Today, tomorrow, together: Grand Forks Region EDC celebrates successes, honors Dave Molmen, former Altru CEO

Molmen was instrumental in creating Altru Health System in 1997, and led the organization for over 40 years while it was known as United Hospital.

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Dave Molmen reacts as Meghan Compton of Altru presents him with the 2023 Klaus Thiessen Impact Award at the annual meeting of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation on Thursday, March 30, 2023, at the Alerus Center in Grand Forks.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

GRAND FORKS – With a theme of “today, tomorrow and together,” the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation celebrated a diverse range of economic activities in the region and outlined plans for continued growth before an audience of more than 200 at its annual meeting Thursday at the Alerus Center.

Keith Lund, president and CEO of the EDC, praised the enterprising spirit of the region.

“When you drive around the region today, there’s a tremendous amount of development occurring, and there’s much more being planned,” said Lund. “The region knows how to roll up its sleeves and get to work.”

Lund pointed to Epitome Energy’s plans to construct a $418 million soybean crushing plant in Grand Forks, slated for opening in 2025, as an economic boon for the community. The facility will provide 50 to 60 permanent positions, while indirectly supporting an additional 800 jobs, according to Epitome CEO Dennis Egan.

“There are obvious reasons why Epitome would choose Grand Forks,” said Lund. “Chief among them is that this is one of the best places to grow soybeans in the world. Less obvious but equally important is Grand Forks leadership’s partnership with business. Leadership matters.”


Lund also said the North Dakota Mill, which celebrated its centennial in October, is responsible for $800 million in annual economic impact.

Another key aspect of Grand Forks’ economic development is its burgeoning unmanned aircraft systems industry. Lund described the UAS industry in Grand Forks as "out of this world," citing partnerships between the EDC, UND, and the North Spark Defense Lab at Grand Forks Air Base as essential for continued innovation.

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Keith Lund, president and CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., gives the keynote address at the annual EDC meeting on Thursday, March 30, 2023, at the Alerus Center.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

During the meeting, the EDC presented Dave Molmen with its annual Klaus Thiessen Impact Award. Molmen was instrumental in creating Altru Health System in 1997, and led the organization for more than 40 years while it was known as United Hospital.

Molmen also has been lauded for his stewardship of Altru during the Flood of 1997 and subsequent recovery efforts. Additionally, in 2003, he co-chaired a team that studied the merger of the East Grand Forks and Grand Forks Chambers of Commerce.

Thiessen, the award's namesake, is a former CEO and president of the Grand Forks EDC.

“Being awarded an honor that bears the name of Klaus Thiessen is a really big deal to me,” said Molmen. “He is a great leader and inspiring person.”

Molmen also said the theme of the event encapsulates the vitality of the Grand Forks Region.

“I think the good things I’ve learned in the decades I’ve been in Grand Forks can be summed up with the three words of today’s theme,” said Molmen. “One thing that really sets us apart as a community is that we play well together, partner well with each other and take care of each other.”


Becca Cruger, the EDC's director of workforce development, called the Grand Forks Region the “gold standard for economic development.” She said the organization’s partnership with area higher-ed institutions produces a pipeline of skilled employees to fill the region’s many job opportunities.

Cruger also pointed to a 27% increase over the past 12 years in the population of 25- to 39-year-olds in the Grand Forks region as evidence of the success of workforce recruitment initiatives. These include the “Way Cooler Than You Think” campaign, designed to promote the economic, educational and recreational opportunities the region affords, as well as collaboration with the state on its “Find the Good Life” campaign.

At the conclusion of the meeting, John Oncken, chairman of the EDC board of directors, praised the EDC's full-time staff, noting the organization's "purposeful approach, effective leadership (and) strong expectations of their team," among other traits.

Oncken also serves on the Greater North Dakota Chamber board and said Grand Forks is noted as being a collaborative community.

"We are, as a community, recognized as one of the most effective communities in partnerships," he said.

Banish covers news pertaining to K-12 and higher education, as well as county commission coverage.
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