Pelican Rapids - Homegrown Tools

Pelican Rapids, MN

Updated: 2022

Pelican Rapids is a diverse rural community where eighteen different languages are spoken in the elementary school. By developing cross-cultural learning opportunities and a youth soccer league, this community capitalizes on the entrepreneurial talents of local immigrants.

Population2020 2,512
Median Household Income2020$49,274
Poverty Rate 202024.2%
Proximity to Urban Center 50 miles to Fargo, N.D.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 12 miles
Case Study Time Frame 1990-2006
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
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Located in west-central Minnesota, Pelican Rapids is considered one of the most culturally diverse communities in the state. Hispanic, Vietnamese, Bosnian and Somali refugees have migrated to this historically white, rural community in search of work at the county’s largest employer, West Central Turkeys. The injection of new culture and language into this tiny town has brought a variety of challenges and opportunities to civic leaders in Pelican. “We try to do everything we can to make a safe and stable place for people to live,” Pelican Rapids Mayor Wayne Runningen said. “We work across city groups to facilitate the transition of people to our community.” Rather than holding immigrants at a distance, Pelican Rapids has designed an innovative, locally controlled system to integrate them into civic, social and economic life, and is using the growth to fuel the economy.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Look for entrepreneurs within immigrant communities. Small business entrepreneurship is a substantial contributor to economic development in small towns. As a result of their integration strategy, Pelican Rapids appears to be on the front-end of an economic reawakening based on the entrepreneurial tendencies of new immigrant residents. The town is starting to see new immigrant-owned retail shops and grocery stores downtown. These immigrant- owned businesses pay local taxes, hire local workers and contribute toward building a viable civic infrastructure in Pelican Rapids.


Social events, such as soccer, can be a great source of community identity and integration. Travelers to foreign countries have long recognized that sports (especially soccer) can be a universal language to promote understanding and cooperation among different individuals and cultures. In the case of Pelican Rapids, soccer brought kids and families together from different cultural groups and ultimately became a source of community pride.


It is important to build a web of service organizations to facilitate integration. In terms of small town development, the most immediate challenge associated with the arrival of immigrants is that civic and social infrastructure can be quickly overwhelmed. Leaders in Pelican Rapids recognized that a number of social service groups could work collaboratively to help aid immigrant transition. These groups included the library, schools and Lutheran Social Services, as well as volunteers in the community. Rather than leaving these groups to work independently of each other, Pelican Rapids formed the multicultural committee, which coordinated a web of social services and provided a lead agency for the community’s integration efforts.