The city’s plan to turn the Herald building into a technology accelerator took a big step forward Thursday after the U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded a $1.1 million grant for the project.

City staff applied for the grant in mid-September 2020. It’s part of a local push to diversify the economy, by attracting technology companies to the region, then fostering them until they are ready to relocate to private office space. The grant award was announced in a pair of releases from Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and the EDA.

“For more than a decade, we’ve worked to build North Dakota into a global leader in the unmanned aerial systems field,” Hoeven said in the release. “Today’s grant will support the continued expansion of our tech sector in the Red River Valley, bolstering economic growth over the long-term and creating good-paying jobs for local residents. We appreciate EDA for recognizing the benefits of this investment and for working with us to advance this important priority.”

In a Thursday afternoon release from the city, Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said turning the Herald building into a tech accelerator will be an economic driver for the entire Red River Valley, as well as the city.

“This grant is another step in our ever-growing UAS ecosystem in Grand Forks,” Bochenski said. “This commitment from the U.S. Department of Commerce on the development of the Herald building shows that Grand Forks is ready to take the next step forward when it comes to growing our tech sector."

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The grant must be matched by an equal amount of local funds. Members of the Grand Forks Growth Fund, the advisory arm of the Jobs Development Authority, moved on March 22 to de-federalize its legacy revolving loan fund, set up after the flood of 1997. The fund was part of the city’s economic development toolbox, and was used to give low-interest loans to businesses. That fund contains about $335,000, and receives payments of more than $14,000 per month, which will top out at $1.3 million.

At an April 5 meeting, Meredith Richards, community development director, told JDA members the EDA had OK’d the use of the retired loan fund as the local match for the grant.

According to the EDA news release, the project is expected to create 139 jobs, and falls in line with President Biden’s commitment to helping communities diversify their regional economies.

The refit project is also in accordance with Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative, a program to help grow North Dakota’s economy beyond agriculture and oil.

“We appreciate the Economic Development Administration’s support of the commendable efforts by the city of Grand Forks to create a healthy, vibrant community and downtown area,” Burgum said in the EDA’s release. “This project will help attract a 21st century workforce and support the tech-savvy entrepreneurs who are growing and diversifying North Dakota’s economy, making our state an even better place to live, work and raise a family.”

The Grand Forks Herald and the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation remain as tenants in the building. The city bought the building from Forum Communications, which owns the Herald, for $2.75 million in April 2019. The newspaper now rents space on the building’s second floor, and the EDC will maintain its offices on the first floor.