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Closing gaps

City assesses next moves in economic development planning

Jill Schramm/MDN Minot City Manager Tom Barry, Mayor Shaun Sipma and stakeholders group chairman Tim Mihalick, from left, preside over a stakeholders meeting Tuesday.

An economic stakeholders’ group is contemplating its next moves after hearing in recent weeks from technical teams with suggestions on topics ranging from business incubators to wayfinding signage.

At a meeting Tuesday, Mayor Shaun Sipma pointed out some of the top issues facing the group in light of the teams’ findings.

“There’s no citywide organization or an entity to serve as, essentially, the linchpin coordinating all the various efforts by the different organizations undertaking the economic and business-support related activities within the city,” he said. “Nor is there one that has the capacity and capability to identify the means and resources to fill any gaps in a comprehensive citywide effort. There’s no means or mechanism in place to strategize, prioritize and seek the federal, state and the foundation grants.”

“There’s no citywide economic development strategy, period,” he added. “The question we have to ask is, who should have the lead in this development citywide strategy and how should it be funded?”

Technical teams identified as lacking:

Jill Schramm/MDN Members of a economic development stakeholders group participate in a planning session Tuesday.

– rapid response to mitigate or avoid adverse economic losses, such as business closings.

– a mechanism to link job creation with the workforce development and training.

– a mechanism to work with the property owners and developers to create the means to fill vacant properties.

– a lending nonprofit.

– an entity to manage resources and support for start-up businesses.

Tim Mihalick, chairman of the stakeholders group, said Minot needs to become more competitive with other communities that invest in economic development.

“My directive to the council is to think strong and hard about putting an economic development specialist on staff and let that person become the liaison throughout the community,” he said. “We need to get that done. I think it’s crucial to make things happen for the future of the city.”

City council members also responded to the stakeholders’ work so far.

“I’m concerned that this is sort of the baseline level of work that maybe every other city in the country is also going through,” council member Josh Wolsky said. “I want us to think a little bit about the next steps – the next things that separate us a little bit, that set us apart, because I’m not sure that we’ve identified those yet.”

He suggested the possible places for the city to focus its resources are the arts community and creative entrepreneurs.

Council President Mark Jantzer said the council’s role should be as a catalyst to encourage the economic development process, but the city also can provide tools and make the policy decisions as requested to further the process. Those tools might include Tax Increment Financing, Business Improvement Districts or a business revolving loan fund, he said.

“You can be assured that we will try to provide those things as they can be helpful to everybody’s efforts,” he said.

Council member Stephan Podrygula said entrepreneurship needs to be encouraged at the secondary school and collegiate levels, and not just in business programs.

“I’m concerned too about the other people who don’t see themselves as business people, but who have some interest in theater, English, whatever. And they need to know that they have a role, and they have some opportunities here in Minot. I think we need to facilitate and reach out to those groups,” he said.

Podrygula said the city also can provide expertise to augment other sources of knowledge.

“So I think we have resources now that we didn’t have. I think what is going to come down to, ultimately, is money and people,” Podrygula said. “We have enthusiasm. We have volunteers. We have volunteer organizations. But I think at some point, we’re going to have to come up with some bucks and we are going to have to come up with some staff.”

Council member Paul Pitner suggested the city get out of the way by relaxing some policies and opening doors for people to take economic development by the reins.

“If we are honest with ourselves about what we can and what we cannot do, I think then we can really start to move forward. And I think we’ve done that,” he said. “I’m encouraged by what I see and I hope that this continues.”

Council member Shannon Straight suggested asking existing businesses what they need to grow. He also suggested allowing the downtown gathering space management to become the organization that functions as a business and professional association, rather than creating more organizations.

“And I think it’s time to stop complaining. I think the solutions are in front of us,” he said. “I think we have to deliver back to the community to build some trust, to get the buy in, where people feel like, ‘Hey, I’m going to actually take you seriously.'”

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