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RALPH KINGSBURY: Grand Fork's motel-tax collections go up, up, up

In my commentary on this month's statistics, there's one category that I want to emphasize and discuss concerning the economy of Grand Forks. But before I do, I want to comment on something that isn't an economic function but is a big reason for ...

Ralph Kingsbury

In my commentary on this month's statistics, there's one category that I want to emphasize and discuss concerning the economy of Grand Forks.

But before I do, I want to comment on something that isn't an economic function but is a big reason for America being the most successful economic and democratic country in history.

It's what has made our country that city on a hill, that beacon of hope and opportunity.

And that is community. That sense of belonging. That sense of caring about a place and its people.

Today, I fear this sense of community has disappeared from much of America. But one of the few places where it has continued is in rural areas, and that means North Dakota.

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Now, I fear the North Dakota Legislature is about to take on giant step toward destroying that community. It will save taxpayers a few pennies, maybe the cost of a Big Mac a year or so.

I am talking about the legislative leaders' plans to cut the number of legislative districts. If approved, the "one man, one vote" proposal will meet the test of the federal courts. But it also will mean that while the eight or 10 larger towns in North Dakota will continue to enjoy a sense of community, the rest of the state will be "out there."

Instead, the lawmakers should show they really care by creating another two or three legislative districts, thus letting North Dakota stay someplace special. The state will be more than a wheat field dotted with oil wells, more than a place where it's 40 miles to the grocery store.

Now, concerning this month's statistics: As the 1960s protest song said, "There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear." There's even a '60s-like similarity to today, because people already have been "occupying" Grand Forks, even in the absence of any protest movement.

You see, they have been there occupying the motels of Grand Forks.

I've been surprised that none of the media have picked up on this, but the 3 percent assessment levied on occupied motel rooms in Grand Forks is setting records. August collections not only exceeded $100,000 for the first time, but also did so by more than 11 percent.

The collection total through August also is setting records; and yet no one has even mentioned it, much less asked why.

So, what is going on that all these people are coming to town? It's easy to say Canadian shopping. With a little investigation, it's also easy to say UND, especially the university's aerospace school and unmanned aerial vehicle programs.

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And if you pay attention to the center's announcements, it is easy to understand just how important the Energy and Environmental Research Center is to Grand Forks.

The growth of UND -- again and rightfully, the largest campus in North Dakota -- also helps fill the motels. Those who pay attention to detail also understand that the absolute and relative growth of the graduate school brings more people to Grand Forks, including tenants for all those new apartments as well as short-term guests who stay in the motels.

In addition, I suspect that one of the silver linings of the American Crystal Sugar cloud is that the replacement workers are staying in the motels. The workers eat the food, pay the bills and also pay that 3 percent assessment. That may include replacement workers sent not only to East Grand Forks but also to Crystal's other plants in Drayton, Hillsboro and Crookston.

As for the rest of today's data, the outstanding number continues to be the increase in the building permit report. There is simply no comparison with the past few years. Already, it's more than $100 million, and there's still a fourth of the year left.

We could be concerned about the decline in new housing construction, but we have to remember the government's influence with its tax programs in the past years.

Locally and across the state, the North Dakota economy continues to boom. Some things are slowing down, though: About two weeks ago, the media finally began reporting on how bad the crop situation really is.

First and foremost, North Dakota still is an ag state. Eventually, the press and the politicians will catch on.

Kingsbury can be contacted at kae@invisimax.com

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