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Grand Forks leaders visit Iowa, Nebraska for Fufeng Group insights

Mayor Bochenski highlighted the Nebraska corn-milling plant in particular, which he said had inspired a cluster of heavy business in the area connected to it.

Grand Forks City Hall
Grand Forks City Hall, 255 N. 4th St. Sam Easter / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — Mayor Brandon Bochenski and other top city officials traveled to Iowa and Nebraska last week, visiting multiple communities with major agribusinesses as Grand Forks continues work on a proposed factory to be owned by China-based Fufeng Group.

The trip, from Jan. 19-21, saw city leaders visit Fort Dodge, Iowa, and Blair, Nebraska, where they met with local officials from both cities and toured each community’s agribusiness districts. Both cities have corn-milling facilities similar to the one that Fufeng Group hopes to build in Grand Forks.

That’s important as city leaders eye the details of actually building a new plant, which will need tens of millions of dollars in public infrastructure to link it up to water and street grids. But just as importantly, the cities in Iowa and Nebraska have legal and financial agreements they’ve negotiated to secure those plants. And as Grand Forks negotiates its own with Fufeng Group, they’re of particular interest at City Hall.

“The majority of time we spent with their city administrator, their mayors and some of their staffs. Just telling us what the process looked like, and the benefits, and if there are any negatives, what those have been,” Bochenski said.

Brandon Bochenski
Brandon Bochenski

City leaders have hoped since November that negotiations would wrap up soon — maybe in just days or weeks. That’s made it hard to pinpoint when the process will end. But City Hall has another meeting with Fufeng representatives on Wednesday, Bochenski said, and multiple City Hall officials have teased a potential review session for Jan. 31, when City Council leaders might have a chance to review the terms of private bargaining in public.

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The visits also give City Hall leaders more talking points to support the Fufeng Group plant — even as worries have persisted about the company’s ties to China. Bochenski highlighted the Nebraska corn-milling plant in particular, which he said had inspired a cluster of heavy business in the area connected to it.

“The idea was that there’s going to be more growth. It’s not just this one business that’s there,” Bochenski said. “It had led to a lot more growth and other businesses coming.”

RELATED: Grand Forks’ Fufeng deal — expected to bring hundreds of jobs — runs up against anxieties over China

Included on the trip were Bochenski, Feland, Economic Development Corporation CEO Keith Lund, City Council member Bret Weber, City Attorney Dan Gaustad, city waterworks assistant director Lisa Botnen and two engineering consultants — one from AE2S and one from Black and Veatch.

Speaking on Monday, City Administrator Todd Feland said the precise travel costs for the visit — which had concluded the previous business day — were not immediately available. He estimated the costs are less than $5,000.

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