Emerging Prairie’s Greg Tehven recently had a piece featured in the TED blog. Here, we feature a fuller version of his article.
Fargo, North Dakota, has a skewed reputation. This city, which happens to be my hometown, rocketed to infamy thanks to the 1996 dark comedy by the Coen Brothers about a down-on-his-luck car salesman (William H. Macy) who plans to have his wife kidnapped, and the sheriff (Frances McDormand) who investigates what happens when the plan goes terribly awry. Fargo is a great film—I mean, it won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay—but it also planted some very off ideas about the city I call home. And just as the jokes were finally dissipating, FX rolled out a new, addictive TV show also called Fargo that dredged up the stereotypes anew.
I grew up on a family farm outside Fargo. In fact, my great-great-grandfather was one of the pioneers who first settled this area. And as the organizer of TEDxFargo, it feels like my duty to set the record straight. Below, some common misconceptions about Fargo, corrected.
1. You might think … people in Fargo talk funny.
Yup, we might say “geez” on occasion. But most of us don’t talk funny, and we definitely don’t all sound the same. In fact, we have a surprisingly large community of folks who moved here from all over the world. Our community is filled with innovators, artists, researchers, entrepreneurs and other professionals who moved here from outside the US and discover that Fargo is a welcoming community to new Americans.
2. You might say … Fargo is a victim of “the great brain drain.”
I remember hearing politicians say that Fargo, and North Dakota in general, were suffering from a “brain drain”—that brightest, most talented young people were leaving for the coasts. Hearing that hurt—and it’s just not what I see in everyday life. Just a few of the incredible talents working in Fargo right now: Doug Burgum of the Kilbourne Group, who refurbishes beautiful, historic buildings in Fargo so that they have new life; Brook Kupcho, who created Wolftree.co, an online magazine for makers and doers that highlights the beauty of the Midwest; and Jake Joraanstad of Myriad Mobile, an app developer who launched the Midwest Mobile Summit to bring tech thinkers from across the region to our city. Our startup community is growing by leaps and bounds. Tech company success stories, like those of Intelligent InSites and Packet Digital, abound. Fargo even has Startup Weekends, hosted at Concordia College, where creative business thinkers pitch ideas and then work around-the-clock with a dedicated team to get their concept off the ground.
3. You might think … Fargo is small and in the middle of nowhere.
Fun fact: Of the six towns named Fargo in the United States, the one in North Dakota has the largest population, with 113,658 residents. And we prefer to say we are located in the middle of a rich frontier, surrounded by beautiful natural landscapes and farms. Which means that Fargo offers what might be the greatest sunset in the world. Almost every night.
4. You might think … Fargo is cold all the time.
I can’t lie—we get a lot of snow in Fargo, about 52 inches per winter. But it makes the other seasons all the sweeter, no? Fall is a gaggle of colors, spring is full of flowers, and the summer is glorious, mild and action-packed. The TEDxFargo community is hugely active in the warm months, with outdoor lunches and after-event celebrations in gardens and on rooftops. Our early summer mornings allow us to feature TEDx Adventures—this year, we’ll hold a coffee roasting exhibition, do yoga on a rooftop, and play childhood games in one of Fargo’s many parks.
5. You might say … there is nothing to do in Fargo.
Contrary to popular belief, Fargo is not at all boring. It’s a place with many unique features, one that really integrates creative types into the community. Just a few of the things you can do in Fargo: you can attend one of our monthly Brunchins, a midnight gathering at a local art gallery that highlights quirky art, delicious cocktails, and extremely inventive vegan food. In one instance, guests were surprised by an incredible duet from the world’s youngest yoyo champion (a TEDxYouth@Fargo speaker) and Ben Sung of the Fargo-Moorhead Symphony (an upcoming TEDxFargo speaker). I’m also a big fan of Corks and Canvas, a monthly summer gathering that draws folks from across the region to stroll through downtown Fargo and sample wine, explore different forms of art, and talk to the artists behind the work. It was started by the founders of Ecce, a gallery and yoga space that hosted the first three TEDxFargo events. And finally, I’d recommend that you stop by DSGNX Fargo, which holds regular “Trivia and Typography” nights as well as an event called “Cropped,” which is a Top Chef-style competition where designers battle head-to-head. And of course, you can always attend a TEDxFargo event. Our last one had 600 attendees. Our city is active, vibrant and filled with plenty to do.
6. You might think … Fargo is for old-timers.
The characters in Fargo aren’t exactly young and spry—they’re middle-aged and dealing with a lack of opportunities. But I’d like to point out that Fargo is now one of the youngest cities in the United States. In fact, the average age here is 30.2 years old. We are home to several universities, and Concordia Language Villages is one of the top places for people in the world to learn a new language. As far as new opportunities, we have a full calendar of start up events, an organization dedicated to promoting startups, a recently launched no-cost co-living incubator, and one of the best 1 Million Cups organizations in the country. So many people in Fargo are running their own companies or setting up their own creative studios. People are choosing Fargo as a place to launch their careers. Fun fact: nine new people move to Fargo every day.
7. You might think … Fargo is a nowhere place where no one would want to live.
When I was younger, I believed the negative mythology about this place, so I went off to a big college, co-founded a nonprofit (Students Today Leaders Forever), and then traveled widely to see the great cities of the world. I spent time in Hanoi and Bangkok, and walked across Spain. And after that, I wanted to come back to Fargo. I’ve committed my life’s work to making this the greatest city in the world. I’ve turned down opportunities elsewhere to raise the profile of a creative community filled with misfits, artists, entrepreneurs, and some of the kindest people in the world. Thanks for thinking differently about us!
TEDxFargo: On Purpose is around the corner—it will take place on Thursday, July 24, at the historic Fargo Theatre. Our first event started with four speakers and 100 people in the audience; this event will feature 22 speakers with an audience of more than 800, and TEDxYouth@Fargo the next day. This kind of growth couldn’t happen without a dedicated team of volunteers. This year, in addition to the speaker program, we’ll experiment with the aroma in the lobby and have puppies to hang out with during the breaks. Overall, we push ourselves to create a memorable experience where attendees are able to see things with new eyes and hear things with new ears. So we especially appreciate your thinking differently about our city.
8. You might say … Fargo is all farmers and country bumpkins.
North Dakota and Fargo can certainly brag of some of the best farmers in the world. But Fargo is increasingly home to innovators, thinkers, researchers and entrepreneurs, too. Our Arts Partnership has a Community Supported Arts Program that throws great parties where members leave with new pieces created by talent in the region. The Dakota Medical Foundation puts on two Streets Alive days per summer, shutting down the streets and engaging our downtown in outdoor, recreational fun. Our top chef in town (a past TEDxFargo speaker) is building Red River Valley Chef’s Association. Vegan author and advocate Kristin Lajueunesse spent part of her summer in Fargo writing her new book that will come out in 2015. And the Misfits just held their second annual Misfit Con, bringing together troublemakers from around the world.