The Forum

The Fargo Forum Newspaper – July 11, 2003


N.D. Leaders Think Up Ideas for Growth
By Helmut Schmidt

Gerald Haman, better known as Solutionman, holds a brainstorming session at the Fargodome Thursday during Innovation Growth Day. Photo by Darren Gibbins / The Forum

North Dakota leaders may not have come up with THE SOLUTION to pumping up the state’s economy and halting outmigration Thursday at the Fargodome.

But they did come up with 2,000 possibilities.

About 190 people taking part in Innovation Growth Day finished the event with a 20-minute “Thinkathon,” generating ideas to foster more innovation in the state. “To my knowledge, this is the first time a state has done this,” said event leader Gerald Haman.

“If some of the big organizations (Fortune 500 companies) knew that almost 200 innovators were here at the Fargodome” they would be very interested in North Dakota, he said. Haman runs SolutionPeople, a Chicago-based business consulting company. He’s also a Towner, N.D., native and University of North Dakota alumnus.

He hopes the seminar gets North Dakota and Red River Valley leaders to “identify other people who are passionate about innovation and create a community to work together.”

The seminar was sponsored by the North Dakota Department of Commerce’s Division of Economic Development and Finance and 14 businesses and organizations, said economic development director Linda Butts.

“This was not innovation day for government. This was innovation day for you,” Butts told the audience. “This is all about working together to build that community of innovation.”  The Thinkathon ideas will be collated and distributed by the economic development division.

Ideas ran the gamut from the serious:
- Find more funding for innovators.
- Build an ambassadors of innovation Web site.
- Tax breaks for innovators who move here and stay.
- More in-state flights between major cities to cut time-wasting connections through the Twin Cities.
To the fun:
- A Tour de North Dakota bicycle race.
- Every city has its own food fest (think really big progressive dinner).
To the silly (or scary):
- Everybody who moves to
North Dakota gets a free Bobcat skid-steer loader to move their snow.
- Arrest anyone who is not innovative.

Seminar participants said they felt energized, even at the end of a long day. “It was fresh. It was sparky,” said Gail Nelson of Fargo’s Blue Moon Training Workshop who, with the rest of the participants at her table, liked SolutionPeople’s tools for decision making.

The processes and tools organize thoughts “so you can grab a hold of them and run with it,” said Jennifer Feist of Valley Development Group of Valley City, N.D.  Scott Handy, CEO of Cass County Electric, said the seminar tools helped jump-start a new concept for customer service at his firm.

“We’ll start trying them (ideas) tomorrow,” he said.  Haman said it was a shame the seminar was limited to a day, given the ideas generated.  “There’s a general theme in having some activities that encourage people to think about innovation,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if 2004 was The Year of Innovation?”