Megan Laudenschlager is the Finance and Program Director of the Minot Area Community Foundation. She joined the foundation in November 2011. Megan also holds several leadership positions in community organizations, including being President of Sunrise Rotary, Leadership Team Member of Young Professionals, Vice Chair of Alliance of Nonprofits, graduate and facilitator of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce’s Community Leadership Institute, and 2014 Bush Foundation Fellow. Prior to joining the Foundation, Laudenschlager was a Project Coordinator for the North Dakota Center for Persons with Disabilities and Great Plains Center for Community Research and Service. She earned a bachelor’s degree from Minot State University and is a Dale Carnegie graduate.
Just twelve years ago in 2003, North Dakota representatives were worried about the great “brain drain” of the Plains. Estimates for the early 2000s showed that as little as 3.5% of college graduates remained in the state for at least a year following graduation. To combat the outmigration, the then Senator Byron Dorgan tried passing the New Homestead Act, which aimed to provide a host of incentives to people who settled in counties that had lost more than 10% of their population in the last twenty years. Certainly at that point in time, no one could predict the state’s future population shift or the melting pot that would develop in western North Dakota after the revitalization of oil production in the Bakken.
The population of western North Dakota is estimated to have grown as much as 19% between 2010 and 2013. With the growth experienced along the western edge of the state and the robust area of Fargo, North Dakota has gone from the 29th oldest state to the 4th youngest state. In Minot specifically, we have seen our population grow from 30,000 to estimates of over 50,000 in just a few short years. The bulk of the in-migration of residents has been of individuals in their 20s and 30s (i.e., Millennials – those born after 1980) and their children. The great “brain drain” has ceased, and the influx of people has led to issues of increased population pressures and community engagement gaps.
Every community experiencing heavy growth has had its own nuances of difficulty. For Minot, the peak of our growth came at the same time our community was undergoing the recovery and rebuilding from a major flood that devastated nearly 25% of our city. Working through the remnants of a natural disaster while coping with the growing pains of an ever increasing population pushed our community’s leadership into a whole new realm, one that few had prepared for or had ever experienced.
The new growth of Millennials and their families has led to increased needs in our public schools. Just under a year ago, our community voted for a $39.5 million bond during a special election for the Minot Public School District to allow for much needed district-wide safety and security upgrades, as well as building a new elementary school and adding on to existing elementary schools. At one time, our schools were trying to cope with the influx of students by adding portable classrooms, which quickly topped out at 21 portable classrooms throughout the district.
The new growth of Millennials and their families has also led to a demand for family-friendly recreational activities through the long winter months. Efforts have been initiated to meet these needs, including a group that is in the early planning stages of a children’s museum. Additionally, the Minot Park District just announced the results of its feasibility study to build the Minot Aquatics & Recreation Center, an $88 million four-season community facility, which the community will vote upon on April 21st, 2015.
Clearly the Millennial presence and demand for quality of life opportunities are being felt in the community; however, Millennials (both natives and non-natives) are still relatively underrepresented in leadership activities throughout the community. Engaging young professionals in the community and leadership activities is something that has been my passion and focus for the last year through my Bush Fellowship. In the last few months, I have had the opportunity to see Millennial engagement really come to fruition during a recent initiative coordinated by Minot’s new City Manager and the leadership of the Minot Downtown Business & Professionals Association.
In November, I was approached by Minot’s newly hired City Manager, Lee Staab, to pull together a group of young leaders so that he could get their take on our community and its future. The amount of young professionals that wanted to attend was so much more than expected that we had to hold four separate sessions throughout the week rather than one meeting. At these sessions, each individual got to express their feelings about Minot’s past, present, and future. The participants also had the ability to hear about the plans for the community’s future and give their input. The young leadership sessions went so well, that Lee and I plan to hold them quarterly throughout the year. Additionally, Lee has opened the door for a quarterly mentorship opportunity, where any young leader can shadow him for the entire week leading up to a City Council Meeting to hear firsthand the issues of the community.
The Minot Downtown Business & Professionals Association also had a desire to connect more with Millennials, and we worked together to set up a meeting with the leadership of the Minot Young Professionals Network. The goal of that meeting was to find new innovative and collaborative opportunities to work together where the missions of the two organizations overlapped. From that experience, there is now an opportunity for the Minot Young Professionals Network to work with the Downtown Business & Professionals Association to build the spirit of entrepreneurialism in our community through a Startup Weekend-type event and an educational and network-building program for young entrepreneurs and small business owners.
A community is not built upon on the backs of just those in leadership positions. It is the responsibility of all who live in a community to ensure that it grows to be a vibrant place and features a high quality of life. Although many Millennials in the Minot area do not hold a leadership “classification,” position, or office, we are still finding opportunities to make our voices heard. While the above-mentioned experiences are just the beginning, I am hopeful and excited to see many young professionals move forward in their leadership capacity to help make Minot the best community it can be.