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Paul Lucy

Paul Lucy, interim president, Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp.: The one-word formula for civic growth and success

FARGO, N.D. – I have been asked many times, “What is it that makes some communities’ economic development programs more successful than others?” Is it the level of available financial resources or the result of hiring an experienced economic development professional?

Is it because the community has a comprehensive strategic plan?

After nearly 30 years of experience working with communities all across North Dakota, I have seen significant differences in economic development strategies and how they are implemented.  

And over the years, we have seen shifts in demographics, workforce, and economic conditions, resulting in major changes to communities’ strategic priorities and ways of measuring success.  

But as much as some things have changed, other things have stayed the same. And when you look at communities where there is true economic and community development success, there is one condition that is always present.

The one key factor that’s required for positive change is leadership.

Leadership is the most vital component for successful community development, regardless of a community’s size, location, financial wherewithal or strategic priorities.  

I could identify specific people or groups who have stepped up in their community to bring about positive change. But for the sake of brevity, I will focus on a few outcomes that have resulted from this irreplaceable factor of leadership..  

  • The development and expansion of UND Aerospace at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks to make the program one of the premier flight training programs in the world, and to position North Dakota as a leader in the unmanned aircraft systems industry.  
  • Watford City and McKenzie County, N.D., working cooperatively with other organizations and businesses to develop a city capable of attracting and supporting an unprecedented boom in population.   
  • Valley City, N.D.’s successful recruitment and expansion of a number of primary sector companies, such as John Deere Seeding Group and Eagle Creek Software Services.
  • The ongoing development of an entrepreneurial ecosystem in Fargo, N.D., to the point where the city has been identified as “Silicon Prairie” and ranks as one of the top cities in the United States for people who want to start a business.   
  • Hope, N.D., pop. 300, becoming home to La Rinascente Pasta, the premier U.S. manufacturer of fideo/fedelini pasta.  

This list of success stories could go on and on, and civic leaders in each of these examples could write a book about their community’s trials and tribulations. But the point is, none of these efforts would have succeeded if there had not been a person or group with the vision and the willingness to step up, take risks and truly make a difference.  

Positive results such as these happened because the right leaders surfaced at the right places at the right times.

Understand, leadership does not always accompany a position or title. Residents shouldn’t assume that elected officials or community development staff must shoulder all of the responsibility for growth.

In fact, the most successful leader in a community could be the least expected. It could be the person who simply identifies an opportunity or challenge, and puts himself or herself in a position to bring about change.  

One of the greatest challenges for most communities is to get residents to support and respect those who are willing to risk their personal wellbeing for the civic good.

Unfortunately, there’s no magic potion to put in the water that will create a community’s next generation of leaders. But that doesn’t mean the well is dry. Potential leaders are out there, and they’ll very likely step forward if the community provides encouragement, mentoring and most of all, support.

Even a strong leader needs strong and creative supporters. And that’s a leadership role we all can play.

Paul Lucy

Interim President and CEO,

Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

A 29-year veteran of North Dakota economic development positions, Lucy also has served as director of the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Economic Development & Finance Division, and as president of the Minot (N.D.) Area Development Corp.

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