- 1996: Closure of the missile wing
- 1997: Flood
- 2005: Closure of the tanker wing
- 2009: Great recession
- 2016: state budget crisis
- 2020: COVID
I haven’t done an exhaustive research, but I don’t know of any other community in the upper Midwest that has faced the same number of setbacks. Despite these headwinds, this region continues to grow. How did it happen? It happened because when faced with a challenge, community and business leaders come together to tackle it head on. No doubt, this region is resilient!
Now let’s talk about the climb. EDC’s mission is to expand economic opportunities for the citizens of the Grand Forks area through the growth and diversification of the industry. Our main goal as an organization is the growth of companies in the primary sector. Simply put, primary industry companies create products here and sell them all over the world. Why is this important? These companies bring new wealth to our region. Primary sector companies pay local property taxes, pay local wages, and buy goods and services locally, but they get the money to make these contributions from all over the world. These contributions are significant: $ 64,000 in average salary, $ 495 million in payroll and $ 145 million in local procurement. Even during the pandemic, local primary sector businesses purchased nearly $ 150 million in local goods and services from local businesses.
The region’s primary sector is on the rise, creating a solid base for growth. We generally group our primary sector businesses into four sectors: Manufacturing, Agribusiness, UAS, and Technology. Manufacturing grew during the pandemic, which is not the case in our counterpart cities in the region. We have seen manufacturing grow 21% over the past five years and 33% over the past decade.
Agribusiness is getting more efficient, bigger and better. This sector is the historical foundation of our economy. We have seen significant expansions at JR Simplot, Philadelphia Macaroni and Northern Tier Seed in Thompson, as well as new investments like Red River Biorefinery. It’s good for employees, farmers and investors.
Unmanned and autonomous systems are also on the rise. Northrop Grumman opened a new hangar and Grand Sky built a multi-tenant building that houses four businesses. General Atomics is one of the tenants of this new building, thus expanding the footprint of its flight training academy. We’re also very proud of companies like IsightRPV and Skyscopes that have been launched in Grand Forks over the past few years. Additionally, Mobile Recon, the region’s leading drone maker, and Zipline, a company specializing in delivering medical supplies by drones globally, are examples of companies that have relocated their operations to Grand Forks in because of our robust UAS ecosystem. This industry has a huge impact on our region. There are over 1,200 people working in careers associated with SAMU in the region today.
Now let’s talk about technique. I really appreciated the leadership of the Mayor of Grand Forks, Brandon Bochenski, in this area. The mayor is particularly forward-looking when it comes to supporting tech companies. We are excited to support the vision of reinventing the former Grand Forks Herald building into a technology accelerator. And so is the US Economic Development Administration – they provided a grant of $ 1.1 million to help renovate the building. In addition, we are very proud of the development of the Accelerate Grand Forks Loan Program, which provides financing for early stage and early stage technology companies. This is the newest tool in our fundraising toolkit for developing technology. We want companies like Tailorie, Airtonomy, KSI Data Services, First-I, and Checkable Medical Solutions to launch, grow and prosper in Grand Forks.
Besides the development of the industry, we have seen excellent growth of young professionals in our region. We have 21% more people in their 30s than 10 years ago, which is very encouraging. How can this happen? Because of the careers and quality partners who help promote these jobs and the region.
The work of EDC and its partners to expand the economic opportunities of the Grand Forks area through industry growth and diversification has never been more important. It is with pleasure that we serve the region in times of growth as in difficult times. The Grand Forks area is fortunate to have strong leadership, strong industry partners, and citizens who come together and meet all challenges head-on.
We are resilient and we rise up.
Keith Lund is CEO of Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.