Community Case Studies

How Economic Developers are Cultivating Local Talent in North Dakota

The Minot Area Chamber EDC is taking an unconventional approach to economic development—and it's paying off.

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While Minot, North Dakota has a strong, diverse economy, local leaders knew that true sustainable growth can only come from home-grown talent.


The Minot Area Chamber EDC implemented an initiative, Start Up Minot, aimed at learning about and meeting the needs of local entrepreneurs.


After running 5 CO.STARTERS cohorts and graduating over 50 entrepreneurs, new home-grown businesses are cropping up across the city, boosting the economic health of the region.

Identifying the Need

With a population of nearly 50,000, Minot is the fourth largest city in North Dakota. Primarily supported by agriculture, energy, military, education, and healthcare, its economy is stable and diversified.

The city also functions as a retail hub in the region it occupies, drawing in shoppers, diners, and consumers from all over northern North Dakota and southern Canada.

But as local leaders, including Minot Area Chamber EDC Board Past Chair Kevin Black, noted, a city needs more than strong industries to stand on. It needs its own home-grown talent in order to thrive as well.

“As a local entrepreneur, I could see the great value in doing more as a community to target our support toward up-and-coming business owners,” Kevin said. “There is a lot of passion in our region to own and operate your own business. This energy, combined with the formal improvements to supporting the ecosystem, makes us a strong region for entrepreneurs.”

Economic Development Specialist Mark Lyman leads the entrepreneurial programming for the Minot Area Chamber EDC.

“Our chamber EDC is fortunate to have a lot of member investors supporting our region and our efforts,” Mark said. “But it became clear that for growth, we needed to think about growing our own as well. And to do that, we needed to focus on the needs of local entrepreneurs.”

That revelation led to the creation of Start Up Minot, a locally-focused group of like-minded organizations working together to encourage entrepreneurs in the Minot region to take action on their business ideas. One of the first initiatives the Minot Area Chamber EDC started was a monthly networking event that features local entrepreneurs. 

Networking events like this are a great starting point for ecosystem building, because they do two important things.

First, they allow local entrepreneurs to connect who might not otherwise meet each other. Starting a business is often a lonely endeavor, and you don’t often have the opportunity to meet other people walking the same path—especially entrepreneurs in other industries or areas of town.

But second, gathering local entrepreneurs in one place allows local leaders to hear from business owners firsthand.

“We really let the needs of the local entrepreneurs guide us in what services we provide,” Mark explained. “By having a designated gathering point, we were able to hear from both entrepreneurs and other service providers in the region about what the needs were.”

The biggest need, it turns out, was for training on how to actually start a business. The North Dakota Small Business Development Centers and local planning council would encounter plenty of people with great ideas, but these budding entrepreneurs often had no idea what the actual steps were for bringing those ideas to fruition. If another organization could meet that educational need, it would allow other organizations to focus on their niche.

Meeting the Need

The solution was Start Up Minot Academy, powered by CO.STARTERS. Using the CO.STARTERS Core curriculum, the Start Up Minot Academy gives entrepreneurial hopefuls the chance to think through their business idea, learn about what it takes to get started, and build the important relationships business owners need to succeed.

Five cohorts and over 50 graduates later, the Minot Area Chamber EDC is beginning to see the fruits of the program.

“Each year we’ve had multiple ribbon cuttings for either new businesses that went through the program or existing businesses who used the program to revamp,” he shared. “Those success stories each carry so much power for a community like ours.”

Among the new businesses from the Start Up Minot Academy are a thrift store, a meat shop, a UV cleaning business, and even a traveling ultrasound business.

Having established Start Up Minot as the place to go for learning more about starting a business, the Minot Area Chamber EDC is exploring opportunities to build additional programming on top of the academy, such as a pitch competition with financial prizes.

It’s not often that chambers of commerce or economic developers invest so heavily in the creation of new businesses. That work is typically left to other organizations, while chambers and economic developers focus on their members and investors.

But the Minot Area Chamber EDC takes a different perspective.

“From what we’ve seen, 60-80% of local economic growth comes from businesses in your own backyard. When you realize that growth is stronger and more stable when it comes from within the region, you quickly see the value in the businesses with five, ten, or fifteen employees.”


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