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Nicknames, slogans help N.D. residents tell their towns’ stories

GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks has been “A Place of Excellence” for about 20 years, but nobody at City Hall seems to know where the slogan came from.

Community Relations Officer Pete Haga couldn’t find anyone who remembers, though he said there is evidence of it being used in the early 1990s. “We believe it was administrative action, but other than that, it’s pretty vague.”

Many other towns across North Dakota have similar stories of nicknames and slogans that have existed forever. Other towns, though, are updating theirs to attract tourists.

Some nicknames, such as “Tater Town, USA,” are straightforward.

“It all started with the potatoes,” said Ron Hultin, a City Council member in Hoople. “They used to grow a lot of potatoes here and they still do.”

Others, like Dickinson’s, need explaining.

Dan Ingram, a museum coordinator, said the town was called the “Queen City” in the early 1900s partially because it served as a hub for the western side of the state and partially to persuade state leaders to build Dickinson State University there.

But the origin story is a little fuzzy.

“The second-largest city after the capital was the ‘queen’ city, but we think it may have come out of a contest by the forerunner of the chamber of commerce — but we don’t know,” Ingram said.

But the western North Dakota town is rebranding so it can better market itself tourists and other visitors. Recently, it started using the nickname “The Western Edge.”

Working on ‘being noticed’

Ellendale also has rebranded with a new slogan, “Life on a better scale.”

Former Mayor Don Flaherty helped come up with the campaign.

“I felt that our city, being located where we are between Aberdeen (S.D.) and Jamestown, being on the major artery, it seemed we were not really noticed as a community and we worked to be noticed,” Flaherty said.

The town used “Life on a better scale” on brochures, advertisements and even commissioned a jingle where a woman sings about the town having “hunting, golfing, fishing with the arts too.”

“We’re working on building a brand and being noticed,” Flaherty said.

Jamestown also recently rebranded itself to draw in tourism dollars.

Searle Swedlund, executive director of the Buffalo City Tourism Foundation, said the town has been known as the “Buffalo City” as long as anybody can remember. But after consulting residents and area businesses, it has been advertising with the slogan “Discover the Heart of the North Dakota Prairie” since May.

He said the town needed a slogan that made people want to visit and get to know the Buffalo City.

“The Buffalo City is what we want ourselves to be known as, but nobody knew that until they came here,” he said. “For us, this is about branding, about associating a look, a feel, to our community.”

But not all rebranding efforts manage to take off.

Haga said that after the 1997 flood, there was an effort to rebrand Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, Minn., as “The Grand Cities,” but the name didn’t stick.

“That didn’t go over very well,” he said. “It just didn’t take.”

A few years after that, Haga said the city used merchandise and other marketing tools with the slogan “This city works,” but it hasn’t been used on a large or permanent scale.

Reflecting a spirit

Some nicknames and slogans are a piece of history reflecting the town spirit rather than a marketing tool.

The town of Zap, for example, still uses the slogan “Zip to Zap.” That’s what some college students used as the theme for their 1969 spring break getaway to Zap. The event turned into a kind of riot, and the National Guard was called in to disperse the crowd.

The Zap city auditor, Cynthia Zahn, said town residents have taken the slogan and made it their own. They’ve sold memorabilia in the past, but Zahn said it’s more about celebrating the town’s unique history than about drawing in tourists.

“It kind of stuck with our town,” she said. “It’s kind of unique.”

City officials at Kenmare said the town has been known as the “Goose Capital” for more than 20 years for obvious reasons.

“We have a big lake up here that’s covered with geese,” City Auditor Barb Wiedmer said. “Literally there are thousands, millions.”

Karen Nordby, the city auditor in Harvey, said the town slogan evolved from “A century of community pride and spirit” in 2006 to “Not just a place ... it’s an experience!”

She said city officials were just looking for something that summed up life in a typical Midwestern small town.

“We don’t have anything super special, super great, but it’s just a super great little town,” Nord

Anna Burleson

Anna Burleson is the higher education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald. She is a 2013 graduate of the University of South Dakota's Mass Communication program and is originally from Watertown, S.D. Contact her with story ideas or tips by phone, email or Twitter, all of which are listed below. Examples of her work can be accessed here.

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