BMDA shifts focus beyond new jobs

2014-02-25T17:29:00Z BMDA shifts focus beyond new jobsBy JESSICA HOLDMAN | Bismarck Tribune Bismarck Tribune

The Bismarck-Mandan Development Association will take its focus beyond new jobs in 2014.

BMDA leadership presented the organization’s new strategic plan to its members at its annual meeting in Mandan on Tuesday.

“If we’re going to keep up our quality of life in the face of growth we need a plan,” BMDA President Brian Ritter said. “It’s easy getting to the top. The hard part is staying there.”

The organization has long touted its ability to bring new companies and new jobs to the area. In the past year, BMDA has had to reinvent itself in the face of criticism that the organization has not brought the business: It came on its own with the oil boom.

In an effort to become more relevant, BMDA will expand its focus to help conquer the issues area business owners are facing.

For example, Ritter said, the BMDA can help tackle the housing issue. He said the way to start might be through infrastructure. BMDA could offer assistance by making recommendations to city offices on permitting processes.

“If we expect the city to keep up, we have to offer up ideas from the private sector,” Ritter said.

“This is going to be something new for us,” he said, but he is confident the organization can pull it off because its members are the bankers, contractors and people directly involved in the building process.

Also, instead of just measuring success by the number of jobs created, the organization plans to report statistics like the amount of capital investment made in the area and the number of entrepreneurs starting new small businesses.

“Jobs are important, but so is the number of 25- to 35-year-olds, or the number of college graduates,” said Russ Korpela of Dowell Management, the firm that helped develop the new strategic plan.

Other goals laid out include developing a regional branding strategy that will make young professionals see Bismarck-Mandan as a place to start a career, Korpela said. It also involves the development of community ammenities, like the Community Bowl and the Bismarck Civic Center.

“We’re up against Seattle. We’re up against Portland. We’re up against Houston and Austin,” Korpela said. “If we can get them here when they’re 30 they’re likely to stay for the long haul.”

BMDA also has changed its tone to become more effective as an organization, touting itself as an investment for its members. The cost of membership ranges by company size from $275 to $5,000 per year.

“If you look outside (the Seven Seas Hotel in Mandan) you can see how much this area has changed in the last 12 to 18 months,” Ritter said, promoting the value of economic development. “That doesn’t happen by accident.”

Ritter said the organization needs engagement from its members to succeed. He said it plans to achieve that by being more accessible and encouraging member involvement through one-on-one meetings.

Newly elected BMDA Chairman Tim Atkinson of ND Guaranty & Title Co. said his eyes were opened to what the organization actually does when he joined the executive board three years ago.

Atkinson has already attracted new member involvement in the form of Heather Jones of City Air Mechanical, who will take over as BMDA chairwoman in 2015. Atkinson said the organization has had an “old boys’ network” perception but members like Jones are the polar opposite.

“That’s BMDA today,” he said.

Not to be buried under the weight of the new plan, the executive committee met after the annual meeting to talk about individual strategies for accomplishing its goals. It will meet again Monday to prioritize those issues discussed and get started, Ritter said.

Reach Jessica Holdman at 701-250-8261 or jessica.holdman@bismarcktribune.com.

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