Finding good life in ND

Program’s personal touch pays off

Jill Schramm/MDN Travis High stands Aug. 25 at the entrance to Pro IT, where he now works after moving to Minot from Washington state.

Minot and North Dakota were foreign territory to Travis High when the 25-year-old computer specialist decided this past July to make the move from his home in Washington state. Thanks to an enhanced North Dakota workforce program, he didn’t have to take a blind leap.

High has been the first recruit in the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s recently refreshed program called Find the Good Life in North Dakota. High said he applied for jobs in other Midwest states, but it was the personal response and help he received through Find the Good Life that made him feel the state really wanted him.

Centered around a website at findthegoodlife.com, the program includes a help desk that provides a personalized relocation assistance service for prospective residents. The personalized service begins with a series of questions that include basic information pertaining to relocation, such as career goals, hobbies and interest in specific areas of North Dakota.

The program targets five personas: boomerangs, young families, recent college graduates, remote workers and veterans.

Formerly from Graham, Washington, High graduated from Clover Park Technical College in Washington with an associate degree in cybersecurity. He has worked at Pro IT in Minot for about six weeks.

High had wanted to move to a different state to get away from high costs, particularly for housing, and homelessness issues that he saw around him. He took a cursory look at a U.S. map and started crossing off states he didn’t want to move to.

“I found that a lot of them that I was willing to move to were in the Upper Midwest region. So I just started putting in job applications. Eventually, Job Service in North Dakota contacted me and said, ‘Hey, we’d love to have you here.’ Originally, I was set on moving to Bismarck, but they suggested, based off of my recreational activities and what not, I’d be better off in Minot, so I came here about a week later,” he said.

The trip to North Dakota was his first ever.

Initially applying through the Find the Good Life program, High said he was placed in contact with people who went to bat for him. Job Services staff helped update his resume and the director stopped by employer locations to recommend him. Mark Lyman, economic developer director at Minot Area Chamber EDC also was helpful in answering questions.

He began applying for jobs before traveling to North Dakota and took the job offered by Pro IT four days after arriving.

“I really liked the atmosphere, the people I’d be working with. They’re charming, funny people. It’s a very laid-back atmosphere,” he said.

High’s role is in helping the company’s business clients find solutions to technical issues.

Meanwhile, he’s finding his niche in Minot.

“I like the food. I like the people. Everyone’s really friendly,” he said, adding the affordability is a bonus. He has joined the Minot Rifle and Pistol Club and the chess community.

Lyman said the Find the Good Life program goes beyond just a website in connecting job seekers with people they can talk to and who can get them answers to their specific questions so they can feel comfortable moving to a new place.

“For workforce development, some of these folks need just a little bit of that personal touch that gets them across the finish line,” Lyman said.

Both Lyman and MACEDC President Brekka Kramer serve as community champions with Find the Good Life, which means they are points of contact for referrals when job seekers have questions about the Minot area.

“It gives us a chance to really kind of highlight the vibrancy of our community,” Kramer said. “There’s a lot of good things happening here right now. So it’s given us kind of a platform to reach out and tell those stories more so.”

Lyman said about six referrals have come to MACEDC, representing a cross-section of college graduates, people looking to return to the state or re-enter the workforce. Minot has four other community champions who work with Job Service or are community leaders, and they receive referrals as well.

From June to Labor Day weekend, Find the Good Life has attracted 487 leads, with 140 of those looking to move immediately and another 184 within the next six months. Leads have come from 44 states and 20 countries, and 150 resumes have been submitted. The resume numbers are impressive because it indicates serious interest, said Katie Ralston Howe, director of the commerce department’s workforce division.

“We wouldn’t have done it if we didn’t really believe that this was the right path forward, but I’ve been very surprised by how quickly we’ve gained traction because right now we haven’t even gotten going with the major marketing around this. We’ve kind of been in this sort of soft launch phase for the last two months,” Ralston Howe said.

In terms of relocations, a family was looking to move this past week from Texas to Wahpeton and two prospective employees recently visited Grand Forks. Additionally, the program is working with two individuals who moved to Bismarck and now are job seeking.

Although the initial thought was that the program would appeal to people already in the state, most of the response has come from out of state.

Find the Good Life started as a marketing campaign several years ago. The campaign lacked an ability to track its effectiveness, so the state connected with a talent recruitment organization called RoleCall to develop that tracking and create a team of community champions across the state who serve as resources for inquiring job seekers. The team currently stands at more than 60 volunteers.

Melyssa Diebold, workforce projects coordinator with the workforce division, said the program now is looking for statewide champions who have lived in different areas of the state and can speak to the differences in lifestyle and job opportunities.

“What we found is that three-fourths of the people that are coming through the pipeline have never visited North Dakota, nor have they lived here. And so they don’t know where they want to go,” she said. The goal is to increase efforts to match them more closely with communities, she said.

Kramer said RoleCall selected Minot for an initiative to further localize Find the Good Life. The initiative would expand and take the community champion piece to a deeper level to provide more specific information to people inquiring about what the community has to offer, she said.

“We’re working on a pilot program right now that we hope to launch before the end of the year,” Kramer said. “As it grows and more interest comes to North Dakota, we want to build out that base and make sure Minot has the tools and resources.”

Lyman said MACEDC will be seeking members of the community who have passions within the community and are willing to share information with newcomers who might have similar passions. Having community champions who fit any of the five personas in the Find the Good Life program also will be valuable, he said.

“We think it can help not only with the workforce side, with recruitment for bringing individuals in, but also those that are coming in through Minot Air Force Base,” Kramer said. “We’re very fortunate that we have strong military support, but we’re looking to see how these kinds of things can help that space too.”

ND puts resources into recruitment

North Dakota has a variety of programs aimed at helping the state’s businesses meet their employment needs.

The headline program currently is the Regional Workforce Impact Program, funded with $15 million during last November’s legislative special session, said Katie Ralston Howe, director of the workforce division in the North Dakota Department of Commerce. Funds were allocated to eight state regions based on population.

Minot Area Chamber EDC worked with community partners to develop an application for the $1.8 million available in its region. The deadline for submission came this past week.

The MACEDC grant request includes a piece to support the career and technical center being developed by Minot State University and Dakota College at Bottineau with financial help through the City of Minot. A significant share of the dollars would go toward innovative solutions to provide more child care in the region, said MACEDC President Brekka Kramer. 

The state is expected to respond to applications by October.

“We see regions focusing on a variety of different issues,” Ralston Howe said. “We know that a lot of workforce solutions are best led at a local level and we want to be able to support that going into the future.”

Also during the last special session, the Legislature approved $3 million for a two-track Technical Skills Training Grant, managed by the commerce department. One track provides a one-to-one match of up to $100,000 for companies to develop new training programs for highly skilled workers. The second track is aimed at helping companies upscale the training of current employees, including offering safety training. Companies in this track can receive up to $50,000 in a one-to-one match.

This fall, the commerce department will be launching the Workforce Innovation Grant, which is particularly geared to talent attraction for industries hardest hit during the pandemic.

Another program that has been around for many years and is widely used is Operation Intern. The program provides internship and apprenticeship opportunities and includes a wage match to assist employers in offering the positions.

Among other programs offered in the state is the North Dakota Career Builders program through the North Dakota University System. Funds from the Bank of North Dakota match those from private industry to provide scholarships or loan repayment to skilled workers who commit to spending at least three years in the state.


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