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Brian Johnson: Valley Prosperity Partnership taking the long view on development

This article was written for the Herald's Greater Grand Forks Community section, which was published in the Herald's Aug. 27 print edition.

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The sun rises behind a water tower in Grand Forks. (Grand Forks Herald photo)
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The Valley Prosperity Partnership is a private sector-led initiative, joined by higher education and economic development and chamber partners, focused on developing a shared vision and action plan for high value and sustained economic growth for the Red River Valley in North Dakota and Minnesota and throughout the state of North Dakota.

The VPP takes the long view on our region’s prospects and challenges but acts now to capitalize on our collective strengths and opportunities. With long-term growth and continued economic vitality in our sights, the VPP has carved out actions to ensure that the Red River Valley continues to be a vibrant place to live, work and play and a great place to call home.

Here in Grand Forks the VPP’s advocacy efforts, along with the efforts of others, have resulted in meaningful results for our community.

The Red River Water Supply Project will provide a supplemental water option to Central North Dakota and the Red River Valley to mitigate against drought conditions that would cause costly water shortages. Moreover, a supplemental water option will foster economic development by meeting future water demands. The 2021-23 budget bill for the State Water Commission included $50 million for the RRVWSP. The VPP continues to advocate for acceleration of the project to reduce costs and put the project into operation as soon as possible.

Grand Forks, like most communities in America, faces critical workforce challenges. The VPP has supported funding for career education tech centers to train young people for North Dakota’s growing industry sectors. In 2021, the Legislature appropriated $70 million in funding for career and workforce academies in the state, which included the Career Impact Academy here in Grand Forks. The center will allow learners to explore local career fields and earn certifications or college credit, introducing them to regional industry and colleges, which helps strengthen our workforce pipelines.

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The VPP believes that making capital available for emerging and expanding businesses in North Dakota will help to grow our economy by keeping successful homegrown entrepreneurs in the state and create many new high skilled job opportunities. Consequently, the VPP was an early supporter and advocate of the Innovation Technology Loan Fund (LIFT) and for Insurance Commissioner Jon Godfread’s efforts to deploy funds from the North Dakota State Investment Board to make investments in technology companies with exciting ideas and high potential. As of today, 17 awards have been approved by LIFT to 13 companies in Grand Forks totaling $11.4 million.

The University of North Dakota and North Dakota’s other 10 universities and colleges are important economic drivers, whose research and development capabilities sustain our competitive advantages in agriculture and energy and translate innovations in other sectors into new economic opportunities, a more skilled workforce, and higher-paying jobs for North Dakotans.

The VPP has supported and will continue to advocate for long-term, predictable funding for university research and development to engage in industry-driven research to attract research talent and funding for industry sectors that are key to strengthening and diversifying North Dakota’s economy. Here in Grand Forks those resources will significantly impact UND’s competitive position in research related to energy, UAS, healthcare, and other leading-edge industries.

In conclusion, the VPP’s priorities are focused on the Red River Valley but our collaborative efforts have reaped tangible benefits for Grand Forks and indeed for the citizens of North Dakota. We must look ahead and take steps now to create the future that we want.

Brian Johnson is co-chairman of the Valley Prosperity Partnership.

Related Topics: RED RIVER VALLEY
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