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Burgum announces Main Street Initiative plans at summit

Gov. Doug Burgum asked every participant for thought and ideas in his remarks at the 2018 Main Street Initiative Summit on Monday morning in the Bismarck Event Center. Gov. Burgum said 29 communities have joined the MSI and expects that number to keep growing in envisioning North Dakota's future. Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK—As part of his Main Street Summit, Gov. Doug Burgum announced the rollout of his initiative's Main Street Community Dashboard.

The announcement was made to about 650 people attending the event at the Bismarck Event Center on Monday. According to the governor's office and North Dakota Department of Commerce, the dashboard provides community leaders publicly available, but not always easy to find, information that can be used to help grow healthy, vibrant, financially solvent communities.

"Community leaders in North Dakota are often volunteers who wear many hats. If we can help by simplifying processes and reducing mundane work, they can focus on the things that really drive impact," Holly Holt, senior manager of strategic initiatives at the North Dakota Department of Commerce, said in a statement.

The Microsoft powered dashboard charts data points for cities and counties across the state. It includes demographic information on population, age and income. It charts taxes levied by cities and counties and infrastructure built in those communities. There's also data on school enrollment.

The state will continue to add to the dashboard over the next several months. In April, livability statistics from child care availability to recreation and health care will be included. And beginning this summer, data editing and updating capabilities will be offered to city leaders.

The North Dakota Department of Commerce, along with representatives from Burgum's team, have been hosting meetings with leaders from cities across North Dakota over the past several months, receiving updates on the region's needs and providing information regarding state development programs.

"The information that will be available in the dashboard in the coming months may be instrumental in sharing the uniqueness that helps with workforce recruitment," Holt said. "The dashboard is one of several tools being delivered through the Main Street Initiative to help communities who are building for the future."

Since taking office, Burgum has made visits to 14 North Dakota cities — Beulah, Bottineau, Bowman, Devils Lake, Garrison, Grafton, Grand Forks, Hazen, Hettinger, Jamestown, Langdon, New Rockford, Oakes and Valley City — promoting his signature Main Street Initiative.

So far, 29 communities statewide have signed on as part of the initiative.

"We'll continue to travel to communities across the state to continually adapt our state programs to meet the changing needs of our communities," governor's office spokesman Mike Nowatzki said in an email.

Burgum continued to pitch his initiative as a way to help fill the more than 12,800 open jobs in the state, a number he says he's positive is low compared to actual need.

Burgum said, more often, new talent picks the city they want to live in then begins looking for the job rather than relocating for a company.

"We have to compete on location or these numbers are just going to go up and up and up," he said of job openings he believes are slowing down the state's economic growth potential.

Burgum said North Dakota does not have a large metro area so it has to compete differently from other states for talent. He pointed to Garrison as an example that promotes itself on its access to hunting and fishing with a strong relationship with nearby Fort Stevenson State Park.

He also encouraged North Dakotans to own their cold climate when trying to attract new residents. He pointed to Minneapolis and Canada's Winnipeg as major metro areas that aren't hindered by the weather. He held up Grand Fork's "Freezway" project, a project that, though off to a rocky start, has turned riverside trails into seasonal outdoor skating paths.

Finally, Burgum pushed leaders to include youth in their efforts, asking high school and higher education students what would make them interested enough to stay in North Dakota rather than "exporting our talent" to other states.

He announced the Building Tomorrow's Leaders partnership between the Main Street Initiative, NDSU Extension and the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction leadership skills training for high school students, primarily freshman and sophomores, and asking them to implement a Main Street Initiative project of their own. He suggested a student run coffee shop or bowling alley as possible, real life entrepreneurial training tools in small towns.

More information on Building Tomorrow's Leaders is available at https://www.nd.gov/dpi/SchoolStaff/AS/buildtomorrowleaders/.

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