In the Democratic gubernatorial candidates' forum on SDPB last Thursday, candidate Joe Lowe recommended that the Governor's Office of Economic Development redirect some of its grants from big corporations to South Dakota's small towns to help them revitalize their downtowns. Lowe pointed to Main Street Square in Rapid City, where regular events create a shopping and tourism destination that's boosting business.
Regular readers know that I'm all about big-thinking economic development policy that looks past the traditional, unreliable corporate-welfare model. So, apparently, is Fargo, where downtown development is drawing youth, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit. The Minneapolis Star Tribune's profile of Fargo's downtown success discusses young Fargo entrepreneur Greg Tehven's passion for his stereotype-busting hometown:
Tehven’s Fargo is the five-block radius of downtown; a vibrant community of artists, tech entrepreneurs, college kids and possibilities. Once hollowed out, the downtown is now crowded with coffee shops, restaurants and quirky shops that draw in crowds of strolling pedestrians and cyclists.
Tehven’s Fargo is one of the nation’s fastest-growing cities [Jennifer Brooks, "Fargo Reinvents Itself as a Magnet for Creative Types and Entrepreneurs," Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2014.06.01].
We discussed that population growth last week, when we noted that Fargo ranks seventh for population growth among the nation's cities, ahead of booming #11 Sioux Falls.
What's it feel like to be in charge of economic development in Fargo?
“You feel like you died and went to heaven, ” said James Gartin, president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp. — the man in charge of encouraging economic growth in a place now ranked as the best place in America to find a job, the country’s third-safest community and its fourth-fastest growing metro region.
“It’s electric,” Gartin said. “It’s just an incredible time to be in this market. Not only with the business growth, but we have this incredible entrepreneurial ecosystem” [Brooks, 2014.06.01].
Fargo's good fortune spills across the Red River to Moorhead, which is growing even faster. Moorhead has hamstrung its downtown development but enjoys other advantages from which South Dakota might learn:
Rather than focusing on downtown revitalization — a difficult proposition, since a large swath of downtown Moorhead was razed to make way for a mall — Moorhead cultivates the image of a politically progressive, family-friendly college town. It touts its schools, its close-knit neighborhoods, its public funding for the arts, its parks and green spaces — in short, its Minnesota-ness [Brooks, 2014.06.01].
Economic development is much, much more than handing money to big corporations. Fargo and Moorhead get that. Joe Lowe gets that. Why don't Dennis Daugaard and Mike Rounds get that?