It’s East revisits West, as business contingent retraces tracks from 2010 North Dakota initiative

By any name, Wilfahrt said he’s looking forward to a trip of community and business leaders out west to exchange ideas – and, likely, business cards – to build stronger economic ties and open new opportunities between Grand Forks and western North Dakota.

The trip echoes a 2010 journey, organized by the chamber and the UND Center for Innovation, that brought 32 Grand Forks community leaders out to the Williston, Tioga and Stanley areas. Wilfahrt remembers it as an opportunity for Grand Forks to work with western leaders just as oil production was booming and their communities were expanding precipitously – an opportunity, Wilfahrt recalled, to use and build upon the knowledge built in eastern North Dakota during reconstruction from the Flood of 1997.

“I think that’s one of the reasons we’re going out there, is to really get an update – what’s going on, where are the needs, what are those opportunities,” Wilfahrt said. “’We want to go out and find out where Grand Forks businesses can plug into that. And a lot of them already are.”

The plan’s agenda is still “fluid,” Wilfahrt said, but he hopes to see it include Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford, former mayor of Watford City. The group hopes the trip will be in June.

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“We’re in touch with people everywhere from Tioga to Dickinson,” Wiflahrt said.

Western North Dakota’s growth has been remarkable in recent years. Many counties’ populations have exploded since 2010, including McKenzie County, where total residents have grown from 6,360 in 2010 to 13,632 in 2018 – a more than 100% increase.

“Our company has had a presence in North Dakota since 2009, specifically in Watford City and Mckenzie County since 2012,” said Mike Dunn, a business development manager with the Grand Forks-based Construction Engineers “I think (western North Dakota is) open to having folks come and spend time checking things out and see where there could be opportunities to help them.”

Dunn said it was a valuable kind of business scouting mission, and that this trip should be as well, especially with so much of western North Dakota still in need of single-family homes, childcare, retail structures and the like.

“I remember that back in 2010, that was a great trip, and so much has changed since then for the better,” Dunn said. “Folks need to get back and check it out and see what the needs are now.”

Bruce Gjovig, former leader of the UND Center for Innovation and an active member of the chamber, said there’s still plenty of opportunity in western North Dakota – and, that just like the last trip, a visit to eastern North Dakota by western officials is expected, too.

“The emphasis is not on policy and government. It’s business-to-business and creating business opportunities,” he said. “It’s all across the board. They still have that need. Although their capacity is increased from what it was eight or nine years ago, there’s still a need.”

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