Grand Forks Region EDC celebrates stellar 2013

There was much to celebrate at the Grand Forks Region EDC’s annual meeting held in Grand Forks, N.D., at the Alerus Center on April 17. Business has boomed in the community over the past year and city leaders gave much of the credit to the organization and the cooperative efforts of the city’s business community.

Hal Gershman, city council president, noted that private support now exceeds public support for the EDC. “I’ve never seen such a cooperative environment as I’m seeing in our city today,” he told attendees.

Klaus Thiessen, president and CEO of the EDC, said 2013 was the busiest year he’s experienced at the EDC since joining the group a decade ago. Multiple EDC clients were mentioned for their successful establishment and/or expansion projects over the past year, including Acme Tools, which was the first business to sign on for a recently opened 125-acre business park and is constructing a warehouse and distribution center there. Cirrus Aircraft, Philadelphia Macaroni, Reile’s Transfer and Delivery and HB Light & Sound carried out expansion projects. Industrial Contract Services Inc. relocated its corporate headquarters to the city and True North Equipment built a new resource center.

In nearby Thompson, N.D., Thompson Farmer’s Cooperative and Northern Tier Seeds are expanding their storage capacities.

In all, the EDC clients invested more than $55 million in capital projects in 2013 and created or retained more than 528 jobs, according to the group.

Big projects under development in the region also received mention, including the massive fertilizer plant project being developed by Northern Plains Nitrogen. While construction of the $1.5 billion plant has yet to begin, the EDC noted that the project’s proposal has already spurred interest from other agri-business companies.

UAS (unmanned aerial systems) was unsurprisingly a recurring topic of the meeting and was highlighted as an area of continued focus for the EDC this year. Former Sen. Byron Dorgan delivered the meeting’s keynote speech and recapped the nearly decade-long process of successfully establishing UAS as a mission for the Grand Forks Air Base and, ultimately, the city’s selection as one of six federal UAS test sites. He applauded the city’s continued efforts to make Grand Forks “the place” for UAS and expressed confidence that the air base and region will continue to serve as a hub for UAS development.┬áThiessen noted that the UAS-focused Grand Sky business park at the Grand Forks Air Force Base will be the “singe most strategically important development” in over a decade.

Workforce issues were another repeated topic of discussion during the event. The EDC intends to continue working with businesses and the community to attract needed workers in the coming year, according to officials.

Steve Burian, chairman of the EDC, challenged attendees to embrace their role in helping Grand Forks create “dazzle” in 2014. “If we’re going to recruit people to this community, we need to be cool, we need to have dazzle,” he said.

Thiessen said workforce shortages have been a concern for several years, but the issue is now having a noticeable impact on business. He noted that an EDC job fair held last fall attracted 55 companies and 1,200 high school sophomores, but said he expects this year’s job fair to be even larger. Young workers are expected to be a primary focus.