Some good news, some bad newsPomeroy roundtable addresses local economy, stimulus funds
“Everyone feels better than they did a year ago, but we’re not near where we want to be.” That’s how Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., summed up an economic roundtable discussion with 18 Grand Forks-area city and business leaders late Tuesday afternoon at the UND Center for Innovation.
By: James R. Johnson, Grand Forks Herald
“Everyone feels better than they did a year ago, but we’re not near where we want to be.”
That’s how Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., summed up an economic roundtable discussion with 18 Grand Forks-area city and business leaders late Tuesday afternoon at the UND Center for Innovation.
Evidence of a fragile economy came from the manufacturing, housing and agriculture representatives, while more promising reports came from air travel and energy officials.
Steve Ell of Cirrus Design told the gathering that the company has been selling aircraft at a lower cost and there’s hope that economic and tax incentives will produce gains in the fourth quarter.
“We’re holding our ground, but the crystal ball is really foggy right now,” Ell said.
Dave Mahar of United Valley Bank spoke of projected low commodity prices, shrinking land values and falling farm machinery sales all on top of a late harvest.
“What’s coming up doesn’t look good,” Mahar said. “Sugar is stable, but please tell the agriculture secretary no more imports of sweeteners.”
Ralph Applegren, Applegren Construction, said “a clunker program would be good for housing.
“We’re definitely feeling the crunch,” Applegren said. “It’s slower than we thought it would be and we’re concerned. We’re very concerned.”
Pomeroy said consumers need to know that homes are affordable and they should take immediate advantage of the incentives available.
Air travel, renewable energy
Patrick Dame, Grand Forks International Airport executive director, said Grand Forks ranks No. 1 in the Great Lakes region for passenger boardings, and traffic from UND’s aviation program has the airport ranked between 18 and 22 for busiest in the U.S. He also said construction costs for the new airport terminal are down $2 million.
The most positive reports came from renewable energy. Dan McFarlane of McFarlane Inc. said $500,000 in stimulus money will go toward reducing energy use in all city buildings.
Dan Gordon of LM Glasfiber told of the wind turbine producer’s continuous improvement blitz to step up productivity while maintaining a work force of 900 and a less than 10 percent turnover rate. He said 2010 volume projections look promising.
“This year, we’re the first to produce a blade in 24 hours,” Gordon said. “Our average cycle time is 16 hours.”
Steve Bartlett, assistant general manager for Canad Inns, reported a big decrease in Canadian business in June because of new passport regulations and the value of the Canadian dollar. He said crossings at the border were down 25 to 30 percent in June. Local economist Ralph Kingsbury said that figure shrunk to 12 percent in July.
It was shortly after that Pomeroy said, “Where would Grand Forks be without Canad Inns and the Alerus Center?”
City Council president Hal Gershman said meetings still would be held in the Civic Auditorium and three new hotels wouldn’t be under construction.
“I am upset,” Gershman said. “I am tired of the Alerus being beaten up. I want this business community to pick up the phone and defend it.”
Health care reform
On the subject of health care reform, Pomeroy said the current plan from President Barack Obama’s administration could bankrupt North Dakota hospitals. He said what’s needed is health care that rewards value over volume.
Pomeroy said he expects health care reform to take up the majority of debate when Congress resumes. He told the roundtable his gut feeling is that “there won’t be a stimulus II.”
“Very carefully, we’re going to have to monitor what’s happening and be prepared to tweak it where necessary,” Pomeroy said.
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