REAP Investment Fund Inc

Report date
February 2015

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

Reconnecting with Vision West ND County/Tribal Plan Directors. This was important because once the local plans were completed through the Vision West ND project, the necessary grass roots efforts to implement the plans were not tracked and didn’t seem to be moving forward in all places. Being able to provide additional technical assistance helped to identify the needs of Plan Directors and realign work towards plan implementation.
Survey and data gathering on progress. Each of the 23 Plan Directors and their committee members were personally contacted to access each plan’s progress and needs. In all, 87 people were interviewed. This work was assembled in a short document, VWND Community Assessment Report in August 2014. The purpose of the survey was to determine continued participation and their use of the local plans that had been developed through Vision West ND. The survey also looked for the types of technical assistance that would be beneficial plus document the challenges encountered.
The primary challenges identified in the survey were keeping committee members engaged, developing effective work plans, making meetings meaningful and productive, limited opportunities to network and share successes with other counties, understanding the scope of the Vision West ND project & how the local plans and the regional plan complement each other, volunteer “burn-out”, and the lack of resources – time, money and personnel.
Plan Directors Retreat, September 2014. The retreat renewed relationships between the Plan Directors and the Vision West ND. It provided a format for discussing the training and information needs now and for the next year of this project. Eight Plan Directors and three steering committee members attended along with six individuals representing Vision West ND. The presenters were: Maggie Arzdorf-Schubbe from the Bush Foundation, Mel Bauer-Dukart from USDA Rural Development, John Schneider from North Dakota Department of Commerce, Shirley Brentrup from the REAP Investment Board, Deb Nelson from DLN Consulting and VWND, and Karalea Cox representing DLN. Vision West ND Chair Daryl Dukart participated in the retreat as well. The retreat was facilitated by Karalea Cox, Technical Assistance Staff under this project. Participants at the Retreat were also introduced to two valuable data resources, North Dakota Compass and Headwaters Economics. The need for accurate, current data when applying for funding was stressed to the participants. These two sources save time and are consistently updated.

Key lessons learned

Communication is still challenging. Funders, legislators and even some county officials don’t know about Vision West ND even though a massive education program was implemented. Through Vision West ND, visits were made to every county commission meeting in the Vision West ND region and each state legislator was given a copy of the Regional Plan Summary. Unfortunately, some Plan Directors can’t count on commissioner support.
So, there are barriers the local Plan Directors need to address to create & keep interest and momentum moving forward.
Local Capacity is limited. Tribal participation is low. We have found that finding committee members for projects is difficult in our sparsely populated areas. Many committees are focusing on the implementation of one goal at a time. We keep all active an inactive Plan Directors informed and we do our best to share funding opportunities, best practices and training opportunities through a monthly newsletter and targeted phone calls.
For 2015, we have begun a series of conference calls, the Funder’s Forum, featuring speakers from in-state funding sources. The first call was with the Consensus Council’s North Dakota Small Bush Community Innovation Grants. It was held in early February as new applications were being solicited for the end of February. We had good participation with 15 people calling in. For the first call, we thought that was pretty good. In addition to Plan Directors, representatives from both city and county personnel joined the call.

Other key elements of Community Innovation

Our goal has been to be flexible and to respond with help and assistance as needed on a group basis or to requests for individual assistance from Plan Directors. For example, the Funding Resource Guide responded to a group need and the targeted need for this information identified in our Bush Grant Application. The Golden Valley Plan Director needed assistance with a grant application which was provided. Each director gets individual attention and is part of the group.

Understanding the problem

The original grant application had discussed Plan Directors using a regional approach through the provision of new collaborative efforts between rural areas to meet shared challenges. As yet, that hasn’t materialized even as a discussion much less implementation. However, the Vision West ND Consortium has decided to remain intact and meeting even though the HUD funding has ended. It is likely the Consortium is the better place to originate collaborative efforts possibly bringing in Plan Directors and committee members to address specific regional projects.

If you could do it all over again...

We made the assumption that our Plan Directors were in communication with county/tribal officials who are primary resources and support for county and city projects. We found that some of our Plan Directors had little interaction or had poor relationships with their county leaders. Had we known this, we would have increased travel costs to bring these folks together or had used the Vision West ND funding to make this happen on a more individual/county basis.

The Vision West ND partners, REAP and NDAOGPC Executive Directors, did visit with each county commission in the summer of 2014. Had we known, we would have placed greater emphasis on implementation and had each Plan Director accompany us. Though they were invited to attend, only a handful did participate in those meetings.

One last thought

The Divide County planning committee is working towards business retention and expansion issues beginning with a local survey. The Golden Valley County group has been working diligently the past two years to build a new clinic and wellness center. Their Plan Director is trying to get more housing. They are planning a multi-county retreat and planning event. The city of Minot is working on their application for the National Disaster Resiliency Competition. McHenry County is looking to do community strategic planning in all their cities. Adams County is working on child care and housing projects. The city of Dickinson is working on the first two miles of their renovations to the Crooked Crane Walking Trail and recently received a $975,000 grant from the state Outdoor Heritage Fund. A Dickinson non-profit, Able, Inc. has applied for a Bush Foundation Innovation Grant to pilot a housing technical assistance position to assist non-energy Dickinson businesses to buddy up their hiring practices to attract both spouses & their families to the area.