Press Release: Welcoming Community Program


Contact: Elissa Hansen, President & CEO

Northspan Group, Inc.

Office Phone: 218.481.7737




Duluth, MN — August 9, 2021: Northspan is working with the Arrowhead Intelligent Region (AIR) initiative, the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, the Northland Foundation, and potentially other foundational partners on Welcoming Community programming to position northeast Minnesota for success by:

  • providing programming and resources to elevate digital access, equity, and inclusion
  • creating welcoming communities
  • increasing cultural fluency
  • retaining and attracting knowledge workforce 

For a two-year duration, Lead for Minnesota Fellow Amber Lewis will serve Northspan and facilitate the program. Amber Lewis is originally from the Iron Range and recently graduated with a master’s degree in Conflict Resolution and Analysis from George Mason University. Lead for Minnesota (LFM) is a state affiliate of the national nonprofit Lead for America, a nonpartisan two-year fellowship program. LFM works to make communities more united by focusing on the program’s three core pillars of education, pathways, and systems-change. 

As Program Coordinator, Lewis will serve Northspan’s Welcoming Community program and its six goals:

  1. Gathering regional broadband data to create a baseline for digital access equity and inclusion measurement utilizing the Intelligent Community Forum Indicators 
  2. Creating an Advisory Committee to Northspan’s Welcoming Community programming 
  3. Adding a Northspan webpage to promote and engage Welcoming Community programming 
  4. Launching programming informed by goal #1
  5. Promoting and delivering at least 20 group Intercultural Development Inventories (IDIs) to governments and quasi-governmental community groups and organizations across northeast Minnesota, elevating our community leaders’ intercultural fluency
  6. Identifying and increasing the regional capacity to engage and educate in welcoming community and equity learning

The early stages of the effort will involve gathering regional broadband data and using it to create a baseline for digital access, equity, and inclusion measurement. Northspan will also explore how the data aligns with demographics, including race/ethnicity, income, education, and age. This baseline will shape Welcoming Community programming design and inform productive conversations about why the gaps exist and what programming could address those gaps. 

The effort also aims overall to support the launch of BIPOC shared leadership and capacity-building leadership opportunities led by BIPOC in our communities while advancing DEI-related policies across the region. These efforts will include an Equity Summit scheduled for October 27, 2021, with details pending based on pandemic conditions. The summit will include sessions related to equity innovation, business and industry, education, government, community groups and nonprofits, and the creative arts. 

“We began this effort unsure what form it would take, knowing it relies heavily on partner and community input,” said Elissa Hansen, Northspan President & CEO. “This program is the result of extensive conversations both inside and outside Northspan. We look forward to further dialogue over our goals, lifting up those engaged in the work already, and creating new partnerships.”

The program builds on DEI research and work Northspan has been conducting since early 2020

  • Early in the process, Northspan defined a welcoming community as a community that proactively works to integrate new residents or residents from historically disadvantaged backgrounds to foster an inclusive environment that sets the stage for community and economic growth.
  • On an ongoing basis, Northspan has been working to build DEI internal capacity as a team by:
    • Reviewing academic literature on concepts related to welcoming communities
    • Studying approaches and best practices employed by other groups in Minnesota active in comparable work
    • Undertaking training and certifications, including:
  • In 2020, Northspan conducted an anonymous survey on the welcoming concept:
    • This survey solicited the input of 113 regional public, private, and nonprofit stakeholders in community and economic development, workforce development, government and education sectors, and foundational work. 
    • Northspan asked participants about their efforts to create welcoming communities and explored potential avenues for regional cooperation to further promote their efforts.
    • Results identified several approaches that regional groups seeking to promote welcoming communities have taken in other areas. These include:
      • Community events
      • Provision of awareness resources
      • Resource provision to new arrivals (e.g., immigrant populations, refugees, trailing spouses)
      • Policy work
  • In January 2021, Northspan’s NORTHFORCE program launched pilot Student Connect programming:
    • The purpose of Student Connect is to retain knowledge workforce locally by creating an environment where students feel welcomed into our communities and develop genuine professional connections.
    • The pilot year served students across the entire NORTHFORCE region of northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin and coordinated with all 13 college and university campuses in the area.
    • The combination of advancing the region’s digital inclusion programs and attracting new residents aims to position northeast Minnesota for growth and prosperity.
  • In early 2021, Northspan assisted the Arrowhead Regional Development Commission (ARDC) with an update of its Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS)
    • The process included a survey with over 275 respondents and virtual engagement sessions with over 220 participants from across the seven-county Arrowhead region of Minnesota. 
    • Northspan proactively worked to solicit participation from a sample that reflected the region’s demographics.
    • A large percentage of comments and conversations touched on the merging of digital access, equity, and inclusion.

“We’re looking forward to working with a wide range of regional organizations and community members in order to build on existing formal and informal DEI networks,” said Amber Lewis, Welcoming Community Program Coordinator. “We intend to gain cross-sector support for these efforts. Northspan will also explore the potential for integrating them into an overarching regional plan which could facilitate communication and provide a framework for welcoming community work throughout northeast Minnesota.”

Why Northspan?

Northspan has provided business, community, and organizational development consulting services since 1985:

  • Over its 35-year history, it has established a proven record of leading regional cooperation and seeking out cutting-edge programming necessary to promote equitable development and economic growth in northeast Minnesota. 
  • Northspan’s past and present board includes members from organizations committed to DEI goals including the Northland Foundation, Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and the Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation. Northspan leadership has also made welcoming work central to its current board-approved 2021-2025 Strategic Plan
  • Northspan has successfully managed regional programs such as Northland Connection, NORTHFORCE, the Minnesota Opportunity Collaborative, and the Upper Minnesota Film Office for decades and has served as a facilitator for regional partnerships such as Community Advisory Panels, the Mineland Vision Partnership (formerly the Laurentian Vision Partnership), Arrowhead Growth Alliance, East Range Joint Powers Board, and other long-term and short-term collaborative efforts across communities.

Northspan will continue to share research findings and Welcoming Community program developments, including an announcement with full details on the October 27 Equity Summit, pending based on pandemic conditions.

For more information, please contact Elissa Hansen, President & CEO of Northspan, at


Northspan specializes in creative thinking, enterprising strategies, and systematic approaches to help businesses, communities, regions, and organizations prosper in a global economy, working cooperatively with economic and community development partners to leverage resources for measurable, sustainable results. Learn more at