Grand Forks leaders will discuss whether to fund business projects outside city limits in rural parts of Grand Forks County.

The Growth Fund Committee discussed the possibility of a rural FlexPACE program and what criteria the group would recommend the city use to decide which projects get aid.

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"It's important to support the small communities around Grand Forks," said Dawn Mandt, the executive director of the Red River Regional Council. "Most of them lack the resources to leverage incentive programs like the FlexPACE program on their own."

The city of Grand Forks, through this program, would help smaller communities take on larger projects like helping new restaurants purchase equipment or aiding in a building purchase or expansion for a rural business.

FlexPACE is a partnership program run by the Bank of North Dakota. The bank partners with a local entity to provide assistance to businesses that are not necessarily in the primary sector.

In the program discussed by the Growth Fund Committee, only proposals designated a priority by the rural community's city council, or the closest community's city council, would be considered for funding.

The county does not have a Jobs Development Authority (JDA), like other surrounding counties, Mandt said. This leaves rural communities without a pool of funds to draw from for large projects.

These communities need basic services and amenities, like grocery stores or health care facilities, to support a healthy, vibrant community, Mandt said.

"Grand Forks is like the big brother of the region," she said.

Mandt said that many of these projects would make rural communities more pleasant places to live.

"We have manufacturing jobs. We have jobs just coming out of our ears," Mandt said. "But we haven't cracked the code on population decline. So we need to make rural communities places (where) you don't have to travel out of town to get everything."

One project to be considered is a gas station and convenience store in Thompson, N.D., from Northdale Oil.

Growth Fund Committee member and Grand Forks City Council member Bret Weber said that whatever decision is made on the Northdale proposal would not be precedent-setting, and later FlexPACE decisions would not be based on whatever decision is made on the Northdale proposal.

Northdale's operations include gas stations and convenience stores, a fleet of trucks, four propane facilities and a diesel exhaust fluid manufacturing plant.

In the proposal, the JDA would lend Northdale just over $66,000 to be paid back in 12 monthly payments at 1 percent interest.

The Bank of North Dakota would finance $200,000 of the cost of construction.

At their meeting, the Growth Fund Committee considered what effect the potential program would have on JDA funds, the impact on competing businesses in Grand Forks and what made a project eligible for receiving the funds.

"This would further recognize that strong rural communities make for a strong region," said Meredith Richards, community development director for the city.

The Growth Fund Committee tabled further discussion until its meeting Feb. 19. The JDA will also discuss the program at that time.

In the meantime, members of the committee said they hoped to talk with rural community leaders about the proposal and get their feedback.