Washburn and Burlington partner to look at assets, opportunities

Submitted photo Workers erect a digital community sign in Washburn. The recently erected sign was the project of the economic development group and a number of sponsors.

The communities of Washburn and Burlington expect to have some advice for each other when they get together later this year.

The cities are participating in Community Impressions, an exchange program in which a team of residents visit each other’s town to evaluate the community’s vibe and identify its assets and opportunities. The concept of the program is to bring a fresh, outside perspective to a community as it looks to develop a vision for its future.

Darla Jost, a director on Burlington’s economic development board, said her city is growing and wants to make sure it grows in the right way.

“As a community grows, you never know for sure if you are making the right decisions, so it’s kind of nice to have a guide or another town that’s probably been through the growing pains so we don’t make the same mistakes. We have some guidance,” Jost said

Offered through the North Dakota State University Extension Service, Community Impressions begins with an orientation, followed by community tours. Washburn and Burlington plan to host tours this June, according to Tana Waldren Larsen, director of the Washburn Area Economic Development Association.

Jill Schramm/MDN The Willows, a townhouse project in Burlington, opened in 2016.

The tours will result in a presentation of findings, which the communities can use to implement changes or incorporate into its longer term strategic plan.

“It’s going to help me know what direction to go in planning a way forward for Washburn,” Larsen said.

But before Burlington residents come to share who they think Washburn is, Washburn residents need to figure out who their community is, she said.

To do that, Washburn is beginning a program through Marketing Hometown America, offered through NDSU Extension’s Center for Community Vitality. Marketing Hometown America is an educational program focused on recruiting and retaining new residents. It engages communities through small groups, called study circles, to get more people involved and more voices heard.

The city plans to use lodging tax revenue to support marketing efforts through Marketing Hometown America that encourage area workers and other potential new residents to choose Washburn as home.

Meetings will be held to get residents talking about their vision for Washburn, with the goal of finding people who would be interested in spearheading different projects, Larsen said.

Larsen also is coordinating a weekly roundtable discussion, giving residents a chance to share ideas, come together on community events and converse on a variety of topics.

In an additional effort, Washburn has set aside $25,000 from its city sales tax for matching grants of up to $5,000 for businesses that spend up to $5,000 on improving their storefronts.

With the help of sponsors, Washburn recently completed a project with the erection of a digital communication sign on school property along U.S. Highway 83. The rotating message board will be used to announce community and school events and honor community achievers.

Burlington erected its own digital message board near its school about two years ago. The DeSour Valley Economic Development Corp. also has been involved in land transactions with developers and worked with an affordable housing developer to erect a 40-unit townhouse complex that opened last year.

The economic development group now is working on its Riverfront Project, which will feature more T-ball fields to accommodate that popular program as well as volleyball courts and a splashpad. Jost said initial underground work has been done on the splashpad and more work will be done this summer to have the splashpad in service in 2018. The economic development group is coordinating its recreational park efforts with an improved flood protection project in the city.