FARGO-Jim Gartin is retiring from his job as president of the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp., with Thursday, March 15, being his final day.
He sat down recently to reflect on his six years in the job, sharing some of his accomplishments, setbacks and outlining what he hopes local leaders will focus on to keep the area's economy thriving.
Q: What kind of expectations were placed on you when you took the job of president of the GFMEDC?
A: They wanted someone willing to make a commitment and they wanted somebody who was very collaborative. I've always felt collaboration gets you much further than silos. They said, "Let's bring the communities back together with the EDC, let's stabilize the economic development corporation and get it back on its feet."
Q: Did you accomplish that?
A: I hired several new people and redefined and organized the staff. The biggest thing that happened was we empowered the staff to do what they were hired to do.
Q: What are some specific accomplishments you like to point to?
A: Local K-12 systems indicated they struggle with continuing education for instructors. We got together, brought the United Way in, and here we are four years later with several K-12 systems all doing their continuing education together.
Q: What was something that didn't turn out like you planned?
A: We tried to start a thing that would connect college students with companies looking to hire. The idea was to have them connect in a casual environment like a bar, if the college students were 21. That was a failure because universities didn't want their students to go anywhere there was alcohol.
Q: What are some of the challenges to growing the local economy and how do you overcome those challenges?
A: The area has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country at around 1.9 percent. That presents problems when trying to attract businesses that require a ready, skilled workforce. One way around that is promoting entrepreneurship and development of high-growth businesses, like tech companies that can go from zero to 60 employees in the span of five years. That's our future.
Q: Over the course of your tenure, Fargo has developed a reputation as an entrepreneurial hotspot. Is that rep deserved?
A: It's working. It's really working. What does the next person (EDC president) have to do? Keep the process going. You have to support the Emerging Prairies (a local organization that encourages entrepreneurial development). You have to support new and second-generation Americans. You have to collaborate. If you start falling back into silos, it won't work.
Jeff Volk, president of Moore Engineering and chairman of the GFMEDC board of directors, praised Gartin's tenure as president, stating he deserves credit for the way he responded to the economic downturn and for his efforts in tackling the chronic worker shortage that hampers business growth in Fargo-Moorhead.
Volk cited a workforce study done a few years ago that Gartin spearheaded the response to, including formation of several committees working to address the labor shortage.
"He helped kind of champion the next steps," including a yet-to-be launched workforce council, Volk said.
Gartin also deserves credit for championing the entrepreneurial culture in Fargo, according to Volk.
"Jim has done a good job promoting and encouraging that," Volk said.
Gartin's style was to set forth a vision and give his staff leeway in carrying it forward, Volk said. "Jim wasn't the kind of guy who got in the middle of the details. His staff speak very highly of him as an enabler," Volk said.
The GFMEDC website lists the nonprofit organization's vision as leading the development of a robust economy where people and businesses thrive. It also: strives to pursue job creation and business attraction; works with education and industry leaders to ensure a talent pipeline; and encourages a vibrant entrepreneurial and collaborative environment.