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Rugby JDA board hears director’s goodbye, discusses community future

Local vocational training center possible

By Sue Sitter - | Oct 24, 2020

Sue Sitter/PCT Rugby JDA Executive Director Liz Heisey poses with Rugby’s 21st Century Workforce Award. Rugby received the award through Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative for workforce attraction and retention.

Rugby Job Development Authority Executive Director Liz Heisey both stepped down from her post and highlighted future opportunities for the community at the regular meeting of the JDA board on Oct. 14.

Heisey told the board she and her husband were relocating to Texas, where she has taken a job as a business manager for an emergency services district. Heisey’s last day with the JDA was Oct. 16.

Board members thanked Heisey for her year of service with the JDA, and asked if she would be available to help as a consultant on occasion. Heisey agreed, and the board voted to use her services.

Heisey shared information she had gathered attending the North Dakota Main Street Summit in Bismarck and a conference with Economic Development North Dakota. She urged the Rugby JDA to “keep the conversations and connections going” with planning agencies and officials in the state.

Heisey said of EDND, “They’re one of the organizations we work with the most in the state. We partner on everything from public policy matters to collaborating with other economic developers across the state and they’re essential for our networking, educational programs, community development – they’re a main resource we use for training.” Heisey added the agency provides the JDA with legislative updates as well.

Heisey told the board representatives of North Dakota cities attending the conference participated in an economic development survey. “Most of them felt that the state should just be using the interest on the Legacy Fund for economic development projects and so forth,” she noted

Other points emphasized at the conference included “making sure programs we’re funding, like automation tax credits, like Rugby Manufacturing, for instance, (are) really beneficial in promoting growth and expansion,” Heisey said, adding EDND has ” advocates (for economic development.”

“There are mentors who are a great resource to talk to and they can tell you who to contact,” she added.

“But, they’re a great resource, and I’d encourage all of you to go to their website and any future developers should be encouraged to keep up their relationships. This is probably the only place you can get training,” Heisey added.

“Mayor Sue Steinke and I attended the Main Street Summit in person because of our membership in EDND,” Heisey told the board. “So, we were able to do some networking and also we received a Main Street Award for a 21st Century Workforce,” she noted.

“It’s a pretty big honor,” Heisey said of the award. “Rugby got a lot of great shout-outs as many of you know. There was a lot of great insight and information sharing. I’ve been reaching out to several organizations across the state and policy makers about what we can do to meet our workforce needs. That’s one of our greatest needs, attracting and maintaining a workforce.”

“One thing that Bismarck State College and higher ed faculty and the legislators are looking at is we need more technical training within the state,” Heisey noted. “Communities should be able to help with their workforce needs by growing their own workforce. “

Heisey used a lack of welding training programs in the area as an example of challenges for local workers, adding many pursuing technical careers must go as far as Williston for education and training. “They (Main Street Summit presenters) mentioned us by name,” Heisey said.

“They’re looking at Rugby for possibly putting in a technical training center, whether it’s a welding trailer (classroom) or partnering with higher ed, and also partnering with the North Dakota University System on the Career Builders program,” Heisey said of economic development officials in the state. “I would hope to keep these conversations going.”

“They recognize that we’re lacking (training) in our area of the state. Sectors where they need more technical training include automation services tech, and of course, the ag field is getting more high-tech, so we have to have people trained in that area, and with drones, they expect to have a drone station at every city across the state. These are all high-technical careers that will be needed in our area,” Heisey noted.

“Rugby is a good spot and I hope the talks continue and keep reaching out to (job training staffers with various schools and agencies). They’re only a phone call away. North Dakota’s not that big, so I hope we keep the conversations going.”

Heisey said North Dakota legislators “are working on their strategic plans for their next biennium of funding, so we can make sure that we’re included with their plans. I’ve been attending some other online (seminars).”

Main Street Summit officials cited Rugby’s attributes, Heisey said. “Our walkability was a great one, and they talked about traffic through downtowns and they talked about bike paths.”

“It was really neat to see Rugby already has what they’re saying you should do (to create a vibrant community),” Heisey said.

“We have good bones in Rugby and Rugby’s positioned for growth. It was nice to collaborate and get our picture with the governor. We did get our award in person, so that was really nice,” she added.

“When they brought our name up as a possibility (for job training programs), did they also bring up other towns at the same time?” Board member Rob St. Michel asked. “Were we the only one mentioned?”

“We were the only ones mentioned by name,” Heisey answered. “But I’ve been talking to them quite a bit about our needs and how much we’re at a disadvantage. Devils Lake and Minot don’t have welding programs either, so it would be nice to have one.”

“They talked about trying to provide more within the community,” she added. “They also brought up how Rugby’s brought back their nursing program (at Heart of America Medical Center). So, that helps. (Workers) don’t have to leave the community to get training.”

Heisey said the Rugby area “would be a nice regional hub. It could be an offshoot of Bismarck State College, basically have a branch up here. They are pushing for more of that technical training in Rugby and in our state. So, it would make sense to have something in our region.”

Heisey also praised the accessibility of state representatives to towns like Rugby. “Some states are so big, you don’t ever get to talk to the people at the top,” she said. (North Dakota state legislators) always call us back. We have great partnerships.”

“We’ll work with AE2S or the USDA or the Small Business Development Center. If they can’t help you, they’ll tell you (whom) to call. So, there’s a great network across North Dakota. It’s wonderful,” she said.

Heisey and Steinke also praised the value of networking with officials from other North Dakota cities.

The board also voted to advertise for the new JDA director vacancy.

In other business, the board heard a presentation by Andrea Boe and Taylor Corbett of urban planning and engineering firm AE2S.

Boe also provided tips for attracting “boomerang” candidates for jobs such as the JDA director post. The term describes workers who grow up in communities such as Rugby, move to larger urban areas, then decide to return to their small town roots.

Boe and Taylor presented the first phase of Rugby’s Economic Development and Strategic plan, outlining demographic information describing Rugby residents’ ages, lifestyles and backgrounds.

The plan uses marketing research data gleaned from previous studies and a geographic information system called Tapestry.

Boe said Rugby’s plan would be a “live” plan, meaning data could be added and the plan could be updated at any time.

“It will always be up to date,” Boe told the board.

In other business, the board approved the agenda, treasurer’s report, sales tax report and the budget as of Sept. 30. The board also approved the final budget for 2021.

The board also voted to find a Rugby representative for CONAC, the Center of North America Coalition, and REAP, the Rural Economic Area Partnership. The boards help communities in economically disadvantaged rural areas access assistance from agencies such as the USDA.

The JDA board next meets Nov. 11 at noon in the JDA office.

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