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Our view: It’s difficult to say ‘no’ to Fufeng’s plans to build a corn-milling plant in Grand Forks

There are many arguments against allowing Fufeng to build here, but for each point, it appears there is a legitimate counterpoint. Considering that, it’s difficult to say no to a company that wants to come to Grand Forks, provide jobs and contribute growth and tax revenue to the community.

Herald pull quote, 2/19/22
Herald graphic

If a massive corn milling facility is built on the city’s north edge, will it be taking advantage of city handouts to gain an advantage over existing businesses?

That so-called subsidy has been mentioned several times by residents at public meetings, specifically at recent meetings of the Grand Forks City Council. According to Herald reporting, it doesn’t appear to be a subsidy at all.

Indeed, $96.5 million in work is being done to accommodate the plant, which would be owned by the American subsidiary of Chinese-owned Fufeng Group. But of that money, about half already was in city plans before the Fufeng negotiations began. Some of the dollars are federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, some are state grants and some will be recouped from the factory itself, City Administrator Todd Feland and City Council President Dana Sande both confirmed.

"The majority of that ($96.5 million) that is going to be invested by the city of Grand Forks will be recouped either by special assessments or utility rates," Sande recently told the Herald. "We're not giving Fufeng anything, other than the ability to be successful."

Further, improving the site could create opportunities to draw more businesses to Grand Forks, Feland and Sande believe.

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RELATED: Grand Forks’ Fufeng deal — expected to bring hundreds of jobs — runs up against anxieties over China

It’s rare for a proposal to generate as much controversy as the Fufeng factory. The arguments against it are numerous.

Fufeng is a Chinese-based company, prompting concerns that it has ties to the Communist Party. Yet it’s a publicly traded company on the Hong Kong stock exchange, and many Chinese-owned companies already operate throughout the U.S., in all sorts of industries.

Some are concerned about the proposed factory’s impact to the environment, yet a number of large factories already exist in Greater Grand Forks, the region and nearby states.

Many are upset that the city, school and county would consider temporary tax breaks in an effort to lure the company, yet similar PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) programs are used regularly to attract companies to cities, including to Grand Forks. It’s important for the city to do that to be competitive.

Some have security concerns, since the factory would be relatively near Grand Forks Air Force Base. Importantly, Fufeng did not approach Grand Forks – rather, the prospect originated when the North Dakota Department of Commerce sought a request for proposals to potentially be a host city for Fufeng. Northeast North Dakota wasn’t even included in Fufeng’s original scope, but only was added after the Department of Commerce suggested it, Feland and Sande confirmed.

RELATED: Upset Falconer Township residents continue to question proposed Grand Forks annexation

Further, we have not heard that the federal government or the Air Force have concerns about a Chinese-owned factory in Grand Forks.

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Some say adding a corn factory will hurt the region’s existing co-ops or even the region’s producers themselves, yet some in the ag industry have told the Herald they are excited about the potential.

“I feel that it’s going to add another marketing aspect that is much needed in the area,” said Greg Amundson, a North Dakota Corn Growers Association board member.

And some are unhappy the city is moving ahead with plans to annex a portion of Falconer Township into city limits as part of the process. This is unfortunate, since annexation might affect their taxes. However, as County Commission member Tom Falck said at a meeting earlier this week, “any time that you are contiguous to a large city, you're going to at some point be annexed. That's just going to happen.”

Fufeng has prompted impassioned comments from concerned residents, and their worries should not be dismissed. Rather, they should be considered throughout the process, to fine-tune the city’s potential relationship with Fufeng and to help the city improve its processes in future negotiations with other companies.

Ultimately, the City Council and other community leaders are tasked with growing the city. Fufeng’s presence on the north end would help fulfill that goal amid a downturn in other sectors, chiefly retail.

There are many arguments against allowing Fufeng to build here, but for each point, it appears there is a legitimate counterpoint. Considering that, it’s difficult to say no to a company that wants to come to Grand Forks, provide jobs and contribute growth and tax revenue to the community.

DISCLAIMER: Herald Publisher Korrie Wenzel, who oversees the newspaper’s editorial board, is a member of the board of directors of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp., an entity that was involved in negotiations to bring Fufeng Group to Grand Forks. 

Related Topics: OUR VIEWFUFENGGRAND FORKS
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