Area manufacturers are concerned about the shelter-in-place order issued by Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, March 25, and the possibility of a similar order that could be issued in North Dakota. Many companies have employees that live across the Red River and could be affected by the order.

Attendees at the business listening session on Wednesday, March 25, also discussed another implication of a shelter in place order, should it happen in North Dakota: What companies are considered “essential” and can remain open?

Barry Wilfahrt, Grand Forks/East Grand Fork Chamber president and CEO, said he would distribute Gov. Doug Burgum’s guidelines identifying critical infrastructure workforce.

“(The guidelines) are fairly lengthy, and I'm sure there's going to be a lot of additional follow-up to help businesses interpret,” said Wilfahrt.

For some companies, the determination has been made for them. Tony Pierce, manager at Philadelphia Macaroni in Grand Forks, mentioned that he has distributed letters to his employees informing them of the critical nature of their work as food producers.

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Greg Owens, at Ideal Aerosmith, told the group his company has been provided with a letter from the Department of Defense identifying it as critical and distributed a packet to employees that they could present to law enforcement to show they can go to work, in the event of a shelter-in-place order.

Cortnee Jensen, at the North Dakota Department of Commerce, urged attendees to begin preparing a letter to submit to the governor explaining why their operations are critical, if they don’t know where their operation fits into the governor’s guidelines.

“We're saying do this now for the state of North Dakota; I would say add Minnesota as well to your case, if you don't see where you fit in naturally,” said Jensen.

Jensen added that support letters from city officials and local economic development officials on behalf of a company could add weight to the decision to identify them as critical.

City Council member Bret Weber said businesses can contact members of the city council for assistance with a letter. He also intimated the Chamber and Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation would come up with a process to assist with letters of support.

Letters, Jensen said, should be sent both electronically and by postal mail to the governor’s office.

Jensen further added that manufacturers who are able to pivot their operations to make or supply needed items and materials can apply to the governor to be considered critical. Retooling to provide necessary items may allow a manufacturer to stay in business.

One example is the Red River Biorefinery, a Grand Forks-based company that produces biofuels, most of which is sold outside the state. Jensen said the company switched from biofuel to hand sanitizer and has produced more than 100,000 gallons. There is a problem, though. They can’t bottle it.

Weber pointed out the opportunity for a company to continue operations if they could provide bottling services “if that is part of your operation or if your operation can pivot to address that.”

The business listening sessions are organized by the Chamber, The Grand Forks Region EDC, the city and Downtown Development Association. Wednesday’s meeting was the third in the series. Monday’s session covered restaurants and the food industry, and Tuesday’s session was for retailers. Tomorrow’s session will cover professional services.