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After bold prediction from Northern Plains Nitrogen, city leaders wait and see

When city leaders are pressed about this, they’re diplomatic. It wouldn’t be right to say they’re not excited, they say.

Grand Forks City Hall. Sam Easter / Grand Forks Herald
Grand Forks City Hall. Sam Easter / Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS — It’s never an easy thing to start a business, especially when that business comes with a ten-figure price tag.

Such is the chief entrepreneurial roadblock facing Northern Plains Nitrogen, the fertilizer plant that backers have envisioned for Grand Forks for most of the last decade — with land already purchased near the city and a tantalizing promise of hundred of new jobs. But with a threshold of billions of dollars in investment backing that still hasn’t materialized, it’s left the project in a suspended state.

That is, until this month, when Summit Carbon Solutions announced a new partnership with Northern Plains Nitrogen. And Larry Mackie, the NPN chief operating officer, told the Herald that work on the plant might move ahead “this year.”

“We have done a tremendous amount of engineering and other permitting work on this project,” he said. “We’re ready to go. We just need the money.”

RELATED: Work on fertilizer plant in Grand Forks, ND, could start as early as 2022

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When city leaders are pressed about this, they’re diplomatic. It wouldn’t be right to say they’re not excited, they say. But they point out the project has been waiting on that money for a long time.

“I don’t think it’s a lack of enthusiasm, I think it’s — what has it been, six, seven years that we’ve heard that it’s imminent and it’s coming soon,” Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski said. “I’ve obviously been (mayor) a year and a half and heard the same thing. But we haven’t seen further investment or anything progressing.”

Ditto for Keith Lund, who leads the local Economic Development Corporation — a key liaison to the project.

“All projects need to be financed or secure the investment,” Lund said. “And reality can’t move forward without that.”

But claims of an imminent project are understandable in the world of the entrepreneur, UND economist David Flynn pointed out.

“This is how entrepreneurs work. I mean, they have to be, you know, ‘Yes, this is going to happen,’” he said. “There’s an amount of buy-in that has to come forward from the entrepreneur or the innovator or it won’t happen.”

The timing comes as Northern Plains Nitrogen loses its crown as the most-discussed big project in the region. Fufeng Group, a Chinese agribusiness, is in advanced talks with the city to build a new plant north of the city. Private negotiations are expected to conclude in coming weeks before details head to local leaders for public approval.

So what if Northern Plains Nitrogen makes good on its promise of building this year, and wants to move fast on its own new plant? Does the city have the bandwidth — political, logistical, you name it — to handle another such project?

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“I think the short answer is yes,” Bochenski said. “You don’t get extraordinary investments like you’re seeing currently. We have to find a way to (say) yes and find the time.”

Related Topics: LOCAL BUSINESS
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