Collaboration a key aspect of discussion on rural growth during EDND panel on final day of conference – Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – Collaboration was a central theme of a panel discussion on the final day of the Economic Development Association of North Dakota spring conference.

The panel focused on community building, particularly in rural areas, and outlined the growth challenges of these areas. Dawn Mandt, executive director of the Red River Regional Council, mentioned the housing study being conducted by the Red River Community Housing Development Organization and a comment from executive director Lisa Rotvold.

“The entire housing system is broken around rural housing,” she said.

The EDND Spring Conference, held in Grand Forks for the first time in 10 years, brought together local and state leaders, businesses and other community organizations for discussions about economic development. The panels on the third and final day of the conference took place in the Cloud 9 Suite of the Olive Ann Hotel. One of those panels, titled “Reviving Main Street – Small City, Big Ideas,” was moderated by Mandt and featured Rebecca Undem, founder of Growing Small Towns, an organization in Oakes that focuses on community development; Gilby City Council President JoLynn Disckson; and Laura Weber, business growth coordinator for the North Dakota Small Business Development Centers (ND SBDC).

The panelists each had their own focus and methods for supporting community development and promoting projects. For Undem, this was founding Growing Small Towns and sending “love letters” – advice – to those in attendance on how to be successful with their own projects.

Dickson spoke about the role of volunteers in bringing a warming house, ice rink, mural and new playground equipment to Gilby, as well as the revitalization of the community center and two features that bring people to town – murder mystery parties at the center and geocaches to find people in the area can. Weber discussed the work ND SBDC does to support small, local businesses across the state and the resources available to those interested in getting started, from research and financial tools to a website that helps helps create an online space for selling products.

Two topics were housing and infrastructure. Mandt said Cavalier expects to build eight new units this summer. Although these projects sound small, she said, they can be big and help hold rural communities together.

“Eight units in Cavalier equals 800 units in Fargo,” she said.

Weber addressed infrastructure and how it is deteriorating in rural areas. Good sidewalks and water pipes are just as important as a beautiful park, she said.

A common thread between the panelists' perspectives was the importance of collaboration. Mandt described the collective efforts of people in small communities as similar to a village where they rely on each other and act as a unit, as well as the importance of international workers and attracting people to the region. Dickson spoke again about volunteers and the willingness of local people to give back to their communities.

Weber said it will take an “all hands on deck,” a concerted effort to keep small towns growing and projects possible. Undem urged viewers to bring about a change in mentality towards new projects, from concern to hope, and to support other people's ideas. She also expressed the idea of ​​hiring more talented people and paying for the hard work done to improve communities.

“Without good people, nothing gets better,” she said.

Otto is the regional reporter for the Grand Forks Herald.

Anna Harden

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