Last week, Mayor of Fargo Dr. Tim Mahoney took two days to visit the Kauffman Foundation, a non-profit focused on entrepreneurship and education in Kansas City, MO. It’s a significant chunk of time for Mayor Mahoney. Between conducting surgeries and managing a city, his plate is pretty full.
But he did so because at Kauffman Foundation, they are focused on building community, he said. It is where 1 Million Cups was born, a weekly event that takes place in over 70 cities across the nation – 1 Million Cups Fargo being the largest.
The Foundation’s vision is “to foster a society of economically independent individuals who are engaged citizens in their communities.”
Mahoney first crossed paths with the people of Kauffman Foundation at a conference in Washington D.C., he said. Later, Yasuyuki Motoyama, Director of Research and Policy at the Kauffman Foundation, spoke at the Mayor’s Summit in Fargo. Their message was loud and clear.
“The takeaway was that if we have a strong community, it helps for your job growth and helps for your city to be prosperous,” Mahoney said.
Based on the activity he’s seen in this city, Mahoney is encouraging Kauffman to send researchers to study Fargo. What’s happening here, he said, is worth paying attention to.
A City in its Time: Old Fargo vs. New Fargo
The Mayor, who has lived in Fargo since 1980, sees Fargo in a time of historic significance when it comes to building community.
Dan Mahli, Fargo’s Community Development Administrator, even drew a comparison between Fargo and Athens, Greece, in its prime. The two cities are at the same size, and at a point of growth where people are moving here and engaging in big conversations, he said.
“It’s an interesting thing because what you get then is a lot of people with young ideas and the ability to say, why don’t we try this?” Mayor Mahoney said.
There are those, however, who disagree. For many who have seen the atmosphere of Fargo shift over the past few years, there is a nostalgia for “how it used to be.”
One Fargo native voiced his opinions after hearing of efforts to attract more people to Fargo. More people means more traffic, he said, stating that this is already becoming a problem. It means more crime. More “riff-raff.”
Fargo, he said, is a hidden gem. And that’s how it should stay. Hidden.
In response to this sentiment, Mayor Mahoney twists back the clock to take a closer look at “how it used to be.”
“Old Fargo was dying,” he said. “Downtown Fargo was dying. Young people were bothered by panhandlers. You didn’t have that sense of vibrancy. For us older people, your kids were migrating out of the community. You may miss old Fargo, but old Fargo was losing. And the state was losing 650,000 people.”
“Now,” he said, “We’re heading towards half a million.”
Building a New Fargo
It’s more than just numbers, Mahoney said. As the city grows, new restaurants open up, new businesses are formed, and new people are welcomed into a city.
“You have a lot more opportunities for people to enjoy different cultures, different ideas, different people,” he said. “The new Fargo has a lot to offer.”
It all comes back to the idea that building community builds better economies, Mahoney said. It’s something that Kauffman Foundation has done extensive research on, and a mantra that Mahoney believes in.
“We have an opportunity in Fargo to design a community that we all like,” he said. “We have youth coming in and older people coming in. But there’s things that both want. A community that is safe, near family, an enjoyable job.”
The business community is a unique leverage for Fargo as well, Mahoney said. The collaborative spirit is already here, and can be seen at places like 1 Million Cups Fargo, he said. Even in the way the theater is shaped, rounded in Shakespearean style, where people can look around and see each other rather than all face forward.
Fargo still has much room to grow as well, Mahoney said. In his long-term vision for Fargo, he sees a need to bring more money behind the work being done.
A bill that Senator Heidi Heitkamp announced this week, which could bring $120,000 to fund rural startups in Fargo and across the nation, is a step in the right direction, Mahoney said. But he believes there is more the community can do to support its risk-takers.
“Invest in risks,” he said. “Invest in something and see what happens. See what we can do.”
Photos courtesy of Emerging Prairie.