Collaborating as One For Community Prosperity and State Sustainability

Written by: James Leiman

For two days, leaders and citizen volunteers from across North Dakota and neighboring states were provided tours, data-driven education and access to national speakers that addressed how land use and tax policies can drain or benefit communities. The 2021 Main Street ND Summit brought together speakers and organizations who engaged and motivated attendees on the benefits of strong community development that leads to sustainable property tax reductions and attractive communities for the next generation of the workforce.

For the first time since its inception, the summit was hosted outside of Bismarck. The theme was smart, efficient infrastructure and the summit’s new location, West Fargo, shined. On the evening prior to the summit, West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis and commissioners Mark Simmons and Brad Olson led a bus tour of West Fargo as part of the pre-summit event. The tour provided an elucidated, real-life depiction that highlighted West Fargo’s advancements made by planning within rather than expanding, and the benefits of planning for both the under and above ground infrastructures. Developers left the tour inspired to invest not only in housing, but also in additional spaces with amenities that would enhance experiences.

The official day of the summit kicked off with Strong Towns President Chuck Marohn’s direct approach to development and candid opinions on how some communities across the nation have forgotten how to build from inside the boundaries. Tristan Cleveland from The Happy City Experiment followed with real-life examples where communities focused on the health and well-being of the citizens. Being raised in a Canadian community with a population of 80, Cleveland presented a motivating keynote on ways communities of any size can address the livability and quality of life balance in their community to attract and retain a solid workforce.

The final speaker, Joe Minicozzi from Urban3, presented their study on Cass County, with a deep dive into three different demographics. Fargo, Casselton, and Kindred were chosen to represent the unique characteristics found in communities across the state. Breakout sessions between keynotes continued the discussion about the evolution communities of all sizes can undergo to maintain and grow their workforce and attract new residents. Partners like the North Dakota Department of Transportation, North Dakota Department of Health and Bank of North Dakota were joined by private sector supporters AARP, Sanford Health, Bolton & Menk, Odney, Microsoft, Hess, and Blue Cross Blue Shield. Collectively, they highlighted opportunities communities possess for good planning of infrastructure that will lead to economic growth and property tax stabilization.

Where do we go now with community development?

Community development is important because it provides the foundation a city builds upon to improve the lives of its citizens. It creates strong, diverse communities that can attract and keep talent, start and grow businesses and overcome issues. Tax burden can become lower, businesses will have a larger base of customers who can purchase their products and services, and the city will earn tax income to continue to support important programs and reduce debt.

Community development doesn’t necessarily solve problems in a city, but reduces problems and increases opportunities for growth. Without community development, both economic and business development suffer greatly.

How do we continue the progress for community and economic development past speakers and good food? The answer is simple: community prosperity means state sustainability. We cannot do this in a silo or even by one agency. Community development involves collaboration among interest groups, government, and citizens and the Department of Commerce aims to take these efforts to the next level. Collaboration must also include knowledge to seek, identify and define issues of public concern and influence public policy. Some of the change policies that are needed may be contrary to common practices, but the outcomes, which include sustainable reduction in property tax and increased workforce development, are needed to continue maintaining the quality of life we all love in this state.

James Leiman
JAMES LEIMAN Current Commerce Commissioner, spent over a decade fighting terrorism before deciding to focus his efforts on domestic issues. In his most recent position as the Department of Commerce’s director of Economic Development and Finance, Leiman was involved in statewide economic development and finance initiatives.
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