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Main Street Initiative reps meet with JDA

By Staff | Aug 2, 2019

Representatives from North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative sat in on the Rugby Job Development Authority’s regular July meeting last Thursday to discuss community concerns with board members.

Emily Brown, Community Engagement Manager for the state agency, and intern Ally Carson asked questions and listened to input about priorities for businesses and job seekers in Rugby.

Housing and amenities to attract and keep workers topped the list of concerns for discussion.

“(JDA Director Liz Heisey) asked me to come today to talk a little bit about the Main Street Initiative, specifically, the intersection between housing and workforce attraction,” Brown told the board.

Brown shared a list of priorities gleaned from a forum held in November at the Rugby Armory where she and state representatives listened to local residents voice their concerns.

“The top five priorities I have are: childcare and housing; recruit and retain workers of different skill levels; youth activities, workforce development, and then keeping businesses open after five,” Brown noted.

Housing and childcare took up most of the discussion time.

“Some of the conversations that we have indicate that there are a variety of needs for housing across the state,” Brown shared. “Younger people, when they’re looking to move to a community, they’re looking for rental housing, and they’re looking for quality rental housing.”

“It doesn’t have to be multifamily housing; it could be a single family house. That can be a challenge, because a lot of times a house that doesn’t have anyone living in it full-time will be a little degraded, and it’s expensive to invest in housing infrastructure.”

Brown said other amenities younger workers look for in communities include restaurants and cafes, grocery stores and access to health care. More data Brown shared about younger workers indicated the workers tended to look for communities to live in and then search for jobs in the communities where they move.

“Thinking big picture about the housing that’s available and the housing you would like to see,” Brown asked, “can you identify a couple of the top focus areas is it affordability? Is it access and availability of housing? Rental housing? Low-income housing?”

Board members answered in unison, “All of the above.”

Member Gary Kraft said, “I think it’s mostly availability of something decent.”

“Quality, yes,” agreed Board Treasurer Susan Selensky.

Mayor Sue Steinke shared feedback from her son-in-law, a housing contractor who often spoke of feedback he received from elderly residents looking for accessible, maintenance-free housing.

“They’re not looking for a supported living setting, but for convenience to meet their needs for accessibility and maintenance,” Steinke said.

“Over 25 percent of our population in Rugby is age 65 and older,” noted Heisey.

“I think there’s a gap that we have between our high-end housing our $300,000 – $400,000 homes, and our $50,000-$60,000 fixer-uppers,” Steinke added. “My son in law also has people asking him, ‘Can’t we get a house for $175,000 or $180,000 something under $200,000?'”

“Something that doesn’t require a ton of maintenance and that’s really challenging, because it’s expensive to build new housing, and you’re unlikely to get a contractor to build a new house that would be in the $150,000 range,” Brown said.

Brown said, “I do like the idea of investing in 55+ housing because it’s something that we see in a lot of people want to move out of their two or three story house and move somewhere more accessible for them. But that opens up other housing that might be at that middle-of-the-road price point.”

Brown also asked about possible solutions available from various agencies such as housing authorities, and shared information from a program in Watford City where the city funded part of the construction costs for new homes, lowering the selling price and making the homes eligible for FHA loans.

The JDA presented information on Rugby’s Chalmers Addition, which enables prospective homeowners to purchase discounted lots for new homes.

Steinke gave the Main Street Initiative representatives a tour of the Chalmers Addition following the meeting.

When discussion turned to daycare, board member Jodi Schaan shared information on Kids Next Door, an onsite daycare facility at her employer, Heart of America Medical Center.

Heisey told the group Rugby has five childcare facilities.

The board also discussed public programs to assist with daycare licensing fees, however, members said availability hours were the largest problem reported by parents.

Board member Terry Hoffert, whose wife is a nurse, noted, “The hospital’s open 24/7, so we have to have people working 24/7. Well, some people are lucky they have a spouse to watch the kids when they’re working, but there are some cases where it doesn’t work that way. So, without having daycare somewhere for those hours (the present daycare situation) doesn’t take care of the problem.”

Brown said with a nod, “we hear that pretty much in every community.”

“It’s almost everywhere,” Hoffert agreed.

“And places where they don’t think they have a shortage of childcare, they’re wrong,” Brown added.

The board discussed developing a survey of community residents to assess childcare needs.

Brown said she would bring feedback from the JDA meeting back with her to Bismarck.

“We’ll share the feedback we’re working on, kind of compiling a set of priorities we see trends across all of our Main Street communities,” she said.

In other business at the regular meeting, the JDA approved June meeting minutes and approved the treasurer’s report.

In the director’s report, Heisey updated the board on the JDA Job Fair to be held Tuesday. Heisey also asked for a budget hearing update, and Steinke told the board the hearing would take place September 10.

The next JDA regular meeting will take place at noon on August 22.

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