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UND Hockey alum Derrick LaPoint revitalizing downtown Moorhead

Posted on 7/19/2018

Originally published at UND Today:

Like many students going through the collegiate experience, Derrick LaPoint had a few moments that, looking back, could be referred to as "turning points."

The former UND Men's Hockey defenseman had different ideas where his education would take him. For one thing, a career in the rink was always on the horizon.

LaPoint's parents taught him to take his schooling seriously, regardless of athletic talent. He came to UND intent on going into elementary education. It didn't take long to realize the challenges of completing a four-year degree in such an involved program alongside the demands of being a student-athlete.

"So I found a passion with some classes I was taking through geography that had an emphasis in urban planning and community development," LaPoint said of his undergraduate experience from 2007-2011. "I got entrenched in it. I enjoyed it and enjoyed the staff there."

When LaPoint broke his leg during a game his sophomore season, his outlook started to change. He remembered thinking that things were getting "real" - that hockey might not be the pinnacle of what he would do in life.

Fast forward

Today, almost a decade after that injury, LaPoint is a Leader in Action as the president and CEO of Downtown Moorhead Inc., a Moorhead, Minn., nonprofit with a mission to encourage downtown growth - economically and culturally.

"It's a lot of meetings in the coffee shop like what we're doing right now," LaPoint said with a laugh during an interview with UND Today. "On average, I probably have five to six business meetings a day, whether it's with city people, developers, business owners. It's a lot of cold calling, introducing myself and what we're trying to do."

He's been in the role since February and operates as an army of one, though he's backed by a board of influential Moorhead leaders, including the owner of Scheel's All Sports, the president of Hornbacher's Foods, the vice-chair/secretary of American Crystal Sugar and three regional university presidents, just to name a few.

"They brought in the funds for my position and understood there was a need for it," LaPoint said.

Worth the risk

In 2017, the board had 100 applicants. LaPoint wasn't one of them.

At the time, he was with the City of Fargo, Moorhead's sister city across the Red River in North Dakota, and happy with his role as a planner. There, he was wholly responsible for downtown development. Coming up with incentives, planning studies, zoning, parking and management were all in his wheelhouse. After the search went national, LaPoint received a call. Soon after, he was a finalist and eventually received an offer for the position.

"Things were happening in Fargo, things were progressing," he said. "Here, in Moorhead, just historically, thing's haven't. I saw tremendous opportunity in that and to be a part of something so grassroots. By taking this job, I see myself as almost entrepreneurial. Nothing was set up and I've been able to build it from scratch. There's so much potential in Moorhead that it was worth the risk to be a part of a movement like that."

On the job

When LaPoint talks about the work he's doing, one could easily confuse him for an elected official. In addition to cold-calling businesses and attending city and economic development meetings, he's amid the community trying to understand the history, perceptions, what's happening and what he can do for the people he meets.

"I never thought I would be into politics as deep as I am right now," he chuckles. "Working with people like this comes easily as I enjoy it and we're working towards a common goal. In this case, it's something I'm passionate about - revitalizing an area. It's exciting and I'm hopeful we can get things done."

That isn't to say his efforts haven't already produced fruit. Downtown Moorhead Inc., was able to create a housing goal statement, approved with "high praise" by the city council: 500 housing units will be established over the next five years in downtown Moorhead. The city's Economic Development Authority also set aside $60,000 for LaPoint's nonprofit to lead a long-term downtown plan, though details of that plan are still forthcoming.

A June newsletter from the organization also highlighted short-term goals such as revising current economic incentive policies and encouraging Moorhead to reevaluate city-owned properties for private development.

"The fun thing about my background, playing at the higher levels of a sport, is that I was able to travel around a lot of different communities and see, for the most part, a lot of the rinks are in a downtown or urban area," LaPoint said. "When I'm doing research I'm able to look back, remember being somewhere and see how they've transformed. You have to feed from your past to be successful."

UND experience

Not only was LaPoint able to finish his career at UND after his season-ending injury, but he went on to play two years in the NHL's minor leagues. However, after re-injuring his leg, a longer career on the ice just wasn't going to happen.

He moved to Indianapolis to be with his wife, who was working on her master's degree. LaPoint reached out to UND to see if the University had any connections in the area. What he received instead was the proposition to come back and earn a master's of his own.

"I had never really considered it," he said. "But I thought, ‘Maybe now is as good of time as ever to do it.'"

In the meantime, LaPoint found a position working for the city manager of Speedway, Ind. He says he did "everything under the sun" and gained valuable insight into the functions of local governance.

Back at UND, he began work on a master's in geography. His focus, as it was during his first stint in Grand Forks, was urban planning and community development. LaPoint almost was able to construct his thesis within the first year. He developed a community program encouraging elderly independence through physical and social services.

"Some people may get a degree and maybe never do anything in that type of profession," he said. "For me, my degree is what I'm doing right now. The knowledge base I was able to receive was tremendous and the (UND) staff is fantastic. My professors gave me the freedom to do something unique with my thesis, something that was impactful and could actually help people.

"From the athletic side, I'm competitive, driven and all things demanded of you with UND Hockey, including time management. It instilled the desire to never be satisfied and demand the most out of yourself."

Now that he's in a more entrepreneurial role with Downtown Moorhead Inc., the competitive mentality transitions naturally.

"I said in my interview that I view this job like it's my pro hockey career," LaPoint said. "I control how hard I work every day. If I don't work hard, that's on me, not on my board or anyone else. My success is based on my results."

He says there are great things to come for Moorhead as he works to level the playing field for a business-friendly environment.

"It will be fun to look back in five years and see all we've accomplished."

-Connor Murphy

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