Red River Regional Council to Hold Development Workshops for Northeastern North Dakota Counties – Grand Forks Herald

The Red River Regional Council offers residents of Grand Forks, Nelson, Pembina and Walsh counties the opportunity to see their own county with new eyes. Over the past month, the council has worked with Roger Brooks, CEO of Roger Brooks International and the Destination Development Association, to identify ways to make the area a better place to live, work and play.

On October 14, 15, 18 and 19, the community will have the chance to get involved in the project as Brooks hosts community meetings for each of the four counties, where he will talk about the areas in each county that he identifies as needing improvements. Presentations will be primarily photographic and Brooks will offer suggestions on how cities can improve.

The meetings are part of a Red River Regional Council project called Destination Red River Region. In an effort to find low-cost solutions to attract people to Grand Forks, Nelson, Pembina and Walsh counties, the council hired Brooks, who has brought development services to more than 22,000 cities and towns across the world during his 40-year career.

Over the course of two weeks, Brooks visited 42 towns in all four counties, taking more than 2,000 photos along the way. He calls the process of visiting cities “secret shopping.” When secret shopping, he sees a city through the eyes of a visitor and pays attention to factors that contribute to quality of life, tourist attractions and the local economy.

Brooks visited each city with his wife Jane.

“A woman will always have a different perspective than a man,” Brooks said. “We went to a few towns where she would reach out and lock the door. I didn’t say a word, but that meant she didn’t feel safe.

According to Brooks, 40 of the 42 towns he visited are losing population. The 2020 census data confirms this – most small towns in North Dakota are losing residents, while urban centers continue to grow. Brooks thinks millennials are ready to move to small towns in rural areas, but only if the city makes changes like tearing down abandoned buildings and investing in community spaces and programs.

“If you want young families, they have to feel accepted,” Brooks said. “They want to be in a place where they can see positive change.”

Brooks was chosen for the Destination Red River Region project by a regional committee made up of members from each county. According to committee member Amie Vasichek, the committee chose Brooks and the Destination Development Association for their energy and hands-on approach to development. Vasichek is a resident of Nelson County and is excited about the potential of the four counties working together as a region to bring traffic back to their communities.

“I think everyone has the same goal and the same ideas, but maybe they have different ideas that we can tap into,” Vasichek said. “It will allow us to work together and feed each other.”

Walsh County Area Committee member Julie Gemmell agreed with Vasichek, saying counties working together as a region is an innovative way to address northeastern North Dakota’s population issues.

“I think working together in a collaborative effort will take us further than each county doing something alone,” Gemmell said.

After meetings with the public, Brooks will meet with county committees and other area stakeholders to brainstorm suggestions on how each county can be improved. In March, Brooks will return to the area with action plans to implement low-cost solutions to attract people to the area.

Meeting dates and times:

  • Grand Forks County: Tuesday, October 19, 9 a.m. – Pheasant Hall at the Alerus Center
  • Nelson County: Monday, October 18, 9 a.m. – Lakota Community Center
  • Pembina County: Friday, October 15, 9 a.m. – Akra Hall at Iceland State Park
  • Walsh County: Thursday, October 14, 9 a.m. – Minto Community Center

Elna M. Lemons