January 25, 2016
The Red River Regional Council (RRRC) is convening a Regional Mayors Caucus on Wednesday, January 27, strengthen relations between the region’s cities and their leaders. The event is a first of its kind within North Dakota Region IV and will be co-hosted by Park River Mayor Dan Stenvold and Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown.
“We are convening this dialogue between our municipal officials to build a cohesive region and turn what might be perceived as issues into opportunities. Collectively I’m certain we will be able to develop ideas to benefit the entire region,” said Dawn Keeley, Executive Director of the RRRC. “We fully expect to always have a continued list of required and desired investments throughout the region and we also want to help create a unified vision which includes lofty aspirations and results.”
Recent visits with all the manufacturing companies in Pembina County reveal the area has a number of key strengths to build upon. These strengths include low overhead costs, pro-business environment, lower startup costs and better access for expansion which includes local incentives, good local amenities, affordable housing, close proximity to Canadian markets and interstate system, strong financial assistance, and good trucking system.
“It is important that all communities in the region have the quality of life and economic opportunities to make them great places to live,” said Mayor Michael Brown. “What’s good for regional communities is good for Grand Forks and vice versa. This summit will help us build even stronger relationships and awareness throughout the region that pave the way for an even stronger region into the next generation.”
The RRRC staff will be providing results of a municipal survey conducted in 2015 as well as preliminary results of a Business Retention and Expansion Projects the RRRC has initiated with the Pembina County Job Development Authority.
“In 2015, we surveyed all the small cities (exclusive of the City of Grand Forks) to learn more about challenges and opportunities,” said Stacie Sevigny, Developer. “We received survey responses from 28 cities and common themes were easily identified.”
The common small cities themes of needs and desires are as follows:
- Basic infrastructure – nearly every community identified infrastructure improvement needs and oftentimes the inability to finance necessary repairs.
- Housing – nearly every community noted the need for removal of substandard properties, several expressed need for housing rehabilitation, more rental properties, and expanded housing developments.
- Business community – many communities have had to divert local sales tax funds initially designated for economic development to support infrastructure needs. There is a desire to share healthcare providers and other specialty businesses such as dentists, optometrists, plumbers, electricians.
- Recreation – nearly every community identified the need for equipment upgrades, swimming pool repairs as well as the desire for enhanced amenities such as walking/bike paths and camping/RV parks.
- Fire departments – many fire departments are struggling with volunteer shortages and at least six departments have noted the need for upgraded buildings which have limited funding possibilities currently.
- Other needs – topping the list is additional licensed child care options.
- Funding – most often, cities identified a lack of affordable funding options to address needs.
Region IV has continued to experience long-term population decline. Excluding the City of Grand Forks, the remainder of the region has sustained a 34% population decline or 18,114 people while the City of Grand Forks grew 12,292 people between 1980 and 2014. Between 2010 and 2014, the pace of population decline in the rural communities has lessened.
There is a growing trend of low income statistics in many rural communities in northeastern North Dakota. There are now seven of 13 communities in Walsh County that now have a majority of low to moderate income households which is up from four in 2000. Three more communities are near the 51% threshold.
“The City of Park River made very deliberate decisions a decade ago to make significant investments in our community and lead our way into the future,” said Mayor Dan Stenvold.
These decisions have led to an array of completed projects which include extensive water system upgrades, a new RV park and vision for a new sports complex, and a new housing subdivision.
In partnership with the Pembina County Job Development Authority, the RRRC is also leading a Business Retention and Expansion Project in Pembina County. Twenty eight one-on-one company visits have been completed to date by Maggie Suda, an RRRC Developer. Suda will also report on her findings at the Mayors Caucus. Manufacturing is the leading employment sector in Pembina County with more than 600 jobs and visits have been completed with 14 manufacturing firms.
BR&E feedback has focused on lack of sufficient labor, need for increased child care services, lack of adequate housing options, need for phone and technology infrastructure upgrades, and the flood insurance requirements as a detriment to housing growth.
Kristi Mishler, Community Foundation of Grand Forks, East Grand Forks, and Region, will also present information on the concept of establishing a regional community foundation to engage private philanthropy in community investments as well as a vehicle to increase professional development staff capacity in partnership with the RRRC. Blake Crosby, ND League of Cities, will also provide an update on League activities.
Sunshine Kids Center will be providing a meal to the Caucus attendees which has been sponsored by Polar Communications.
The Caucus will be held at Park River City Hall from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, January 27. RSVPs are requested. More information can be found at www.redriverrc.com.