By Matt Norby
Grand Forks is amid a seemingly never-ending winter, and it's wearing on everyone.
It's easy to become cynical in times like this. I just don't understand why our largest employers always receive most of that negativity. As a businessman in the community, let me be honest: our local economy isn't where it needs to be. But as spring begins, it's important to look on the bright side and see all the good things happening in this town. Instead of critiquing every little personnel or strategic decision made by our largest employers, maybe we should support what they are doing to help this community and realize how lucky we are to have them.
I'm referring to large employers such as UND, Altru and the city of Grand Forks. Recently, it seems UND is receiving a lot of negativity. I don't agree with the adage "All press is good press." This institution employs thousands of people and develops talent for all of us. For every decision we get up in arms about, there are a hundred good decisions being made.
Many great things are happening at UND. The most obvious is the campus facelift taking place, with $400 million for new buildings, renovating much needed older ones and tearing down obsolete ones beyond cost-effective repair. This campus renewal is saving $70 million in deferred maintenance and adding much-needed parking to core areas.
UND donors, many alums, have given around $200 million over the past five years, and the university is putting it to good use. UND has seen a 10 percent increase in its four-year graduation rate, an 11 percent increase in its freshman-to-sophomore retention rate, and has shown its innovative spirit by significantly increasing online education opportunities.
We've heard a lot about needing to be a high-intensity research institution. At last check, UND's research expenditures totaled nearly $110 million and generated a regional economic impact nearly three times that. UND also is hiring top-end talent to fill key positions, and I know, because I have been fortunate to meet many of them. UND Aerospace remains ahead of the curve in academics and research, and now leads the way in unmanned systems education, research and technology development.
There are many other great things happening at our university, and it needs all of our support. We are a college town; our whole community benefits from a booming university.
Other large players in Grand Forks need our positive mojo, too. Altru Health System is bringing a brand-new hospital to this community. In a world where healthcare networks throughout the country are merging, joining forces and buying up the smaller hospitals, Altru is holding its own and entering a "Bold New Era," while providing excellent care for all of us. (Yes, I stole that slogan!) This is a great thing, and we all need to support it.
The city of Grand Forks also has taken some heat in the last year or two for trying to incentivize local developers and businesses to invest in Grand Forks. We have developers bringing mixed-use buildings downtown and other areas of town. We have a downtown grocery store coming soon, with housing and retail spaces (Arbor Lot, Hugo's Pure Development, the Lyon's Building, St. John's Block, the Herald Building) to name a few. Also, the Hope Church community is bringing life back to the Grand Cities Mall.
A new water treatment plant, Cities Area Transit addition and many other enhancements also are in the works in Grand Forks. The Grand Sky UAS business and aviation park, adjacent to the Grand Forks Air Force Base, also is bringing many jobs to town, and I strongly believe it's one more large commercial UAS player away from really taking off.
Spring is beginning, so let's come together to strongly supporting our university, Altru, the city of Grand Forks and anyone else trying to make things happen in this great community.
I will get off my soapbox now. I have to go blow snow.
Matt Norby is a Grand Forks native and downtown businessman.