Fusion. A word meaning to combine separate elements into a unified whole.
That’s the thought behind the Fusion conference recently hosted in Bowman that was organized by the county’s economic development corporation office.
It was an idea that started out as a way to bring ideas and resources to the region, according to Executive Director for the Bowman County Development Corporation, Terran Doerr. Often, she said, these type of out-of-the box thinkers and presentations happen in the eastern part of the state, or even different parts of the country.
“We really wanted to bring it to a region that doesn’t have easy access to that type of thing,” she said.
The Fusion conference featured three speakers, two presenters, two panels of experts and entrepreneurs, and many other individuals giving their input on how their organization can help generate ideas and get businesses started. This conglomerate of speakers and presenters essentially was the idea behind the name, Fusion.
“We felt like the name really encompassed that, fusing them all together,” Doerr said.
Planning for this event happened rather quickly. Initially they thought they would start planning and this kind of conference they envisioned would take time and allow them to host the event next year. But after some money became available through the Small Business Development Center they applied for the funding.
“We put our idea into the hat and they gave us startup funds for it, so we decided to go with it this year,” she said. “We did it on a really short timeline.”
One by one they started booking the speakers, starting with the keynote and emcee of the event, Kenyon Salo. Salo considers himself the James Bond of speakers and is one of the skydivers that jumps onto the football field during home games for the Denver Broncos.
From there Fargo-based Greg Tehven, who co-founded Emerging Prairie, and Eric Piela, who heads public relations and community management for the North Dakota-based company CoSchedule, were booked.
Finishing the line up of highlighted speakers was an expert from Google, rural advocate and community connector Karalea Cox, and Hettigner native Jodi Uecker, who currently serves as the Chief Operating Officer of the state of North Dakota under Gov. Doug Burgum.
Among all the speakers and panelists, only Salo hailed from somewhere outside of the North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana area. So attendees of the conference were able to hear the trials and tribulations—and successes—of people that are no different from themselves. Doerr and the development office were hoping that the crowd could see that you can turn your ideas into reality in regions like southwest North Dakota, and that success stories can come from other places other than major metropolitan areas.
“These panelists are all people that we’ve met by working through the development corporation,” she said. “These are all people from North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana that we know and have really cool stories, so we just asked if they’d come share it [at Fusion].”
Doerr thought that some of the most applicable content came from Tehven, who talked about the community playing a vital role in economic development, not just those hired to paid positions.
“Thinking outside the box, [and] that we’re all a part of economic development, that it’s the crowd that’s part of economic development, creating that community that you want to be a part of,” she said. “And really celebrating the community I think was very applicable.”
There was a healthy cross section of those who attended. It was a blend of trade laborers, and executives. At one table you could see a general contractor, and skim down the line and see a healthcare executive. Doerr said that seeing the crowd formed by a diverse background of industry professionals was one of the neatest things she saw.
“It was so fun to look around the room and see the look on people’s faces, you could tell they were just engaged,” she said. “The feedback has been overwhelming and positive.”
Throughout the whole two-day conference, there were times that attendees were directed to discuss topics amongst themselves.
“We really wanted to give people a chance to talk about what they were learning at the conference,” Doerr said.
The goal was to get at least 150 people to attend the inaugural event. In the end, the number of registered individuals exceeded that goal. Doerr said the final number was around 160. She admitted that the first year can be tough because you’re still trying to tell people what the program is about, but credited the sponsors with spreading the word about the conference.
“We were extremely happy with the attendance,” she said.
She also gave much of the effort to her co-workers in the EDC office.
“They are truly all amazing and talented, and we have the perfect combination of skills in that office to pull something like [Fusion] together,” she said.
Many of the volunteers were a part of the chamber and the EDC board as well.
Now attention turns to the next event.
“We’re already talking about it,” Doerr said.
She already has a keynote speaker in mind and hopes to hold the event a little earlier in the year next year. But she doesn’t want it to be a once-a-year thing.
“I think it’s really good for our region to feel that energy and to start working together and seeing possibilities,” she said. “And honestly, I don’t want this [to be] just a one year conference, then we do another conference, I want to keep working on this in between.”
Doerr envisions holding forums and public meetings to gather ideas and input in between bigger events like Fusion.
“I think it’s just the start of something,” she said. “Nothing we heard [at the conference] will just sit on a shelf until next year.”