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Preparing for the surge

By Staff | Mar 13, 2009

Rugby’s population will see a temporary spike this spring and summer as construction on the Iberdrola wind farm in the northern tier of Pierce County gets in full swing.

And the prospect of 200 to 300 workers coming to the city and area for that project has Rugby economic development and chamber of commerce officials preparing the community now for the influx of workers and the positive impact it will have on the community – as well as challenges.

Don Sobolik, executive director, of the Geographical Center Chamber of Commerce, said a community forum will be held later this month to identify more specifically what services and products the construction workforce will need, and how local and area businesses and residents can plan to meet those needs, and benefit from it.

“Projects like this don’t come around very often and this is an opportunity for people to take advantage of the economic impact it will create for the city and area,” Sobolik said.

The most obvious challenge is lodging accommodations. Workers will be staying in motels or campgrounds in Rugby and in surrounding communities, yet others prefer to rent or lease houses or apartments for their three to four-month stay. Sobolik said the chamber has already been in contact with some contractors, giving them a listing of available rental properties. Those that come furnished, including television, electrical and water service, will likely get rented first. Those who have property available to rent are encouraged to contact the chamber office.

While motels will see an increase in bookings, the community will also benefit with an increase in sales tax and motel-restaurant tax collections.

Restaurants and gas stations will also see an increase in business, but having dining establishments open early enough in the morning to serve breakfast and remain open late enough in the evening is a need. There may be opportunities for restaurants to arrange to take food to the worksite, especially during the lunch break.

The grocery store and retail stores could benefit as well.

Construction crews may have openings for some temporary jobs, such as driving truck, so it’s a potential opportunity for some area residents to pick up work. Of course, the local workforce is limited, and how that will affect other businesses competing for workers will remain to be seen.

However, extending hours of business to cater to the construction crews is easier said than done. Some businesses would likely have to hire additional workers, and it’s already a challenge to fill current openings.

That’s one of the big concerns, Sobolik said, and why chamber and economic development officials want to get the word out now about the coming construction workers, enabling those restaurants to advertise for needed workers, and prepare for the extra business.

Some of the workers coming will be bringing their spouse, and family. Sobolik said the spouses may be looking for part-time work, so there could be opportunities for businesses to hire extra workers, if needed, over the summer.

While the workers will be busy at the job site most of the week, they still will have some down time, and identifying what’s available to see and do in the community and surrounding area is important to relay, Sobolik said.

Residents and businesses can play a part by remaining up on summer activities going on, and provide that information to those who ask. “If they know what’s going on, they are more apt to stick around,” he said.

The goal is for the community is to do its best to offer the necessary services to contractors and laborers. It’s a tremendous opportunity for some businesses to directly benefit, and the rest of the community to benefit indirectly, says Brenda Dissette, economic development director.

A project of this size bringing in a large number of workers doesn’t occur in the area very often, so taking advantage of it comes down to businesses being proactive, and for residents to help out where they can.

In addition to the wind farm construction, there are other possible projects that could mean additional workers in the area. Road construction is planned for a section of N.D. Highway 3 in Rugby this summer as well as a segment of U.S. Highway 2 between Berwick and Rugby.

And there is also the potential for street improvements in the city.

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