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Our view: State needs to step in and help with tech center funding

State government should feel some sort of responsibility here, and by putting those dollars into the budget, it would allow the projects to move forward.

Herald pull quote, 9/17/2022
Herald graphic
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A lot of work has gone into Grand Forks’ yet-unrealized Career Impact Center. A tremendous amount of work.

Late last year, fundraisers breezed past their goal of $10 million in local donations in hopes of qualifying for $10 million in grants from the state. With the requisite funding in hand, the application was sent to the state Department of Career and Technical Education before the required deadline. In March, it was announced the project qualified for the full state grant.

So construction should be underway by now, right?

It’s not.

Turns out, the state cannot hand over the funds because it, in turn, is waiting for those dollars to come from the federal government. At the Grand Forks School Board meeting on Monday, Sept. 12, Eric Ripley, executive director of career and technical education for the school district, said “we’re really in a holding pattern.”

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And here’s where it gets really frustrating: “The longer we wait, the more the building will cost,” Ripley said.

It’s a disheartening turn of events for those who worked so hard to get this project rolling, to those who hit the streets and raised the local funds and to those many entities that showed their commitment with monetary donations.

More than 70 businesses and individuals contributed during a fundraising drive that took only a couple of months to complete. The fundraising total – it’s actually $11 million now – and the brevity of the fundraising campaign shows how committed Grand Forks is to this project.

What will the Career Impact Academy do for the region?

The idea is to create a place where students of varying ages can earn advanced credit while still in high school or, in adulthood, study for a new career. It’s aimed specifically at generating workers for local employers’ needs amid a labor shortage that could stifle economic growth and development for Grand Forks and nearby communities.

In August, however, it was announced that the original price tag of approximately $20 million had risen to about $30 million. The rise was blamed on inflation and supply chain problems.

Those issues aren’t going to improve anytime soon, and the longer Grand Forks waits for the $10 million grant, the more inflation and supply chain issues will push the price higher. Similar projects throughout the state – Grand Forks’ grant of $10 million was actually a portion of $88 million that was committed by the state – also are seeing inflation-related problems as they wait for the promised dollars.

One possible solution: The North Dakota Workforce Council last week voted to ask that the $88 million be put into the state budget. That way, these projects could get underway before prices skyrocket beyond affordability. Later, when the feds release the dollars, they would simply be used to pay back the state.

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State government should feel some sort of responsibility here, and by putting those dollars into the budget, it would allow the projects to move forward. Essentially, it’s a short-term loan. The state can afford it, and we assume the federal government will eventually come through with the dollars.

In fact, the state also should consider adding dollars to the budget to pay for the inflation-related price increases that have occurred during this long wait. Without additional dollars, many of these projects will face cuts.

We cannot let these important projects delay any longer. They are specifically designed to help ease the state’s labor shortage, which pretty much everyone agrees is a detriment to future state development.

This process has not been fair to those who worked so hard and donated so much. The state can help, and we think it should.

DISCLAIMER: Herald Publisher Korrie Wenzel – who also serves on the Herald’s editorial board – is a member of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. Board of Directors, which has played a role in fundraising and planning for the Career Impact Academy.

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