DSU receives Bush grant: Will invest the money into the area

With the help of a $500,000 grant, Dickinson State University is helping communities learn to never say quit. The grant was awarded to DSU from the Bush Foundation.

With the help of a $500,000 grant, Dickinson State University is helping communities learn to never say quit. The grant was awarded to DSU from the Bush Foundation.

DSU President Dr. Lee Vickers said this grant helps the university with its mission to contribute to the overall vitality of the region.

"We are confident that through this grant we can take a substantial step in that direction," Vickers said. "It will really afford us the opportunity to make a difference in the future of North Dakota."

Along with helping other communities, Dr. Peter Froelich, assistant to the president for special projects, said the grant helps DSU's Center for Entrepreneurship and Rural Revitalization develop capacity.

"Hopefully, 10 years down the road people will be asking us to help them at their entrepreneur centers," Froelich said.


CERR Director Dr. Doug Woodard said the grant would help DSU and CERR have a better relationship with area communities and establish a stronger reputation over the long haul.

"For small universities to thrive, they have to be better plugged in to the surrounding communities' issues and needs," Woodard said.

Finding partners

The grant partners many entities, including DSU's CERR, Williston State College, the Tri-County Regional Development Council in Williston and the Roosevelt-Custer Regional Council for Development in Dickinson.

"It was just a marrying of a lot of the goals and priorities that were already identified by the different organizations," Woodard said. "For the first time, the western edge is represented as a united front for community development initiatives."

The grant covers approximately 57,000 people in one-quarter of the state.

Six communities - Hettinger, Bowman, Killdeer, Dickinson, Williston and Medora - were identified as partners, along with the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation.

"They were communities we felt could benefit, who were ready to do things and they all have fairly good leaders in place," Froelich said.


Woodard said the communities should not be trying to solve their respective problems alone.

"We all knew each other and were informed about the various communities' projects here and there, but it wasn't with the comprehensive approach we have now," Woodard said.

Woodard said initially, the university would hire a full-time program director and part-time assistant.

"There are funds within the grant to pay people in the communities in some cases for their leadership efforts," Vickers said.

Dickinson State received this grant after using a $51,000 planning grant from the Bush Foundation to lay some of the ground work for this project.

Capacity building

Vickers said an advantage of the way this new grant is written is it allows each community to build upon its foundation.

"We are not assuming that everyone is in the same place as far as their development or as far as their approach," Vickers said.


Vickers said capacity building means developing leadership, identifying communities' individual needs, maximizing their finances and encouraging entrepreneurship.

"We're going to focus on the positive aspects of the region," Vickers said.

While tangible outcomes are not expected until at least three to six years into the project, there are many possibilities for growing the region.

"Western North Dakota has a number of treasures, treasures that people in other parts of the country are totally unaware of, so we have to figure out ways of marketing those treasures," Vickers said.

He said by figuring out something like that it would enhance one key area, heritage tourism, in the western part of the state.

HTC model

"What we proposed to do was to use a model that has been developed down in Nebraska called the HomeTown Competitiveness model," Froelich said.

He said the model has five pillars - attracting and retaining youth, transfer of wealth, leadership, entrepreneurship and organization.


Froelich said some communities using the HTC model have identified a certain number of youth to attract or retain each year to stabilize the population.

One of Froelich's ideas for a possible solution in North Dakota is to create an apprenticeship program for Main Street businesses with elderly owners and no one new to buy the store.

"Would that person be willing to take in a young person as an apprentice and mentor them and set up a plan to transfer the business?" Froelich said.

Froelich suggested communities could start foundations where elderly residents could contribute portions of their estates.

Froelich said leadership is one of the more important pillars. He said it means finding champions in communities and establishing committees to work on the issues.

Froelich said organization is the newest pillar.


Vickers said the first step in implementing the funding is to advertise for the director's position within approximately two weeks. Woodard said he hoped to have someone in place by mid-May.


"We need someone who can facilitate meetings, do a good job of managing community organization processes, recruiting and engaging community leaders, while keeping an eye on the big picture," Woodard said.

Froelich said one of the first steps is to identify the champions of the communities, because they could be the segue way to the rest of the residents.

"It isn't a bricks and mortar project; it's not about erecting community buildings, but part of what we do might lead to buying equipment or developing long-term projects," Woodard said.

Woodard said one possibility he would like to see is area schools start students sooner in entrepreneurial classes.

"If you start working with students, even in elementary school, the outcomes by the time you get them at that undergraduate level, they're just leaps and bounds ahead as far as entrepreneurial thinking and their ability to identify opportunities," Woodard said.

Woodard said he hopes by the end of summer to have assessment and leadership teams in place in each of the communities.

"I would hope that it would be maximum three to five months (of assessment)," Woodard said. "We're building on what's already out there. It isn't taking our Bush grant funding and going out there and starting anew."

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