The two top state officials were in Bowman and hosted a roundtable discussion on community development. Gov. Doug Burgum and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford toured the town and gathered officials from the city and county, as well as various business leaders as a part of the Main Street Initiative, something Burgum ran on during his 2016 campaign for governor.
By COLE BENZ
There are three main pillars to the initiative that aims to grow communities in the state: develop a skilled workforce, create a vibrant healthy community with differentiated attractions, and make smart, efficient infrastructure decisions.
After introductions, and some brief information on the initiative, Burgum opened up the roundtable discussion.
A main focus seemed to surround the shortage of workforce, and that the problem isn’t concentrated to one industry. Representatives from the hospital and the park district echoed some of the same sentiments. Southwest Healthcare Chief Financial Officer Sasha Ruggles, and board of director Duane Bowman both talked about the cost of having to utilize contract care workers.
It’s hard to imagine that so many jobs are available, especially since the state’s unemployment rate is about 2 percent, according to Burgum. He said that ends up being 13,000-15,000 jobs available statewide.
Lynn Brackel, a plumber by trade, said that he had trouble with licensing restrictions over the course of his career, mainly how potential plumbers can get continuing education credit. He said in years past he’s been able to teach some classes. But now classes are offered only at select locations, which can hinder employee retention.
A representative of the school board also said they have trouble getting teachers to move to the area.
“Workforce development, both attraction and retention, the training aspects, all aspects of workforce development becomes one of our priorities,” Burgum said.
The second portion of the initiative, is aimed to help the workforce problem along. By building a vibrant community, with differentiated attractions, people would be more apt to settling down and putting some roots in the area.
“That’s part of the vibrancy,” said Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford. “There’s (has to be) more than just your Cenex to go get your coffee…If there’s more of an offering, that’s what millennials and what retirees are looking for, to create the community space, (then) there’s more reasons to go downtown together.”
The third and final pillar to Burgum’s initiative is building smart infrastructure. The governor told the crowd that the focus has to be “how do we get private capital to come to where we’ve got existing infrastructure?” “As oppose to ‘how do we use public dollars to create new infrastructure on the edge and hope somebody comes,” adding that if you want small government you need a small efficient footprint.
A big part of the infrastructure development is communication, communication between cities of similar population size to maximize ideas around the state. And Burgum said they are going to help.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do is help get the information out to the cities, in a way, the instrumentation and data if you will, to sort of say ‘hey how does a city of 1,500 people in this part of the state match up with a city of 1,500 people on this part of the state in terms of cost structure,” he said. “If we want to complain about property taxes then we’ve got to look first at the decisions locally.”
Investing in a business or a structure to build that vibrant community is also a hurdle many face. With prices fluctuating for real estate and cost of goods, it can be hard for a young person to put money into something that may be risky. But that’s something that communities need to figure out how to get done, which the initiative is aimed at helping.
“Those are two things we want to help communities figure out how to get done, which is how aggregate the private capital and fill the jobs,” Burgum said.
Bowman City Commission President Lyn James said she was happy to have the governor speak in her town, and thinks that the community has what it takes to move forward with the initiative’s ideas.
“I feel like Bowman has a lot of the tools it takes to implement that main street initiative that the governor is talking about,” James said. “We need to follow through on a lot of things and get some community buy-in, that’s the key.”
Burgum said that keep the state progressing and moving forward and growing, it will have to start with the individual communities.
“If every community reaches their potential, then the state of North Dakota can reach its potential,” Burgum said. “The building blocks have to come one community at a time.”