Website allows people to ‘Dig in’ to Walsh County

Site has seen steady traffic since launch
GRAFTON — Since November, a website aimed at showcasing the virtues of Walsh County has been up and running on the worldwide web. The site, digwalshcounty.com, is the product of years of research and planning.
History
In September 2008, a group of community leaders throughout the county gathered to conduct a community assessment identifying strengths and priority issues of concern for Walsh County.
That regional Learning, Experiencing, Networking, Strategizing/Sharing or LENS Community Assessment Project was co-sponsored by Friendship, Inc. and the former North Dakota State Developmental Center, now known as the Life Skills and Transition Center (LSTC) in Grafton.
That group studied the issues surrounding housing, employment, healthcare, social capital, transportation and recreation and leisure.
Five priority issues were identified by the LENS steering committee with the number one priority being identified as employment and the need to retain and recruit workers in the county.
“It used to be at the State Developmental Center that nobody left,” JoAnn Lizakowski, Director of Quality Support Services at the LSTC, said. “After about 2004, we noticed the rate of people leaving was around 11 percent.”
Lizakowski said other employers including Friendship Inc., the Lutheran Sunset Home and Marvin Windows and Doors all reported some difficulty in keeping their workforce, hence the need for making employment the top priority.
Since then, the LENS steering committee has evolved into the “Dig Walsh” Marketing Committee (DWMC).
The Dig Walsh slogan was created by the Hometown Aditudes firm in Hillsboro during an early market study that was funded by the Walsh County Job Development Authority.
The DWMC members represent a wide range of community leaders, professionals and members of the business community.
To accomplish the long-range goal of marketing Walsh County to the region, state and country, the Dig Walsh group, led by Walsh County Job Development Authority Director Julie Campbell and Job Service North Dakota Customer Service Senior Consultant Mary Houdek, applied for a Partners in Marketing grant with the North Dakota Department of Commerce.
The goal in writing the grant was to develop a user-friendly website to be used to promote the county’s assets and direct interested viewers to service links with the ultimate goal of recruiting for the county’s workforce.
On March 21, 2013, the DWMC was informed that they were successful in the grant process and began working on developing the website.
The grant is good for up to $17,676 for development of the site.
The Walsh County JDA has also set aside up to $5,000 for the next five years for upkeep and further marketing of the site.
Since the grant was awarded in March, the DWC has been busy acquiring vital information from every community in the county that appears on the site.
“We really had to dig in, to get the information, that’s why it took a while,” committee member Kelly DeSautel-Lessard said.
“It was challenging just to get everything in the right format and to decide what content we needed,” Campbell added. “It was just a very time consuming project.”
With input from the DWMC, the KKBOLD brand building agency in Bismarck developed the site.
Website content
After accessing the site’s home page at www.digwalshcounty.com, one can access several aspects as to what they want to explore.
Categories include: Work, Live, Play, Business Development and County Profile.
One can click on the “County Profile” link and find additional links to all 13 communities in Walsh County.
Each community site is packed with all kinds of facts including general information like proximity to other cities, population and climate.
In addition to that, a user can find the lists of churches, motels, schools, hospitals, nursing homes and other medical services.
The profile also lists information like veterinary clinics, recreational facilities, annual events, airports, county offices, utilities and services, major employers and more.
The business development tab lists agencies and resources for those who are interested in starting a new business or expanding a current business in the county.
Under the ”Play” tab are listed links to Parks and Recreation Departments, Fitness Centers and Health Clubs as well as a “get involved” link which includes a list of civic organizations and contact information.
The “Work” link lists key employers, available jobs and also a link to the Job Service North Dakota website.
Not only is the website an excellent resource for people looking to move or move back to Walsh County, it’s also a great resource for current residents.
“‘Its like a one-stop shop, even if you live within one of our communities,” DeSautel-Lessard said. “If you go to our website you can access every job that is available.”
The website has been seeing steady traffic since it went online in November.
“The fact that people are contacting us tells us that people are looking at it,” DeSautel-Lessard said.
According to Campbell, the first goal of the site was 100 page views per month.
“According to the Google analytics, we’ve had 600 views in our first month,” she said. “More than 400 were first-time views, so we’ve far surpassed our goal.”
Campbell said the site continues to evolve with businesses and organizations asking to be added to the various listings. According to Campbell, an easy way to do that is to click on the “Contact Us” link on the site.
Several links already exist, but there is the capability for each listing to contain a link to that entities’ site.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Campbell said. “We’re very open to suggestions and want to add to it.”
A countywide, updated calendar of events is another feature the committee hopes can be widely used by county organizations.
Phase Two
A  second phase of the project to bring prospective employers and workers to the county is to get the word out for the site itself. Another grant application will be submitted to the ND Department of Commerce for that purpose.
“The website is step one,” Houdek said. “The second step will be promoting the website so people will go to it.”
According to Campbell, the county’s Facebook page went live on Dec. 7 and they had 97 “likes” within the first 24 hours. As of Dec. 18, there were 196 likes on the Facebook page.
To access the Dig Walsh website, log on to www.digwalshcounty.com.

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