Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. CEO Keith Lund: Grand Forks is resilient and rising
For its "2021 Greater Grand Forks Community" section, the Herald invited a handful of Greater Grand Forks residents to submit their thoughts on the good things happening in our community.
The Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation is optimistic for the future as we ease into a post-pandemic world. In June, we held our annual meeting at the Alerus Center with the theme “Resilient & Rising.” We highlighted our region’s strong momentum of future growth, as well as our resilience from the last year and a half and the last quarter of a century. The pandemic was not the first time we’ve experienced setbacks. Here’s 25-year recap of some of the challenge we’ve faced:
- 1996: Closure of missile wing
- 1997: Flood
- 2005: Closure of the tanker wing
- 2009: Great recession
- 2016: State budget crisis
- 2020: COVID
I haven’t completed exhaustive research, but I don’t know another community in the upper Midwest that has faced the same number of setbacks. Despite these headwinds, this region continues to grow. How did this happen? It happened because when faced with a challenge, community and business leaders come together to meet it head on. There’s no doubt, this region is resilient!
Now let’s talk about rising. The EDC’s mission is to expand economic opportunity for the citizens of the Grand Forks region through industry growth and diversification. Our primary focus as an organization is growth of primary sector businesses. Simply put, primary sector companies create products here and sell them all over the globe. Why is this important? These companies bring new wealth into our region. Primary sector companies pay local property taxes, pay local wages and purchase goods and services locally, but they get the money to make these contributions from all over the world. Those contributions are significant: $64,000 average salary, $495 million total payroll and $145 million in local procurement. Even during the pandemic, local primary sector companies purchased nearly $150 million in local goods and services from local businesses.
The primary sector in the region is rising, which creates a strong foundation for growth. We typically group our primary sector companies into four industries: manufacturing, agribusiness, UAS and technology. Manufacturing has grown through the pandemic, which is not the case in our peer cities in the region. We’ve seen manufacturing grow 21% over the last five years and 33% over the last decade.
Agribusiness is getting more efficient, bigger and better. This sector is the historical foundation of our economy. We’ve seen significant expansions at JR Simplot, Philadelphia Macaroni and Northern Tier Seed in Thompson, as well as new investments like the Red River Biorefinery. That’s good for employees, farmers and investors.
Unmanned and Autonomous Systems is also on the rise. Northrop Grumman opened a new hangar and Grand Sky built a multi-tenant building that is home to four companies. General Atomics is one of the tenants in that new building, expanding their flight training academy footprint. We are also very proud of companies like IsightRPV and Skyscopes that were launched in Grand Forks over the last several years. Also, Mobile Recon, the first drone manufacturer in the region, and Zipline, a company specializing in drone delivery of medical supplies globally, are examples of companies that have relocated operations to Grand Forks because of our robust UAS ecosystem. This industry is having a huge impact on our region. There are over 1,200 people working in careers associated with UAS in the region today.
Now let’s talk tech. I’ve really appreciated Grand Forks Mayor Brandon Bochenski’s leadership in this sector. The mayor is especially forward leaning when it comes to supporting technology businesses. We are excited to support the vision to reinvent the former Grand Forks Herald building into a technology accelerator. And so is the US Economic Development Administration — they provided a $1.1 million grant to help renovate the building. Also, we are very proud of the development of Accelerate Grand Forks Loan Program, which provides financing to startup and early-stage technology companies. It’s the newest tool in our financing toolbox to grow tech. We want companies like Tailorie, Airtonomy, KSI Data Services, First-I, and Checkable Medical Solutions to launch, grow and prosper in Grand Forks
Besides industry development, we have seen excellent growth of young professionals in our region. We have 21% more people in their 30s than we had 10 years ago, which is very encouraging. How does this happen? Because of the high-quality careers and partners that help promote those jobs and the region.
The work of the EDC and its partners to expand economic opportunity for the Grand Forks region through industry growth and diversification has never been more important. It’s our pleasure to serve the region in periods of growth and challenging times alike. The Grand Forks region is blessed to have strong leadership, strong industry partners and citizens who come together and meet any challenge head on.
We are resilient, and we are rising.
Keith Lund is CEO of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.