Interesting times. These certainly are, in many ways. There is certainly no lack of challenges facing us. But challenge creates opportunity, the chance to make changes that alter and, hopefully, improve life for us and succeeding generations.
This nation, as well as the world, has faced difficulties posed by diseases many times. Some people have identified as many as seven pandemics since the Spanish flu outbreak after World War I. Each time we have recovered and grown stronger. In a few years it will be interesting to look back at the lessons from COVID-19, to see what we did well and to identify where we could have done better. But that is for future historians.
Similarly, as a nation we have faced numerous economic challenges. Money and negligible tax revenues after the American Revolution challenged the fledgling nation until the Constitution stabilized the United States into a federal system, unifying 13 autonomous states into a single country with a limited national government, the power residing in the people and the states rather than the national government. Alexander Hamilton reformed the American financial system and created a stable economic environment, albeit not without controversy. There were numerous “Panics” which challenged the economic well-being of the nation. We recovered from each. The Great Depression transformed much about the American system. Other, more recent, events such as rampant inflation after the end of the Vietnam War, the savings and loan crisis, the high tech bust, and the real estate bubble crash have challenged us. In each instance, we found a way to move forward, differently from before, but forward.
These events affected us locally as well. Throw in the flood for good measure as another challenge. Plus blizzards. Plus heavy rains that prevent the harvesting of crops. Occasional stifling heat and humidity. And smoke from wildfires. Each of these challenged us, but we got through it all.
The point of all this is that we are resilient people! The events of the past 18 months have reinforced that observation. We have faced hardship and found ways to deal with it and to move forward.
The pandemic imposed hardships on residents and businesses in East Grand Forks. Mask. Work from home. Isolate or quarantine. Vaccinate – or not. Unusual, to say the least. Compounded by the fact that the rules were different depending upon whether a person was east or west of the Red River, for the North Dakota rules differed from those in Minnesota. Yet, we have found ways to accommodate and are moving forward.
With regard to businesses, in East Grand Forks, the city and the Economic Development Authority made a concerted effort to ease the difficulties faced by businesses. The EDA ran seven programs specifically to assist local businesses through the hardships imposed by the restrictions. The EDA used funds from its revolving loan programs, from federal and state assistance programs, and funds provided by the City Council for these programs. Some funds were used to reimburse businesses for expenses incurred specifically to comply with the mandates imposed by Minnesota. Using other money, the EDA provided low-interest loans with payments and interest deferred to allow the businesses time to recover.
The city provided funds for a forgivable loan program; the loans will be forgiven if a business meets performance standards, such as remaining in business and employing a certain number of people. With some of the federal CARES Act funds, the EDA and city were able to reimburse businesses for some of the financial losses incurred by businesses during the pandemic. In total, the EDA and city provided over $1.3 million of assistance to 57 local businesses in 131 loans and grants.
And, perhaps more importantly, the residents showed their support for local businesses by patronizing restaurants and businesses in spite of the difficulties.
The future looks bright. Not only were most businesses able to survive, there is new business activity occurring as we move forward. The old Pamida/Shopko building is being renovated for use as a furniture store and additional tenant space. Walgreens is currently under construction. Northdale Oil is expanding. Wired Bean Coffee House is now open. And more to come.
East Grand Forks – a resilient community where things are happening.
Paul Gorte is economic development director for the city of East Grand Forks.