- Associated Press - Monday, May 11, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - At first, Kelsi Haidle did not want to come to North Dakota. She did not like the cold winters and thought Bismarck lacked amenities. Now that she is here, the city has become home.

It is young professionals like Haidle who Bismarck is aiming to attract and keep in the community, the Bismarck Tribune (https://bit.ly/1IeDI5A ) reported.

Haidle, 27, moved to Bismarck from Idaho five years ago. The registered nurse had just graduated and was looking for a job in northwestern states where her Idaho license would transfer.

Her aunt, who has lived in Bismarck for about 20 years, started sending her links to job openings. After living in Bismarck for a while and working for Sanford Health, Haidle said she has found the town is attractive. She likes summers on the river, though she still wishes the area had a Costco.

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The Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce views young professionals as 23- to 40-year-olds, said Kelvin Hullet, the chamber’s president. But people within that age range want different things from their city.

Hullet said that group wants engagement - to get together for coffee and brainstorm ideas. It’s a group that is constantly in motion.

“There’s a vibrancy to that,” he said. “We see the beginnings of it here, and it’s our job to help foster it.”

That group adds an element of excitement to the community that multiplies and makes more people want to come here because of it, according to Hullet.

“People want to be where the action is,” he said.

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Blake Prezler, 30, grew up in Bismarck but spent seven years in Bozeman. He moved back in 2009 because he needed a job and Bismarck’s economy was still strong, while the rest of the nation struggled. He and a friend started an architecture firm about two years ago.

“Now my roots are set,” he said.

Prezler said he thinks he came back at just the right time - at the beginning of something bigger. There are opportunities for new ideas to get off the ground, and there’s a great entrepreneurial landscape, according to Prezler.

“You don’t need mountains to create (a) vibrant city,” he said, comparing Bismarck to Bozeman. “There’s a lot of fresh soil here, in a sense. You can plant ideas and grow things. I think it’s cool to see the storm as it’s happening.”

Bismarck needs to think outside the box when it comes to attracting new talent, according to Prezler, who said a big thing now is affordable and attractive housing options similar to urban redevelopment being done in Fargo.

Nationally, many young professionals want to live in a connected neighborhood or urban setting with less square footage and a smaller yard, according to Prezler, who said the same is actually true for his parents’ generation, too.

“So actually it’s kind of like bookends,” he said.

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Quality of life in Bismarck helps to keep people once they move here, according to Hullet. Drive times are short. Schools are good. There are lots of recreational opportunities.

After meeting with eight new employees at Basin Electric Power Cooperative who are in the upper end of the young professionals age range — 35 to 45 — and had recently moved here from other places, Hullet said the chamber learned quality-of-life facilities were important. They wanted gyms for kids to play basketball and hockey.

“Those things, we think, young professionals are attracted to,” he said, though the good schools may only apply to those at the upper end of the age spectrum with children.

Downtown is an asset, according to Hullet. Even those married with kids want a vibrant feel with amenities. The younger generation likes smaller living options that are unique and within walking distance of activities.

“I truly feel like there is something for everyone in Bismarck-Mandan,” Ritter said.

In the summer, there is softball, sand volleyball, swimming lessons and the river. Ritter said, growing up, he was the one kid who didn’t hunt, fish or camp.

“But I love it here,” he said.

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Andrew Cullen, 31, a freelance photographer from Colorado, moved to Bismarck with his girlfriend in September. While his girlfriend applied for jobs in a number of cities, he said he was willing to move to Bismarck. He likes the parks and trails and cycling along the river, but he also likes the promise he says Bismarck holds.

“Growth and change are happening in Bismarck right now,” he said. “We’re at a place we haven’t been in a long time, where people are willing to take risks. It’s exciting to be a part of.”

Cullen said he had heard Bismarck was safe and a good place to raise a family, which he said was great, but it wasn’t what interested him.

“The selling point for me was things are opening up for people with ideas,” he said. “If you want to do something, there’s a chance Bismarck doesn’t have it yet. There is a lot of room in that space not being filled. Bismarck is a place you can make it happen.”

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Sanford Health Bismarck President Craig Lambrecht said the No. 1 issue in the health care industry is employee attraction and retention. He said hospitals find themselves vying for a small number of people.

While Sanford is the area’s largest employer, it knows, if North Dakota is going to grow as a region, it was going to have to work collectively to attract a workforce, according to Lambrecht.

“If we are not part of broader effort, we will not be successful,” he said.

According to Justin Walsh, co-founder of the Web and mobile design company Todaymade, without young professionals who want to live in Bismarck, his company would not be able to stay here.

“First and foremost, we have to retain the workers we have,” Lambrecht said.

The majority of students graduating from Bismarck State College get a job within the state and want to stay here because it is home, said Jay Meier, director of counseling and advising. The college had 608 students graduate with a certificate or an associate degree in applied science last year. These are the students who would be able to fill many of the skilled trade jobs so in demand.

Sanford’s nursing college enrollment has doubled to 100 students within the past three to four years, and the hospital hires 95 percent of those nurses. Lambrecht said they work with BSC for certified nursing assistants and medical technicians. The hospital has an internal training program for radiology technicians. It also works with the University of North Dakota School of Medicine, allowing medical students to perform their clinicals there. It works with the University of Mary helping give nurse practitioner, occupational therapy, physical therapy and athletic training students on-the-job experience.

“We’ve just got demands all over the place,” said Meier, adding that Sanford has more than 300 openings.

Most of the people the hospital hires live in the region or have a connection to the community, Lambrecht said, but there have been more applicants from outside the state. He said amenities and safety will be important in retaining employees no matter their age.

“They’ve got to have those access points,” he said. “If they don’t, they’re not going to be happy.”

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Information from: Bismarck Tribune, https://www.bismarcktribune.com


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