GRAFTON – The Red River Regional Regional Council and the city of Grafton will hold a town hall meeting this week to talk about the challenges and opportunities city businesses face.

The Red River Regional Council will share the results of a survey of approximately 30 locally-owned businesses at the meeting, which will be held at 7 p.m., Wednesday, May 5, at the Frosty Fox restaurant in Grafton.

The survey, conducted during the last month, is part of a regional business and expansion plan being developed by the Red River Regional Council. The group serves Walsh, Pembina, Nelson and Grand Forks counties, and is made up of county and city leaders who live in them.

Businesses in all four counties were surveyed, and the Red River Regional Council will hold a town hall meeting in each of the four and also meet with stakeholders in some of the counties’ cities, said Dawn Mandt, Red River Regional Council executive director.

During the May 5 meeting, Red River Regional Council representatives also will share the findings of a survey taken in late 2020 of large manufacturing businesses that included Marvin, Motor Coach Industries in Pembina, N.D., and Harriston Industries in Minto, N.D.

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Individual businesses’ survey results won’t be made public, but general information will be discussed.

“Our goal is to share the findings and learn from the business community what their needs are,” Mandt said.

A significant challenge facing Grafton business is a labor shortage, said Chris West, Grafton mayor. There are about 200 job openings in the community, he said. Many of them are at Marvin, which manufactures specialty windows, and at the Life Skills and Transition Center, which serves people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The remainder are at smaller businesses, including Unity Medical Center and Lutheran Sunset Home, he said.

West’s short-term goal is to fill about 20% of the job openings with workers from Grafton and surrounding communities. West also eventually plans to encourage former Grafton residents, who now live in regional cities, including Grand Forks, Fargo and Minneapolis, to return.

“We’re trying to bring back some people to the smaller town lifestyle, to come back to a slower paced lifestyle,” West said.

Another challenge Grafton faces is housing for workers.

“We’re looking for a developer who can invest in a smaller community,” he said.

During the Grafton meeting, John Morgan, Morgan Printing co-owner; Andy Allen, Marvin plant manager; and Patty Gorder, Namaste Massage and Yoga Studio owner, will talk about the challenges they face.

The workforce shortage that businesses in Walsh, Pembina, Nelson and Grand Forks counties are facing is the antithesis of the challenges they were facing in the 1990s and early 2000s when the focus of the Red River Regional Council was job creation, Mandt said.

“Now we are trying to fill the jobs we have. Attracting people is more complex than attracting a company,” she said. Before that can happen, there needs to be housing for them.

“Housing is a big thing to tackle. The lumber prices are not helping. Hopefully, we can see some stabilization in that,” Mandt said.