COVID-19 has impacted businesses and residents alike across North Dakota. The North Dakota Department of Commerce, business partners and state agencies took an innovative and proactive approach to address and mitigate the variety of previous, current and future challenges.
Dedication and resiliency were common across the state during the rapidly evolving pandemic. From residents to businesses, industries to agencies, the people of North Dakota showed their strength in a harmonious effort. As the lead agency charged with growing the state of North Dakota and improving the quality of life for its residents, the Commerce team diligently worked to find real-time solutions. One of the first steps in finding ways to assist the state was to take a “boots on the ground” approach to authentically understand the environment and needs of the business community.
Throughout response efforts, Commerce and other state, private and federal agencies teamed with community partners to collaborate and disseminate valuable resources to those impacted by COVID-19.
After assessing the needs of the state and its citizens, Commerce led Commerce Business Briefings in partnership with the Greater North Dakota Chamber as a method to provide real-time updates for businesses and communities affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. On average, more than 1,000 individuals joined each call to hear updates from a variety of state, federal and community leaders. Topics ranged from federal programs like the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Emergency Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) to the basic everyday needs of local businesses.
As a result of the business briefings, North Dakota businesses have seen significant benefit from the PPP. Information released by the Small Business Administration indicated that more than 19,000 North Dakota businesses across 22 different industries received PPP loans for over 1.7B, keeping over 176,000 employees on the payroll. In June, TIME Magazine reported that North Dakota was #1 on the list of states receiving PPP funding when considering population and number of small businesses
In June, Commerce announced the development of the state-led Economic Resiliency Grant (ERG) Program, opening the next chapter of adaptation to the pandemic. The grant is designed to enhance revenue in both the immediate and long-term future by growing consumer confidence, providing funds to private companies operating in North Dakota for costs associated with business improvements to reduce the spread of infection and instill consumer confidence in the marketplace.
Within three months of the program’s inception, Commerce announced that the agency had awarded more than $20 million to 1,000 businesses, with most funds being awarded to small businesses of less than 25 employees. Anticipated grants will total $65 million and drive in an excess of $100 million in economic activity.
In addition to general business briefings, the state also took the lead in providing a direct focus on assisting the hospitality and tourism industry. The North Dakota travel and tourism industry supports more than 2,800 businesses and 42,000 jobs across all counties of North Dakota. From airports to restaurants, fishing guide services to on-stage entertainment, travel in North Dakota generates more than $3 billion in visitor spending.
To address the challenges of COVID-19, Commerce began hosting Tourism Industry Update calls to provide resources and collaboration with industry experts. Reflecting the national response to the pandemic, Commerce’s Tourism Division marketed North Dakota’s abundant outdoor recreation and crowd-free activity options that make our state an ideal travel destination. As a result, outdoor destinations such as the Theodore National Park experienced the highest visitation rate of 30 years in August.
As the economy shifted, so did the demand of North Dakota’s workforce. To address the changes in workforce, Commerce designed and administered the ND Technical Skills Training Grant.
The grant is designed to support accelerated skills-based and hands-on workforce training programs that prepare displaced workers for full-time employment in North Dakota.
Despite the impacts and many state resources shifting to the COVID-19 response, North Dakota continues to seek future opportunities, past the pandemic.
In October, the 2020 Main Street ND Summit was held in a largely virtual environment, underscoring the need for communities to gather and stay connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The theme for the 2020 Main Street ND Summit was “Building Resilient Communities” which focused on empowering communities to address the challenges currently being faced in many communities across North Dakota.
At the summit, Governor Doug Burgum announced new tools to help build capacity and better understand the changing landscape of rural economic development and community growth in terms of utilizing smart, efficient infrastructure.
The Economic Development Ecosystem Map, a tool that will give community leaders and economic developers an easily accessible map of partners and resources in their area supporting community and economic development. Users will be able to add layers to a map of North Dakota to show which partner organizations and programs are operating at a statewide, regional and even community level, to enhance the collaboration and utilization of resources and expertise across all corners of the state.
In addition to the map, The Main Street Initiative team, with assistance from City of Bismarck planning staff, private urban infill development representatives, and staff from SmartGrowth America, also developed a working database known as the North Dakota Development Calculator (ND2C). The ND2C will allow local decision-makers and citizens to estimate the fiscal impact of a potential new development, based on estimated costs of supporting and maintaining new infrastructure and the property and sales tax revenue collected from a new project.
More recently, Governor Burgum announced that North Dakota will soon be launching intermodal rail service – the culmination of more than two decades of effort to gain access to intermodal transportation to reduce shipping costs for the state’s agricultural producers and other industries.
North Dakota officials have pursued access to intermodal rail for over 20 years. This year, it will become a reality as Minot will receive an intermodal unit train at a newly operational facility serviced by BNSF railway.
“Given the global demand for North Dakota products, this is a game-changer. Producers and processors across our state will now have access to competitively priced transportation, which will enable us to further grow and diversify our economy,” Burgum said.
Adding intermodal, a process which reduces the number of touch points, will reduce shipping costs for agricultural producers by an average of 15 percent to 25 percent, which is a critical advancement given the current economic environment.