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‘…Complex in its partnerships’

By Staff | Jul 12, 2019

Rugby JDA Executive Director Liz Heisey holds some of the literature available to those seeking support from the agency.

The Rugby Job Development Authority plays a larger role in the community than most realize, according to Executive Director Liz Heisey.

The JDA’s work sometimes escapes public notice because of the agency’s multiple partnerships with other government and private entities.

” The JDA is complex in its partnerships,” Heisey told the Tribune recently as she took a break Monday from preparations to attend a meeting for North Dakota’s Main Street Initiative.

“We partner with several other organizations in this state. We partner with the North Dakota Department of Commerce; which they’ve worked with us a lot on helping us access the resources that are available to the community,” she noted.

“And (the JDA has also worked with) Souris Basin Planning Council they can be in the form of a loan, or a pass-through.”

Heisey explained the term “pass-through”: “Sometimes we’ll get funding a lot of times, there will be federal funds that are only available to cities, local governments, non-profits, tribes and the Souris Basin Planning Council is in charge of awarding those funds, and sometimes, we’ll receive the funds so we can in turn administer those funds to the community.”

Heisey said funds passed through usually come from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, intended for housing.

“So, most of the time, you’ll hear about HUD for housing you’ll hear about this community development block grant, but the main reason for the community development block grant program is to improve public infrastructure and housing without placing the financial burden on low-income residents,” Heisey noted.

“It’s just one of our partnerships. We provide resources.”

Heisey acknowledged some community members might question why the JDA involves itself in housing matters.

“Let’s go back to the sales tax,” Heisey explained, noting 35 percent of every two cents in sales tax revenue supports the JDA. “The sales tax is for community development and job development. North Dakota has an extremely low unemployment rate right now; it’s at 2.9 percent.”

“And the biggest thing I hear from area businesses is they can’t find people to work,” Heisey continued. “In order to get these people here, we need to attract a workforce, and the only way to do that is to build up our housing inventory. And we don’t only need low-income (housing), we need senior housing; we need family housing; we need single-people-that-are-never-going-to-get-married housing; (smiles) we need an ‘all of the above’ approach. So, housing is very important for workforce attraction; it’s very important for our community.”

“One of our most recent recipients of the community development block grant program was (Affordable Housing Developers Incorporated of Dickinson). They just bought a whole section of low-income housing that they’re redoing in town. So they got a redevelopment block grant. The city* sponsored that. And we are a component unit of the city of Rugby,” Heisey added.

Other funds administered by the JDA were used to purchase the Lyric Theater and the Heart of America Johnson Clinic buildings. Heisey said the JDA still holds the deeds on the clinic’s Dunseith and Rugby buildings and collects rent on them.

“We do try to do as much as possible at the hospital. Rural health is very important in the community. We want to keep those jobs here, and keep the access to health care available in our community,” Heisey said.

“It’s very essential to the sustainability and long-term growth for our community,” she added.

However, Heisey noted, “The main focus for the JDA would be attracting new business. As much as possible, we really want to focus on being a business-friendly community. We don’t want to be the “City of Noes”. You’ll probably hear that quite a bit going forward, but North Dakota is a great place to start a business. There are so many incentives from the state level all the way down to the local level.”

Heisey said the JDA partners with agencies dedicated to helping fledgling small businesses in a number of ways designed to lend support without what she called “redundancy”, or duplicating other agencies’ services.

“The Small Business Development Center is one of our partnerships, and we do help support them,” Heisey explained, noting the agency receives public funds that are matched by the JDA.

“(Director) Mary Beth Votava and the Small Business Development Center (are) very important in our community,” Heisey said.

(The SBDC) has help for startups; they also have more access to more they’re funded by the Small Business Administration. So, they can get access to thousands of business plans,” Heisey said.

“We (the JDA) can help you get going in the right direction, but if you want to start up a business, that’s where we’re going to send you first, so you can develop that blueprint for success. You’ve got to have all your paperwork in order so you can go to the bank, or go to the other agencies for small business, so when you come in, I’ll give you the referral not only to the Small Business Development Center, but I’ll also give you literature for the Souris Basin Planning Council, the USDA Rural Development (programs) and help you make out a tailored plan that works for you.”

Heisey said the JDA has offered training for employees of local businesses, and sometimes partners with Job Service North Dakota to offer help with businesses seeking employees.

The JDA also offers programs to help with student loan payments, and interest buydowns for small business loans.

“Funding-wise, one of the best ways we can help businesses is through the Bank of North Dakota PACE Program,” Heisey said.

“In order to be eligible for that program, you have to have a community match,” Heisey added.

“And then, that’s where our sales tax dollars in Rugby can help.”

Reading from a list, Heisey outlined other JDA services and programs: “New business and entrepreneur attraction; business retention and expansion; tourism potential; job development; workforce development strategies including retention; recruitment; automation; growing our own workforce; employee training opportunities; community-based adult learning opportunities; access to childcare; community development including working on quality of life, attracting new workers and mitigating outmigration.” Heisey said “outmigration” happens when high school graduates leave town and choose to pursue careers in other communities.

Heisey said other JDA priorities include “working on housing for all income levels; encouraging arts and culture; diverse dining and retail; recreation opportunities indoor and outdoor; education pathways; career readiness; access to healthcare; people-focused development.”

“A lot of these are part of the Main Street Initiative,” Heisey added.

Heisey cited information from The Main Street Initiative describing its focus on developing “a skilled workforce, smart and efficient infrastructure and healthy, vibrant communities.”

“Anything to do with workforce attraction and bringing new businesses into town, the JDA should be involved,” Heisey said.

However, the JDA doesn’t work alone for the community.

“The way the Main Street Initiative works, it shouldn’t just be one organization (involved); it should be the community coming together and working as well,” Heisey said. “And that’s really difficult. No one organization, the JDA, the chamber, the city, the county no one can do it alone. It’s going to take all hands on deck and everyone coming together on these projects.”

* CLARIFICATION: Pierce County sponsored the block grant for Affordable Housing’s Courtyard Apartments. The City of Rugby played a supporting a role.

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