Project for business development in Grafton to move forward with help of federal grant

The 532 Hill Avenue project, led by the Red River Regional Council, will create a commercial kitchen and business incubator in Grafton, North Dakota, providing space and programming for budding entrepreneurs in the town.

532 Hill Ave Render.png
An an artists rendering shows what the outside of the 532 Hill Avenue commercial kitchen and business incubator could look like.
Contributed / Prairie Centre Architecture
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GRAFTON, N.D. – A project that will provide entrepreneurs in northeast North Dakota with a low-risk space to grow their businesses will move forward following the announcement of a $1.6 million federal grant for construction costs.

The 532 Hill Avenue project, led by the Red River Regional Council, will create a commercial kitchen and business incubator in Grafton, North Dakota, providing space and programming for budding entrepreneurs in the town.

On Aug. 23, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced that the Red River Regional Council will receive a $1.6 million grant from the Economic Development Administration for the project as part of the American Rescue Plan. The federal money is matched by $409,189 in local funds from partners like the Walsh County Job Development Authority, the city of Grafton, Marvin Windows and Polar Communications.

“President Biden is dedicated to supporting communities as they seek to create new opportunities to spur business growth and create jobs,” Raimondo said in the announcement. “These EDA investments will support business and workforce efforts in North Dakota to help communities there build stronger, more robust local economies.”

The space is planned for an existing building at 532 Hill Ave. in Grafton that has sat empty for about seven years. It is located in downtown Grafton, and when completed, will include a commercial kitchen, retail spaces, conference rooms, co-working spaces and offices. The project was designed by Prairie Centre Architecture, based in Park River, North Dakota.


“It brings a very intentional space that is to grow and support entrepreneurship, inspiring new business development, with a heavy emphasis on food-based businesses,” said Dawn Mandt, executive director of the Red River Regional Council. “Our goal is to help repopulate some of our main streets with unique destination, niche businesses.”

Having a coffee shop has been a long time dream for Stephenie Schiller, who owns the Happy Camper Coffee, a mobile coffee shop

The shared commercial kitchen will be available for people developing their food-based business to rent. It will allow these business owners, many of whom have only worked in home kitchens, to scale up their business and become familiar with working in a commercial space without having to take the leap of investing in a commercial kitchen of their own, Mandt said.

Working out of a commercial kitchen also allows businesses to meet food safety and licensing regulations, which can open the door for businesses to be able to package and ship food products for sale. With retail areas in the building, business owners could set up shop to grow a local customer base.

“Potentially, a food-based business could have a storefront and have limited hours or regular house to reach the public more readily than just with their online marketing,” said Mandt.

Entrepreneurs that use the space will also have access to programming to guide them through the startup or growth of their businesses in preparation for running a business independently in the future.

“Our goal is to graduate people out of an incubator setting so they can have their own storefront or a business setting of their very own,” she said.

As well as a space to cultivate local business, Mandt envisions the Hill Avenue project as a community gathering space. The commercial kitchens could be used for food classes or by other organizations in Grafton when hosting events.

The 532 Hill Avenue project is not the only new development in Grafton in recent years. In 2021, a 36,000 square foot addition was completed at Unity Medical Center. This spring was the first year that water flowed through a new flood diversion , which was also completed in 2021. The city is working with ICON Architectural Group to develop a new apartment complex.


Paired with these recent developments, Chris West, mayor of Grafton, expects the 532 Hill Avenue project to make Grafton an even better place to live and work.

“All these improvements that go into the footprint of our community poise Grafton as a smaller community that you are able to work from,” said West. “It provides a nice, smaller town atmosphere for those that don’t want the hustle and bustle of a larger community.”

Once the federal grant is awarded to the Red River Regional Council, the design for the space will be finalized, and the project will be posted for bids for construction. Renovating an existing building will shorten the construction process, says Mandt, and she expects the project will be completed by next summer or fall.

In the meantime, says Mandt, entrepreneurs and community leaders alike are excited about the opportunities the 532 Hill Avenue project will bring.

“There’s a lot of great energy and people have a lot of great ideas, and it will give us more ability to nurture them in a meaningful way,” said Mandt.

Ingrid Harbo joined the Grand Forks Herald in September 2021.

Harbo covers Grand Forks region news, and also writes about business in Grand Forks and the surrounding area.

Readers can reach Harbo at 701-780-1124 or Follow her on Twitter @ingridaharbo.
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