Many growing communities, as well as communities that want to grow, are challenged by an insufficient workforce.  We see this as a continued issue in the Upper Midwest and Rocky Mountain areas.  However, it is probably most challenging in the northern states.  For instance, North Dakota has a 2.6 percent unemployment rate – the second lowest in the United States.  Attracting more workers to the state is a major need.

In 2017, an advisory committee of leaders from the Grand Forks, ND area along with human resources and business executives representing the finance, manufacturing, unmanned aerial systems (UAS), utilities, and health care sectors came together to identify challenges and identify the goals of a workforce development project.  The committee provided direction and leadership to the entities that would be funding the effort.  The Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation, The Chamber – Grand Forks/East Grand Forks, the Greater Grand Forks Convention and Visitors Bureau, the University of North Dakota, Grand Forks County, and the City of Grand Forks collaboratively funded the workforce development campaign.

AE2S Communications was selected as the marketing/communications agency to create a campaign that would achieve the goals of creating a sense of place and personality for the Grand Forks region, while providing a centralized portal to provide information to help attract workforce, new residents, retail businesses, and entrepreneurs.

The team went about researching previous studies that were conducted as well as conducting learning sessions with the committee.  From there, themes and personalities of the region emerged.  Words like hardy (because of the cold), hard-working, pioneers, friendly, and more started to fill the large whiteboard.  As the team mulled over the previous research and current observations, a conversation evolved around impressions of Grand Forks based on some of the emerging themes.  Communications Specialist Tammy Jo Taft noted how some of her visiting friends commented how Grand Forks was actually pretty cool.

“It hit us right away that statement embodied everything we were talking about,” said AE2S Communications Leader Andrea Boe.  Focus groups and the committee’s response to the phrase confirmed that as it won out over two other possible themes.

The “Way Cooler Than You Think” campaign plays on the fact that there is an enormous amount of opportunities in the Grand Forks area, while having some tongue in cheek fun with the cold winters.  “We didn’t want to shy away from our cold climate because that’s often what people focus on as a negative.  But there are lots of fun things to do during North Dakota winters.  We work hard and play hard, all year long,” says Boe.

The campaign showcases the things that make the Grand Forks area a cool place to live and work – short commutes, great schools, low crime rate, as well as a variety of restaurants, bars, and retail options.  AE2S Communications developed the “Way Cooler Than You Think” brand, logo, website, media releases, conference booth, digital advertising, social media, and other marketing collateral. The campaign’s website serves as a centralized “portal” into the Grand Forks region.  The site,, showcases a variety of information that those who are new to Grand Forks may be looking for, including career and volunteer opportunities, arts and culture, and general information about living in the community.

In addition, a toolkit was created that includes a brand guide, graphics, and suggested social media posts.  To keep the momentum of the project going after the materials were produced and the campaign was launched, the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation took over the ongoing management of the “Way Cooler Than You Think” workforce development campaign with the continued support of the AE2S Communications team.

“One of the reasons this campaign is so successful is the EDC did a great job of sharing the toolkit with businesses that are willing to post social media messages and link them back to  This truly was a community effort,” says Boe.

Taylor Corbett, AE2S Marketing Coordinator, tracked the social media and website analytics to assess the campaign’s progress.  As of June 2018, the @GFisCooler Facebook page has amassed more than 1,000 followers, with posts that have reached more than 30,000 Facebook users.  On Instagram, the hashtag #gfiscooler has been used more than 2,000 times.  On Twitter, the @GFisCooler account’s tweets have reach thousands of people, and thousands of people have accessed the Grand Forks is Cooler website.

Since completing the “Way Cooler Than You Think” campaign, AE2S Communications has embarked on economic and workforce development projects in several other communities.  If you would like additional information about AE2S Communications’ services, contact Andrea Boe.