Burgum talks Main Street Initiative, hosts roundtable discussion on community development
Top state officials were in Hettinger and hosted a roundtable discussion on community development. Gov. Doug Burgum, Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford and COO and Hettinger native Jodi Uecker toured the town and gathered with over 50 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 the up the discussion. A main focus seemed to surround the shortage of workforce, and that the problem isn’t concentrated to one industry. West River Health Services Chief Executive Officer Matt Shahan, High School Principal Darin Seamands and others talked about the shortage of support workers. At times we have had to ask staff members to help cover in the cafeteria, said Shahan. At Hettinger Public School we have noticed a significant decline in applications for support service positions, said Seamans. It’s hard to imagine that so many jobs are available, especially since the state’s unemployment rate is about 2 percent, according do Burgum. He said that ends up being 13,000-15,000 jobs available statewide. Rod Howe, emphasized the importance of maintaining our agriculture industry and jobs within the community.
“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. The main challenge for Hettinger Public School is knowing that two to three teacher retirements will happen over the next two or three years and we will need to attract educators here, said Seamans.
“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 Realestate 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.
West River Health Services Foundation Director Ted Uecker said as a community we are starting to see the efficiencies of work together. Within the past month the Chamber of Commerce and Economic Development Board have combined efforts and recently hired Cheryl Graner as Executive Director overseeing both entities.
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.”
Open Community Forum
Do you want to be heard? Come voice your opinion on the future of Hettinger.
Nov. 15 • 6 p.m. – 8 p.m.
Can’t make the forum?
Send written comments to:
P.O. Box 1031
Hettinger, ND 58639
•Indicate if you’d like the comment read at the forum•