The state-run Innovation Technology Loan Fund (LIFT) is having an impact on some existing and start-up Grand Forks businesses, while helping attract new companies to the region.
Nineteen North Dakota Companies received funding through the program and, of those, eight are located in Grand Forks. The LIFT program was created in 2019 by the Legislature to diversify the economy through the growth of technology companies. Combined, the eight companies that were either established in Grand Forks or relocated to the region, secured $5.2 million in funding, or 35% of the program’s $15 million budget, which has completely been allocated to businesses.
“It's to commercialize technology so there's no guarantee that everything is going to be successful, but they had a very well established, experienced review committee that did some stronger diligence on these opportunities,” said Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation. “We're optimistic that we'll see great success long-term from these companies.”
Of the eight Grand Forks companies that received loans, four are in the growing unmanned aerial systems sector of the local economy. The remainder of those companies are in the ecommerce, agriculture, sports drink and medical device areas.
Start-up UAS software company Airtonomy received the largest loan at $1 million dollars in February, in the LIFT program’s first wave. Also that month, Mobile Recon Systems got a $500,000 LIFT loan. They relocated to Grand Forks from Kentucky to take advantage of the UAS ecosystem here. Both companies also have received loans from the Grand Forks Jobs Development Authority.
The funding for the LIFT program has been fully allocated to companies, but Lund said he believed there would be talk in the upcoming legislative session about reauthorizing it. That could be easier said than done, considering the impact of coronavirus on the state’s oil revenues. Still, it’s early success has helped take steps to diversify the economy beyond oil and agriculture, which are subject to “wild swings” of the commodities market.
“It's programs like this, and focus on these types of companies and diversification, which is really important,” Lund said.
Lund said the EDC has a “strong pipeline” of businesses across the nation that would be good candidates for LIFT loans should the program be continued. Those businesses would need to relocate to the area to be eligible. In particular, the EDC is in talks with a number of businesses, most drone-related, but some in medical device manufacturing, that would be interested in such a loan.
Other businesses that have received LIFT finding include:
-- Drone company Hub Edge received a $500,000 loan in March.
-- KSI Video/First-I, also in the UAS sector, received an $850,000 loan in June.
-- Tailorie, a company developing an online brand connecting platform, got $750,000 in March.
-- Sports drink maker Krampade got a $500,000 loan in July.
-- Food company Three Farm Daughters got $500,000 in August.
-- Checkable Medical, a medical device company, got $60,000 in August. The business has locations in Grand Forks and Fargo.