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OUR OPINION : Focus on the border, other issues to grow

The numbers ought to halt your coffee cup's rise in midair: The coming drawdown at Grand Forks Air Force Base could end 650 to 950 to 1,000 indirect jobs, plus 800 to 1,200 jobs lost on the base itself. That adds up to a regional loss of $38 mill...

The numbers ought to halt your coffee cup's rise in midair: The coming drawdown at Grand Forks Air Force Base could end 650 to 950 to 1,000 indirect jobs, plus 800 to 1,200 jobs lost on the base itself. That adds up to a regional loss of $38 million to $56 million a year, a base realignment impact panel last week declared.

But go ahead and keep sipping your brew, because all is not lost. For one thing, Grand Forks and the region can act in the short term to keep growing the economy; one such action item is below.

For another thing, this isn't your father's Grand Forks, where grounding of an Air Force missile wing in the 1990s hit the economy like a fragmentation warhead. Today, the regional economy has diversified and is positioned for more growth.

As a new report on the rural Midwest's economy says, "In many ways, the American Heartland today boasts better prospects than at any time since the early 20th century."

Here's some more detail about the above claims.


-- In the short term, one of the best things that leaders across the northern Red River Valley can do is to read and heed the Prairie Voices feature on this page. That's because Kenneth Oplinger and the BESTT Coalition that he co-chairs have identified a fundamental problem facing our region, analyzed it and developed a workable solution.

What the coalition now needs is widespread civic support and political will to push the solution. That's where local and statewide chambers of commerce, among other groups, should come in.

As the interview notes, the Business for Economic Security, Tourism and Trade or BESTT Coalition is hugely worried about obstacles being hauled into place to block U.S.-Canadian border traffic. The biggest of them will make travelers carry a passport or PASS card to cross the border. The rule will throttle visitation, given that only 25 percent of Americans carry passports today.

Grand Forks-area leaders should move heaven and Earth to stop the rule from taking effect. Remember, a key difference between the missile wing's 1990s drawdown and the coming KC-135 tanker aircraft relocations is that Canadian traffic disappeared along with the missile wing, thanks to the unfavorable exchange rate then. That amounted to the second jolt in a triple whammy afflicting the region, the third being the 1997 flood.

Let's not go through even two of those again.

The BESTT Coalition wants Washington to let motorists use their new, high-security Real ID driver's licenses as a border-crossing card. With one swipe, the idea solves the border-bottleneck problem at less cost than the PASS card alternative, less aggravation and many fewer drawbacks. It would guarantee a free but secure flow of visitors and commerce at the border, a condition the Grand Forks area must never take for granted.

Local chambers and governments should follow the lead of the North Dakota Department of Transportation, and give the BESTT Coalition's idea their full-throated support.

-- Over the long term, residents should stay upbeat about the regional economy's prospects. Reading a new report, "Rebuilding America's Productive Economy: A Heartland Development Strategy" would be a great place to start.


The report is by Joel Kotkin, a nationally known, California-based writer and consultant on social trends and economic growth, and Delore Zimmerman, president of CEO Praxis, Inc., in Grand Forks. CEO Praxis is a consulting firm that specializes in stimulating tech-based economic growth.

You can read the report at www.ceopraxis.com , and it's well worth doing so. The report weaves demographic and other trends into a tapestry depicting a thriving and prosperous upper Midwest. The trends include America's energy needs; the growing appeal of college towns and other small cities; the farsighted leadership of people such as Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., whose Red River Valley Research Corridor is pulling in millions of dollars in federal grants; the region's good schools, safe streets and competent work force, and technology's role in linking workplaces around the globe.

The portrait that emerges shows a region enjoying steady, healthy growth - the opposite of a gloomy Buffalo Commons prognosis.

Which future would you prefer? If you answered Kotkin and Zimmerman's, then let's roll up our sleeves and get to work.

- Tom Dennis for the Herald

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