Project Back Home seeks former North Dakotans

North Dakota State Roundup

Published January 1, 1997  | January 1997 issue

A high school reunion can now pack an economic development punch for some small communities, especially if those alumni decide to return home permanently.

Project Back Home targets former residents who may have an interest in returning to rural North Dakota towns as entrepreneurs, employees, industrial developers, investors, tourists or retirees.

In addition, Project Back Home identifies out-of-state manufacturers with ties to North Dakota and links them with local manufacturing capabilities. Financed through membership fees, this self-supporting cooperative was developed three years ago as a component of Build, the state's economic development program. Project Back Home is primarily intended for communities hardest hit by outmigration, according to Steve Miller, North Dakota community economic development coordinator.

Local officials target former residents who have left the state, survey them about any interest in returning to North Dakota and then send information offering various opportunities and incentives to return. Respondent information is placed in a database and classified according to skills and interests. This information becomes valuable in matching potential businesses with sources of labor or individuals with job opportunities. "Our initial response rate of 10 to 11 percent tells us that there's no question that people want to come back to North Dakota," says Cathy Langemo, Project Back Home's coordinator.

Gene Veeder, executive director of McKenzie County Job Development Authority, calls Project Back Home a long-range public relations plan. "We're working on a limited budget and looking for a lot of bang for the buck. We've had success bringing retirees back to the area but not as much success with recruiting new businesses, which is not inconsistent with economic development in rural areas," says Veeder. In Watford City he's been able to match potential retirees with a builder of retirement housing. "If we can get the names and put people together—that's success."

Christine Power