Gov. Doug Burgum to Grand Forks/East Grand Forks residents: 'You're doing the right things, so keep it up'
Greg Opp receives Henry Havig Award at Chamber of Commerce dinner.
GRAND FORKS – Gov. Doug Burgum told attendees at the annual Grand Forks-East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce dinner that the community has emerged as a statewide leader in development, saying “you’re doing all the right things, so keep it up.”
The governor was the keynote speaker at Wednesday evening’s dinner at the Alerus Center, an annual event that was not held in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Wednesday’s attendance topped 400.
Also at Wednesday’s event, longtime Grand Forks businessman Greg Opp won the Henry Havig Award for a lifetime of community service. Since Opp is out of state and could not attend, his daughter, Sally, came on stage to accept the award on his behalf.
The governor spoke for more than 40 minutes, discussing an array of goings-on throughout the state, with the focus almost entirely on economic development and business activity. When he spoke of Grand Forks specifically, he seemed especially pleased with recent business developments.
“What are the four pillars of main street?” the governor asked. “One: smart, healthy communities. You guys (in Grand Forks/East Grand Forks) are working on that – that includes a vibrant downtown. Smart infrastructure – you’re working on that. Economic diversification – you’re talking about that. And the other pillar is workforce. You can’t have a community if you don’t have families and workers.”
Burgum said his administration is “doubling down on main street” and said Grand Forks has become a statewide leader in such efforts. He notably came to Grand Forks last autumn and participated in a walking tour downtown for an entire afternoon, seeing the numerous developments that were recently completed or underway at the time.
“Other communities are pooh-poohing it, and you’re just building your own competitive advantage here,” he said.
He said credit goes to many places, but it starts with “leaders at the local level.”
“That includes all of you. You all are local leaders,” he said to attendees. “You’re all making a difference.”
Barry Wilfahrt, prior to the event, said his organization was excited to have Burgum as the keynote speaker.
“There are so many great things going on in Grand Forks, and the leadership of the Chamber looks forward to sharing some of those things with the governor and updating him on some of the great things that are happening in our community,” Wilfahrt said.
After the governor concluded his speech came the announcement of the Henry Havig Award, which has been given to local business leaders since 1977.
Opp was praised for his entrepreneurial spirit. As a young man, he enrolled at UND, but chose to leave the university and enter the workforce soon thereafter. He later started Opp Construction, in 1978.
While the business was quickly a success, it was not quite as large of a company as it is today. Opp’s wife ran the front office, and his sister-in-law and mother-in-law held positions at the company, as well. In 1982, he was recognized as the North Dakota Small Businessperson of the Year.
Today, Opp Construction employs more than 200 people in the Grand Forks and Fargo areas during the peak season.
Aside from his business achievements, Opp also was an early board member of the Community Foundation and a leader on the Choice Health and Fitness project. He also has served on various boards. Opp Construction has also made numerous donations over the years, including to the park district and public schools to construct playgrounds and parks.
“Greg is one of those guys who works behind the scenes on projects that are going to move our community forward and make a difference in the community,” Wilfahrt said. “Greg’s always one of those people who quietly gets involved behind the scenes, and the past recipients of the award select the winner, and they felt that Greg deserves this recognition for the work that he's done on a number of different projects over the decades in Grand Forks.”
Opp spoke to the crowd via a pre-taped video, in which he thanked his wife (Susan), children (Mike and Sally), business partners and customers for their support.
“I really wanted to thank the Chamber for this nice honor,” Opp said in the video. “I have always loved Grand Forks, and I’m proud to say I’m a resident. I was born here, went to school here, started a business here and raised a family here. It will always be my home.”
Also during the event, the Chamber held the ceremonial changing of leadership, with outgoing Chamber of Commerce Board Chairman Dave Zavoral handing the gavel to incoming Chairman Tommy Kenville.
As he left, Zavoral said to attendees, “as we move forward, may each of you see success in 2022.”
Kenville then spoke for several minutes, outlining goals for the coming year, saying the organization plans to focus on infrastructure, transportation and bridges.
-The Herald's Korrie Wenzel contributed to this report.