For incoming Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Dave Zavoral, the theme for the business organization for 2021 is “Opportunity in All Directions.”

Zavoral, of the East Grand Forks-based construction company R.J. Zavoral and Sons, outlined the Chamber’s priorities, including examining the opportunity of building attractions to draw people from communities north and south. Other priorities include identifying and attracting more businesses to the community and working to narrow the gap between the business climates in North Dakota and Minnesota, as well as opportunities in the western part of the state.

“First we're going to follow up on the three virtual East Revisits West meetings, held in 2020,” said Zavoral, who spoke during the Chamber’s annual meeting on Thursday, Feb. 4. The meeting, normally an annual gala held in the Alerus Center, was broadcast online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Focusing on western North Dakota counties, Zavoral said, will give the region’s business community an opportunity to strengthen existing relationships while exploring and identifying the opportunity for east/west partnerships.

Zavoral also pointed to geo-fence data purchased from cell phone companies, which tracks customer traffic patterns and provides insight into the local economy. The digital information, which the Chamber has been tracking throughout the pandemic, shows how important events are to the community, Zavoral said, specifically referring to the February 2020 KISS concert at the Alerus Center.

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Market capture data, Zavoral said, is key to helping leaders continue to develop the business community, including by identifying needed business for the region and what incentives are necessary to bring them here. The data also can be used to analyze what kinds of entertainment experiences are needed to draw visitors from Fargo, and, when the border reopens, from Winnipeg.

“Are there types of experiences we should have in our market, and how do we recruit them using this data?” he rhetorically asked.

Zavoral was preceded in speaking by 2020 Board Chair Paula Anderson, who owns Sterling Carpet One. Anderson noted the challenges brought to the community by the pandemic, and said some changes businesses and people had to make may be permanent, as they are more effective than what they replaced.

Anderson introduced Valeria Becker, with the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences, as the 2020 Chamber Ambassador of the Year. Becker was recognized for her efforts in promoting the Chamber. Becker was given the award at a Chamber dinner on Jan. 19 at the Ground Round restaurant. It was the second of three events that replaced the traditional annual meeting at the Alerus Center.

The meeting was broken into parts this year out of consideration for the pandemic. The first event, on Dec. 28, was to present Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, with the Henry Havig Award for Community Service. Holmberg was recognized for years of work in the Legislature that have improved Grand Forks, including securing $52 million in aid for the town after the flood of 1997.

“Looking at the long list of community leaders, movers and shakers all, who have been named before me is a humbling experience and I can only say thank you, thank you so much,” Holmberg said in his acceptance speech, which was recorded at December’s award ceremony and replayed during Thursday's meeting.

The third event was Thursday's online event. The keynote speaker was Tom Astrup, CEO of American Crystal Sugar. Astrup said the 2020 sugar beet harvest, while slightly below average, was a definite improvement from 2019, when an abundance of rain caused acres of agricultural products to go unharvested.

Astrup said the short crop of 2019 meant supplies were tight, at a time when demand is growing.

“Those are nice problems to have when you're in business, when demand is so great,” he said.