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In Grand Forks visit, Burgum presses for 'vibrant, healthy communities'

Gov. Doug Burgum responds during a Q&A at the 701 co-working space in downtown Grand Forks Thursday during his visit to the city. At left is Jodi Uecker, chief operating officer of the Governor's Office and Grand Forks and Grand Forks City Administrator Todd Feland and Mayor Mike Brown at right. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald1 / 2
Tom Kenville, right, of ISIGHT RPV services, discusses with Gov. Burgum some of the work the Grand Forks business is doing in the UAV industry. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 2

In the first few moments of Gov. Doug Burgum's remarks to Grand Forks leaders—made during a Thursday visit—he got straight to the heart of the "Main Street" philosophy he visited to promote.

If every open job in the state were suddenly filled, he said, the impact on the state might be compared to a new, suddenly formed Jamestown. That means communities and the state have to do everything they can to make North Dakota cities magnets for talent.

"Nobody posts a job unless you think you can fill it, do more, produce more," Burgum said, speaking to a packed room at The 701, a coworking space on North Third Street. "It's about attraction and retention of 21st-century talent. To do that, we have to have vibrant, healthy communities that people want to live in."

Burgum arrived in Grand Forks at lunchtime on Thursday for the first official visit he'd made as governor specifically to engage with city leaders. After a bus tour of the downtown area, he led a public discussion at The 701, where a who's who of Grand Forks community leaders attended—from military officials to City Council members to university and business leaders, members of the Legislature and even high school student leaders.

Burgum stated at the outset that he wanted to listen to local ideas, and over the two-hour meeting, he heard local leaders talk about how to keep young people interested in local jobs; Grand Forks arts and events programs; the Park District; and Grand Forks' status as a university town.

"I'd like to add how important this getting high schoolers to think about their careers early is," UND President Mark Kennedy said at one point. "They need to be prepared to pivot toward a degree sooner because they're coming in with advanced placement."

The discussion took a brief, unexpected turn when Mary Weaver, an advocate for Arbor Park, asked Burgum about the beloved downtown space that has since been leveled for condo development. She wanted to know his thoughts on developing similar pocket parks, contrasting the park's appeal as a gathering place with the condominiums that will be there soon. As she spoke, city officials who had touted construction—and had just moments ago laughed along with the governor's jokes—sat stony-faced.

Burgum's answer was wide-ranging, mentioning community planning and the local election that slated it for construction. He pointed out that each pocket park is a separate case.

"Sometimes a community can be better served if they're filled in," Burgum said at one point. "It goes both ways."

The governor was slated to visit three local businesses later in the afternoon and appear at the Alerus Center Thursday evening for a keynote speech at a Chamber-hosted dinner.

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108