Grand Forks, North Dakota

In each community, the Knight Soul of the Community study identified factors that emotionally attach residents to where they live. Some of these community characteristics that drive attachment were rated highly by residents, and are therefore community strengths while others were rated lower, making them opportunities for improvement. This information can provide communities a roadmap for increasing residents’ emotional attachment to where they live, which the study found has a significant relationship to economic vitality.

Despite the continuing economic challenges, attachment to the Grand Forks area remains basically flat in 2010.

In the Grand Forks area, social offerings (entertainment infrastructure, places to meet people, community events), openness (how welcoming a place is) and aesthetics (an area’s physical beauty and green spaces) are the most important factors in emotionally connecting residents to where they live.

There were no significant changes in the overall perceptions of aesthetics, social offerings or openness in 2010 from 2009. Aesthetics, particularly parks, playgrounds and trails, remains a community strength.

Meanwhile, perception of openness, particularly to young talent and social offerings, particularly the availability of arts and cultural opportunities are areas of improvement to increase attachment to the Grand Forks area. Residents 18-34 years of age are the least attached of all age groups, with older residents 55 years old and older the most attached.

Although not key drivers of attachment, reports of civic involvement are significantly lower while perceptions of the local economy are higher in 2010.

Knight Soul of the Community 2010: Grand Forks Implications

The purpose of Knight Soul of the Community is to provide communities a roadmap for understanding what attaches residents to their community and why it matters – not to be prescriptive on what communities should do with the information. However, the findings do point to some general implications and suggestions, some of which the community may be already undertaking, or provide new opportunities for consideration.

Like the other 25 communities studied in Soul of the Community, Grand Forks’ key attachment drivers are social offerings, aesthetics and openness. However, it is not as simple as identifying best practices in each of these areas and replicating them everywhere. Instead, as the name implies, Soul of the Community encourages a conversation about a community’s soul or essential essence as a place around these key drivers. Some possible questions to ask are: What is it about our aesthetics/social offerings/welcomeness that is unique to our community? Where do we excel or struggle in those areas? Using that information to optimize those drivers to encourage resident attachment—and potentially local economic growth – is what Soul of the Community seeks to accomplish.

Attachment to Grand Forks increased in 2009 and maintained steady in 2010. This finding alone helps to demonstrate that attachment to place is about more than jobs and the economy. The things that most attach residents to the area – social offerings, openness and aesthetics – and the general rating of these areas by residents have remained basically unchanged from 2009.

Grand Forks has many strengths that are unique to the community. A consistent and growing strength of Grand Forks in the eyes of its residents is aesthetics, especially the parks, playgrounds and trails. Social offerings is another strength of the Grand Forks area. A unique finding in Grand Forks is that residents’ care for one another is the highest rated aspect of social offerings. All other aspects of social offerings are rated higher in 2010. The highest income earners are also the most attached income group to the Grand Forks area. Together these strengths provide powerful leverage to continue to build attachment to the community.

Despite these strengths, Grand Forks has challenges. Chief among them is openness. Perceived welcomeness to most groups declined in 2010 resulting in overall perceptions of openness decreasing from 2009. Also troubling is the sharp difference between perceived welcomeness to families with young children and older residents and all other groups. Young talent is perceived to the least welcome group in the community. Additionally, though resident caring is still the highest rated aspect of social offerings, it is rated significantly lower in 2010. Nightlife is the lowest rated aspect of social offerings.

In many ways the Grand Forks area is in an enviable position. Two of the three top drivers for attachment – social offerings and aesthetics – are community strengths. Resident caring is perceived to be higher in the Grand Forks area than in the other 25 communities studied. Lastly, the highest income earners are most attached to the area. The area’s talent force clearly loves Grand Forks, which will undoubtedly serve the community well as it, like all other communities, attempt economic rebuilding. These strengths of Grand Forks, especially the resident caring component, should be used as a centerpiece in creating the Grand Forks brand through the chamber of commerce, local leadership, etc. Also worth noting is the improving perception of nightlife and the community as a good place to meet people – very important community characteristics for attracting and retaining young talent.

Grand Forks should leverage all of these strengths to target the differences in perceptions of welcomeness between families with young children and older residents with all other groups in the community. For attachment to really grow and for people to want to come and stay in Grand Forks, all residents must feel welcomed there. This along with resident caring must become part of the community culture. The fact that it scores highly on resident caring, but lower in aspects of welcomeness to specific groups may indicate that the community is “tight knit” – it may appear closed to outsiders, but once you are part of the community and personal relationships develop, so does the generalized caring. This process is something to deliberately foster.

Thoughts on the 2010 findings in Grand Forks

Anne Corriston was Knight’s program director for Grand Forks in 2010.

Before I came to work for Knight Foundation, I had never been to Grand Forks. Come to think of it, I had never been to North Dakota.

But I was soon captivated by its gracious people. They’re unfailingly modest, except when it comes to their beloved Sioux hockey team. Then their community pride glows. Almost everyone has a memory of a game-day experience to share. A grandmotherly lady in line told me about attending games at the Palace 40 years ago, where there was no indoor heat. “We took our snowmobile to get there and back, and during halftime went home to warm up,” she shared. She’s missed hardly a game in those 40 years.

Yes, there’s a lot to love about Grand Forks, and its residents are starting to talk about it with pride. Grand Forks is flying high this year. Out of 26 Knight communities, it is reporting the second-highest level of community attachment after Bradenton, FL.

Folks are starting to talk about the good life in Grand Forks – the beauty of the greenway along the Red River, the high quality of schools, the strength of the University of North Dakota, and the safety they feel every day.

With some concentrated effort, Grand Forks can get even better. The Soul of the Community survey identified areas where Grand Forks can increase its community attachment even more. Being more open to newcomers and providing more social offerings are two areas residents identified as important.

How can we improve openness and social offerings in Grand Forks? I’d love to hear from you. Please comment on this blog post and share your ideas!