-graduation. The goal is to continue to get new community members to like and engage, with hopes they stay, work and give back

-Peter Stenehjem, President, First International Bank & Trust

Is there any update you could give our readers on the research into Chicago as a possible workforce campaign destination?

Talent recruitment is one of the top priorities of the next phase of Fueling Our Future. The Chicago marketplace is a new recommendation within the plan so there will now be a deep analysis and strategy development to see if this is a viable opportunity. An initial project was recently conducted to do some strategic outreach into Minneapolis and it had positive results regarding brand awareness and heightening the opportunities of this region. A similar approach may also be deployed for the Chicago marketplace. The plan clearly stated that we need to increase brand awareness including our quality of life amenities, higher education offerings, company and career opportunities, etc. Markets like Minneapolis and Chicago are significant targets for us to recruit talent. In addition, there will be significant emphasis on recruiting from outside the U.S. as well as we see increased opportunities surrounding New American and refugee efforts.

-Shannon Full, President & CEO, the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce

So that is what has happened so far, but what is to come?

At the end of October, a full strategic action plan will be presented to the Fueling Our Future Governance Board from the consultants, Economic Leadership. The Governance Committee will then convene business and community leaders to vet the plan, and gather feedback, insights and concerns. Based upon that feedback, priorities will be established, structure and governance will be developed or enhanced and a corresponding budget will be formulated and approved. Finally, the Governance Committee for Fueling Our Future will then launch the plan and funding strategy to the region.

Share This Article
Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.