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Lt. Gov. Sanford comes to town...

Brent Sanford began his presentation Thursday night by saying that the Downtown Square in Kenmare is a unique set up for North Dakota and is something to build on.

6/20/17 (Tue)

Brent Sanford began his presentation Thursday night by saying that the Downtown Square in Kenmare is a unique set up for North Dakota and is something to build on.

Sanford, the lieutenant governor, was in town to talk about Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative, which is essentially building up the infrastructure in communities across the state.

He said, however, there is an irony in the plan because the North Dakota Department of Commerce has been stripped of 44 percent of its funding following budget cuts, a department that would most likely help rebuild Main Street, North Dakota.

But that certainly doesn’t kill the governor’s plan.

“We need to do research on future focus technology,” Sanford said. “Things that are innovative and propel us into the future. We’re trying to put everything under the Main Street Initiative umbrella.”

He said the Main Street Initiative is a two tiered plan and the way it’s going to work is with work force development and efficient infrastructure.

“It’s important for millenials to come back and important for retirees to have a sense of community,” Sanford said. “We talk to business owners and there’s not enough workers. There’s 750,000 of us and there’s not enough workers.”

That’s because most people are gainfully employed so the big question is how do we recruit workers into North Dakota?

“How do you chip away at that,” Sanford said. “People have to move.”

It generally means people moving here from other states. North Dakota Job Service lists 14,000 jobs across the state, and those are just the ones that people took the time to talk to Job Service about.

Simultaneously, downtown areas in our communities need to be developed, according to Sanford.

He used Watford City as an example, where he was mayor for six years.

That McKenzie County community was the target of the Bakken oil boom and expanded from 1,300 to 7,000 people in a matter of months.

Infrastructure was being built so rapidly there was little time to think about anything else.

“As time went on, we realized Watford City wasn’t just pipes and water towers,” Sanford said. “That’s why we went to day care, retail, coffee shop and a rec center.”

He said it’s important to know that when young people move into a smaller community, they want a sense of that community. They want some amenities to make it worth living there.

He also said that Watford City’s example isn’t like the rest of the state so he provided other examples in the state that were more in line with the average.

As an example, Rugby has used sales tax money to build an entire subdivision in an attempt to bring new people to town and it is growing.

The downtown in New Rockford centers around its theater and the small town of Regan, population 39, uses an abandoned school for a Halloween event that’s drawing 1,000 people.

“People say it’s easy to do that in Fargo, but the same basic premise can work anywhere,” Sanford said. “A lot of different things make up a community.”

There’s also on site training for work development, something that can add to work force recruitment.

Several communities have used innovative methods to jump start their downtown areas and Sanford talked once again about Watford City and how that community used sales tax money as a tool to build or renovate store fronts.

“The city’s perspective is that it was infrastructure investment,” he said. “There are other success stories. Rugby is growing and Garrison has gone from 1,000 to 1,500.”

He admitted Lake Sakakawea is a big draw for Garrison, but there is no housing to be had there so something will have to happen for that community to continue to grow.

Sanford also talked about the importance of the Internet and how it can help people make decisions about moving out of the cities.

He said RTC built a 1 gigabite Internet and now Midco is doing it in places.

That means lightning fast Internet speeds that virtually any computer can handle, and in order for technology to reach the smaller communities, that has to happen, according to Sanford.

There’s also drones and autonomous vehicle research, which North Dakota is the perfect place for that kind of development.

“There are 27 drone companies in the incubator at UND,” Sanford said. “And autonomous vehicle and unmanned aircraft are being led by North Dakota.”

He said there is also the equation that people have to want to live in small towns, but state leadership is finding out that too, is reality.

Sanford said there is a lot of work going on in and around the Grand Forks Air Force Base regarding unmanned aircraft and that the military is moving in that direction.

That has brought a lot of new families to northeastern North Dakota, primarily from California to fill new Northrop Grumman positions, and many of them have been purchasing homes in nearby Larimore and Northwood.

Kenmare City Council member Glen Froseth said one thing Kenmare has going for it is being on the fringe of the Bakken.

During a question and answer period, Froseth told Sanford that a lot of people who came to work in oil related jobs didn’t want to pay the inflated rents in the Bakken so they moved to Kenmare and commuted to work.

“It all adds up,” Sanford said. “A lot of different things make up a community.” ... 

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