Paul Nevanen can still recall his feelings the first night he moved back to International Falls 27 years ago.
“It just felt so wonderful,” he said. “It’s a feeling that’s hard to describe.”
The emotional attachment to the area for the director of the Koochiching Economic Development Authority was strong, and he is hopeful it will be for others, too.
KEDA and Big Fish Works this week launched an effort to recruit Koochiching County’s own back to the area. Your Ticket Home is the starting point for individuals and businesses interested in moving to or returning to the county.
“The effort is a recruitment strategy for families, potential business owners and workforce,” Nevanen said. “We’ve been working on this for quite some time.”
As an agency looking to boost economic development, Nevanen said most of KEDA’s marketing and recruitment efforts have been trying to bring something new into the county.
“We’ve had very limited success with that,” he said. “We need to develop what we have within.”
Your Ticket Home targets people within the ages of 25 and mid-40s who have a connection to the county in some way. Whatever it is that previously brought people to Koochiching County hopefully built an emotional connection that would encourage a permanent return, is the idea behind the campaign.
“We think if folks were given the right opportunities, they would come back to the area,” Nevanen said, referring back to his own personal experience. “People know what makes this place special.”
The idea for the project isn’t unique to Koochiching County, and was already attempted once before.
In 2006, KEDA introduced the local initiative, however, the lack of social media nearly 14 years ago didn’t give the effort the momentum it needed.
“It was a great idea and had great response, but at that time, social media was not as sophisticated as it is now,” Nevanen said. “We didn’t have the ability to respond really quickly.”
Now, with the ability to reach a wider range of people through social media, Nevanen and others are hopeful to see more success with Your Ticket Home.
“This is going to be a long-term project that we intend to track,” he said. “We’ve got good ideas and the right people behind this.”
To help boost interest in the effort, a contest to win a $500 plane voucher is also in the mix.
Nevanen said people who do not currently live in Koochiching County are eligible to win the SkyWest Delta voucher by filling out the brief questionnaire at www.yourtickethome.org.
“The questionnaire helps us better align what a person or couple needs in terms of employment,” Nevanen said. “The person who wins the voucher will be randomly selected later this month.”
The KEDA director knows there are challenges associated with coming back to the rural northern Minnesota county, especially when it involves finding jobs for two adults in a family.
“That’s been the challenge and remains the challenge,” Nevanen said. “But, given the right opportunities, we believe we can get people back here... Moving back here is a big decision, but it’s an easy one... As people go through milestones in their life, I believe the most important one is when you feel like you’re home.”