Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.'s top award goes to Wes Rydell
Rydell purchased the dealership from his father in 1976, and under his leadership, it expanded to more than 70 dealerships in numerous states.
GRAND FORKS — Wes Rydell, owner of the Grand Forks-based but regionwide Rydell car dealerships, was honored Thursday with the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation's 2022 Klaus Thiessen Impact Award.
The EDC held its annual meeting, themed “Above & Beyond,” at the Alerus Center and highlighted leaders and businesses going the extra mile with successes in economic development. Rydell, EDC officials said, epitomizes this year’s theme.
Presenting the award was Karl Bollingberg, an EDC board member whose position at Alerus has allowed him to work closely with Rydell.
“In my 37 years of banking, I would be hard pressed to name another person or company that has accomplished so much, impacted so many people and is recognized nationally for their excellence,” Bollingberg said. “Wes is a generous servant leader, and we will never know all he has done for countless individuals, and all from behind the scenes.”
Rydell purchased the dealership from his father in 1976, and under his leadership, it expanded to more than 70 dealerships in numerous states. He is also the CEO of the Rydell Company, which formed in 1994 as an automotive holding company providing employees with the opportunity to become a dealer or owner.
“Well, I was quite surprised, I don't know what else to say,” Rydell said to the Herald about the award. “I'm appreciative of it. We've been in Grand Forks for a long, long time, and we intend to finish on our lives here. It’s been fun and enjoyable.”
At each annual EDC meeting, the Impact Award – named after former EDC CEO Klaus Thiessen – is given out to a recipient who makes a positive impact on economic growth and prosperity in the Grand Forks region. The board cited Rydell’s contributions to various local causes, most of which were behind the scenes, and his employment of hundreds of workers as one of the many reasons he was chosen for the award.
“This year’s honoree was selected by the EDC’s board of directors for being one of the most visible volunteer community leaders in or region, selflessly committing time and leadership to growing this region and creating a legacy not only in our region, but the country with the impact they’ve made on the next generation,” Bollingberg said.
Keith Lund, president and CEO of the EDC, followed the award portion of the event by highlighting the growth the organization achieved in 2021, including in the local unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) industry.
Lund said the EDC has collected data, albeit via phone calls and not a direct survey, showing more than 1,200 UAS-related jobs in the region with each paying an average of $71,000 per year. The annual payroll for UAS employees in the region tops out at about $87 million with $60 million in private sector purchases from local companies.
“This is why we work so hard to develop the UAS opportunities in our region,” Lund said. “Not every region can boast that they are among the best at something. We are among the very best at UAS, and I would argue the very best.”
Another accomplishment touted by the EDC in 2021 is Fufeng, a company that seeks to build a corn mill in Grand Forks and one that Lund said “has dominated the headlines recently.”
“This project would be the largest in my 16 years were working in the EDC, and its benefits will be felt by the entire region,” Lund said.
A video featuring various local leaders – including John Oncken, owner and CEO of True North Equipment; Paul Sproule, of Sproule Farms; and Mayor Brandon Bochenski – touted the project as being beneficial for Grand Forks’ future.
“We've got a great opportunity to place Grand Forks on the map in the state of North Dakota just to show the world that our state and our city is open for business,” Bochenski said in the video.
After the video concluded, Sproule came on stage and spoke for a few minutes about how the Fufeng project could have a permanent positive effect on the Grand Forks economy for years to come, in the same vein of other big ag companies, such as American Crystal Sugar.
“So at the end of the deal, this is phenomenal what’s happening to our economy and our environment,” Sproule said. “My hat's off to the EDC and all our city leaders that have done such a phenomenal job.”
Lund also spoke about the Career Impact Academy, which will be a collaborative partnership including 12 school districts in the Grand Forks region, Grand Forks region employers and the community at large to give high school students and adult learners an opportunity to more easily learn trades that can help ease the region’s labor shortage.
Lund said it was his personal goal to raise $11 million in local donations for the Career Impact Academy. He told the crowd he was disappointed to have come up just short of that goal, at $10,995,850. At that point, Todd Forkel, the new CEO of Altru, interrupted Lund from the crowd and walked on stage.
Forkel, who has been in Grand Forks only a short time, announced Altru wished to donate $4,150 – bringing the total of locally raised funds to $11 million. It wasn't mentioned during the obviously prearranged skit that Altru kickstarted the fundraising campaign last year with a $1 million donation.
“I'm new to this community, and one of the big reasons my family and I were so drawn and attracted to this community is what we have in here today – this spirit of can-do attitude — ‘let's get it done,’” Forkel said.
Lund also told the crowd about recent developments in the region’s UAS sector, as well as work at the downtown tech accelerator, among other tidbits of local business news. In closing, Lund said he was proud of the EDC and the Grand Forks region for its growth.
“I moved to Grand Forks 35 years ago as a know-it-all 21-year-old,” Lund said. “Do the math. It checks out. I’ve been paying attention for a while, and it just seems like we're firing on all cylinders, but that has not always been the case. I've talked about headwinds in the past, and we've more than proven our resiliency, but now is the time to focus on our future. At this point in time, I'm very excited to see opportunity in front of us and the leadership rallying around to propel us forward.”