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Souris Basin council to update economic development strategy

November 12, 2018

This Oct. 10, 2018 photo shows Souris Basin Planning Council staff members, from left, Briselda Hernandez, economic development specialist; Lyndsay Ulrickson, executive director; Connie Wilson, office and finance manger; and Emily Berg, community development specialist posing for a photograph in Minot, N.D.. Souris Basin Planning Council often isn't the first agency to come to mind when contemplating economic development. But millions of dollars have come to the region for infrastructure projects that have spurred development because of the involvement of the planning council. (Jill Schramm /Minot Daily News via AP)

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — Working behind the scenes, Souris Basin Planning Council often isn’t the first agency to come to mind when contemplating economic development. But millions of dollars have come to the region for infrastructure projects that have spurred development because of the involvement of the planning council.

“We are here to make everybody else’s life easier,” SBPC Executive Director Lyndsay Ulrickson said. “Once somebody works with us once or twice, they understand the value of the services we provide. Oftentimes we try to make it so easy on the end user they have no idea what we have done.”

The planning council aims to change that anonymity a bit as it seeks to engage the public in an update of its five-year comprehensive economic development strategy. The council has held regional meetings and conducted a roundtable with community stakeholders in partnership with Dakota Business Lending and the Bank of North Dakota. An online survey collected public thoughts.

The council tentatively plans to have a draft plan completed by Nov. 15, the Minot Daily News reported. A 30-day public comment period will follow, and the hope is that people will respond.

“We truly want to hear what people have to say and what their thoughts are. We want it to be relevant to what people need and what people want throughout the region,” Ulrickson said.

While many people might wonder what SBPC does, Ulrickson noted the organization is busier now than ever in her seven years with the agency.

SBPC is a government nonprofit, established through state executive order as one of eight regional planning councils in North Dakota. However, there is no state funding.

SBPC, organized in 1972, is funded with a $70,000 grant from the Economic Development Administration that is matched by local funds from member counties of Bottineau, Burke, McHenry, Mountrail, Renville, Pierce and Ward. The planning council also receives some operating funds from grants as grant administrator for specific projects.

SBPC describes its purpose as being responsive to the needs of local governments and other development interests. Overseen by a local board, the council accomplishes its mission by providing guidance and assistance in problem solving, information sharing, partnership building and advocating local government needs with local, regional, state and federal entities — all led by a professional staff.

“We are here because we are passionate about what we do,” Ulrickson said of the four-member staff. “There’s lot of opportunity out there right now, and we just try to do what we can with our small staff.”

In the past five years, SBPC has helped Minot secure about $30 million in funding, including $18 million from the Economic Development Administration for the downtown infrastructure project. SBPC assisted the city with a $1.8 million grant for North Hill infrastructure that enabled that area of the city to grow commercially and residentially, creating more than 250 jobs, Ulrickson said.

SBPC also has had significant impact on Minot through its business loan programs. SBPC manages a revolving loan fund that provides gap financing to businesses in partnership with bank lenders.

“Our whole purpose is to find the gaps that exist within our community and find the resources that fill the gaps. If there are no resources, it’s our job to create one,” Ulrickson said.

That’s how the revolving loan fund came about. The fund now has a loan portfolio of about $2 million. Assistance is available to any new or expanding business that commits at least a 10 percent investment and meets other loan criteria.

SBPC has aided a number of area communities through various grant programs.

Two years ago, SBPC received a $70,000 grant from USDA Rural Development for a housing redevelopment program for low-income homeowners in Pierce County. It received another $116,666 in 2017 to continue the work. St. Joseph’s Community Health Foundation and the Rugby Job Development Authority each provided $10,000.

Six homes have undergone rehabilitation and are complete. Two homes have received new appliances. One home is currently being rehabbed and another is awaiting bids for rehabilitation.

Ulrickson recalled one homeowner who loved to cook and bake but only had a microwave. The program was able to provide her with a stove/oven.

“She was the happiest person we had through that project, and we did so little for her,” Ulrickson said.

Not everyone who applied was included in the program, but SBPC was able to help all of them in some way, whether directly or through drawing on other resources, she added.

“We do a few things really, really well. We don’t do everything. There are other things other people do really, really well. We can’t do anything without our partners. Our network of people and organizations is really extensive,” she said.

SBPC has partnered with Minot Air Force Base since 2013 when a Department of Defense grant became available to create a joint land use study. SBPC worked with the Air Force and the counties in which missile facilities exist to develop the plan for compatibility between Air Force needs and civilian safety. The plan listed 89 strategies, and a second grant was obtained to implement the top five strategies. One of the biggest needs was for local government training in writing comprehensive plans. A training session has been held and plans are to hold a second yet this year.

“This training is the first of its kind in North Dakota,” Ulrickson said.

SBPC also is conducting fiscal management of local nonprofits through a contract with Strengthen ND. In another partnership with Strengthen ND and North Central Planning Council, SBPC applied for grants to take inventory of abandoned farmsteads in eight of their counties. The goal is to eventually develop uses for the vacant land, such as micro-farming or cooperative farming operations through leases with landowners.

Last year, SBPC sponsored “Like a Boss: Business Startup 101,” an event to expose high school seniors and college students to entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs from various walks of life spoke about their experiences.

“We just wanted to get young people in a room to give them that real world picture of what it’s like to be an entrepreneur,” Ulrickson said.

Most recently, SBPC applied for a grant to create an online, user-friendly database of resources that will help anyone looking for information to easily locate what they need.

As valuable as the various programs are, administering federal Community Development Block Grant funds for local community infrastructure projects remains one of the best parts of the job for staff.

“Those are some of our favorite projects,” Ulrickson said. “We are kind of behind the scenes here, but those are making huge impacts on the lives of the people living in those communities.”

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com

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