Jorge Prince, a 1994 Bemidji State University graduate, has been Bemidji's mayor since January 2021. (Micah Friez / Bemidji State)
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By Molly Houts

Published 9:00 a.m. on March 8, 2024

When 6-year-old Jorge Prince first arrived in Minnesota’s Northwoods, he did not speak English. But he’s now fluent in all things Paul Bunyan and, as Bemidji’s mayor, stands just as tall as its favorite lumberjack.

Spending his early years in San Diego after being born in Mexico, Prince’s first language was Spanish. He did not begin learning English until his father moved the family back to his native Bemidji in 1976. He credits an elementary school speech class for helping him learn the language.

“Between (speech class), friends and television, that’s really how I learned English,” he said.

Prince’s family remained in Bemidji, and while a student at Bemidji High School, he found his path to Bemidji State University. As part of a program that allowed BHS students to enroll in university classes, Prince spent his junior and senior years of high school on campus at BSU.

“When I graduated from Bemidji High School, I actually had two full years of college credit,” Prince said. “It was odd because I didn’t spend a lot of time in actual high school.”

Despite being a young teenager at Bemidji State, Prince enjoyed connecting with his fellow classmates.

“At the time, we had students that we called SOTA (Students Older Than Average), literally a club on campus,” he said. “For some reason, I tended to gravitate towards those kinds of folks, and I developed pretty good relationships with some of them. Keep in mind I was this 18- or 19-year-old kid hanging out with 40-year-old people. It’s safe to say I learned a lot.”

Like many students, Prince encountered a number of forks in the road on his college journey. His choices ultimately kept him in Bemidji. With plans to attend the University of New Mexico to study law, on a whim he decided to apply for a 3M scholarship. That program afforded college juniors and seniors with a full scholarship to a Minnesota State school and also provided opportunities for training, leadership development, internships and, potentially, future employment.

“I didn’t think they would take me seriously because even though I was a junior at BSU, I was only 18,” he said.

Prince was chosen for the scholarship and he remained at Bemidji State as a business management major. He would later switch to accounting and graduated in 1994 as the first member of his family to obtain a college degree.

“I feel pretty blessed that I was able to get my degree from Bemidji State University,” Prince said. “And I feel blessed that I get to stay connected to the university and I am excited for what the future is going to hold.”

Bemidji mayor Jorge Prince shares a laugh with the crowd while he makes a speech during Dr. Annie Henry's 81st birthday party on Tuesday, June 27, 2023, at the David Park House. (Micah Friez / Bemidji State)

The map to becoming mayor

After he graduated, employment opportunities drew Prince away from Bemidji. But again, a fork in the road guided him back north. He returned to Bemidji State in 2007 to direct the university’s Small Business Development Center before he was named chief financial officer at LaValley Industries, a multi-million-dollar manufacturer of specialty construction equipment based in Bemidji.

In 2014, he made his first run for Bemidji mayor.

“I’ve lived in this community a long time, and there were a lot of issues that I watched our community struggle with that I kept hoping would get better,” Prince said. “(Eventually) I decided that, if I don’t see people stepping up in a manner that I like to see, then I guess it will have to be me.”

That first campaign against incumbent mayor and fellow BSU graduate Rita Albrecht fell short, but Prince persisted and decided in 2020 to run a second time. His second campaign focused on a platform of economic diversity, pursuing more high-tech and manufacturing jobs for the Bemidji community. Although that election was held in the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, Prince stuck to his commitment to run – and this time was victorious.

He’s been serving the community as mayor since January 2021. Reflecting on his life in Bemidji, Prince says he is grateful to have been entrusted with the responsibility of leading the community that raised him.

“One of the SOTA students still lives in Bemidji, and I run into her from time to time,” Prince said. “I’m sure if someone would have asked her when I was 19, ‘Who is most likely to become mayor of Bemidji?’ she probably wouldn’t have guessed me – because I wouldn’t have guessed me.”

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