Read higher ed officials’ REAC testimony

Yesterday, officials from the North Dakota University System, UND and the State Board of Higher Education answered lawmakers’ questions regarding UND’s purchase of the Research, Enterprise and Commercialization facility.

Lawmakers say they are trying to find out why the $9.8 million purchase wasn’t negotiated by the state board, as described in state statute, and whether taxpayers and students will be on the hook for the purchase.

Below, you’ll find the prepared remarks from SBHE President Kirsten Diederich, UND President Robert Kelley and NDUS Chief of Staff Murray Sagsveen. Prairie Public Radio reported that the Interim Government Finance Committee will take up the issue again at its next meeting.

According to Prairie Public, Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, is none too happy about how the sale was handled.

“In my 38 years in the legislature, it’s one the most egregious examples of thumbing nose at a legislative directive. Period.”

REAC Testimony

Here’s what the future Hugo’s development might look like

Hugo’s, the dominant grocery chain in Grand Forks, is planning a major development on the south side of town.

The city’s Planning and Zoning Commission gave the project preliminary approval Wednesday night. Some issues worked out during that meeting included closing off traffic from Washington Street into the adjacent neighborhood.

Project planners passed out this preliminary concept of what the future Valley Market Development may look like (click for larger image):

There’s a couple of caveats with this picture, however. For one, none of the brands, like Barnes and Noble or Granite City, are actually signed on to be part of the development. And the building photos included are likely not what the final product will look like at all. The map is meant as more of a preliminary concept to show what the project planners envision for the area, namely retail, restaurants and housing.

But the concept does show that developers are looking to add more amenities to a fast-growing part of town.

Hugo’s hopes to break ground on the grocery store later this year.

Grand Forks’ labor shortage in one graph

North Dakota has the lowest unemployment in the nation, but companies here still say they need workers. Grand Forks is not immune to that trend.

Barry Wilfahrt, the local chamber president, recently told me the biggest issue facing local companies in the coming year will be finding enough workers. Companies that are based here but do significant work in the Bakken oil formation are among them.

Here’s a chart from the North Dakota Job Service that illustrates the issue fairly well. (The caption reads: Unemployed per job opening is a supply/demand rate calculated by taking the number of unemployed persons from the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) program and dividing by job openings. A result less than 1 indicates more job openings than potential resident labor supply while a result greater than 1 indicates more potential resident labor supply than job openings. The latest month for which North Dakota unemployment data are available is November 2013.)

North Dakota has stayed below the “one unemployed person per job opening” mark for some time, but the Grand Forks region has only been dipping below that for the past couple of years.

(There are caveats with this data, of course, including the fact that not all job openings are captured by the Job Service data.)

Moreover, the number of job openings listed online slowly declined in the later part of 2013, from 2,997 in September to 2,066 in December.

That likely has something to do with the rush to hire holiday workers before the shopping season. Sales and food preparation job openings dropped by 20 percent and 24 percent, respectively, between November and December. Construction job openings dropped by more than 77 percent in that time, not surprisingly.

Grand Forks neighborhoods see household income shifts

I recently discovered an interesting interactive tool put together by the U.S. Census Bureau that examines various demographic and economic changes.

The most interesting part? You can break down that data to individual neighborhoods and areas of a city like Grand Forks.

Here’s a little map I put together showing changes in median household income in Grand Forks/East Grand Forks over the past 22 years.

Looking at the map, you can see a large part of East Grand Forks, as well as sections of downtown and central Grand Forks actually saw a decrease in household income. Meanwhile, areas outside city limits, and near the Red River saw an increase. The southern part of East Grand Forks jumped from $59,000 in 1990 (in 2012 dollars) to $83,000 in 2012.

If you want to play around with this tool yourself, click here. To break it down into neighborhoods, click on the “show by” drop down menu on the left and change to “Census tract.”

Every piece of data has a story, so if you have an idea why certain neighborhoods have fared better than others, leave a comment or send an email.

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Kittson looks to expand in downtown GF

A women’s clothing store is looking to expand in downtown Grand Forks.

Kittson, which is located at 28 S. Third St., plans to move its retail operations into the current Trés Chic Bridal and Formal Styling space at 402 DeMers Ave. But because Trés Chic leases its space from the city, the Jobs Development Authority will have to approve terminating its lease on Dec. 31, six months before it will expire.

In a letter included in the JDA meeting packet, Kittson owners Nicole Johnson and Tessa Hiney said they will keep their current space for their “web division.”

“We would also expand our product mix to include cocktail dresses, and more formal attire,” they wrote.

Trés Chic has been contemplating not renewing its lease at the end of June, according to a memo from Urban Development Director Greg Hoover. It’s not clear what the store’s plans are if the lease termination is approved, and a store representative wasn’t available for comment Friday afternoon.

Kittson first opened in Grand Forks in 2011, and now has stores in Bismarck and Fargo.

This is an interesting development these businesses and for downtown. As a I reported a while back, the Corporate Center buildings are now full for the first time in their histories. Johnson, co-owner of Kittson, said she couldn’t chat about their plans Friday due to a confidentiality agreement, but I’ll likely have more next week.

Here’s the whole packet from the city on this item: http://www.grandforksgov.com/CouncilPackets/20131216-jda-2.1.pdf

ND tax revenue soars

The state of North Dakota has fared well during the oil boom, to say the least. This chart from Pew States puts that good fortune into perspective:

North Dakota’s tax revenue growth is far and above other states in Pew’s data analysis, and is one of only 14 states with tax collections recovering since the recession. Total state tax collections are still 1.6 percent below their peak of the third quarter of 2013, according to Pew.

At the same time, state spending has tripled over the past decade, according to colleague Kyle Potter. 

To see more interactive graphics from Pew States, click here. 

Will Grand Forks sales tax collections top $20 million this year?

Probably not.

A couple of weeks ago, the city of Grand Forks released sales tax figures that showed collections topped $2 million in August, the second time in three months. It was the third-highest windfall since the tax went into effect in 1985.

But 2013 won’t necessarily be a banner year for the sales tax, which is one barometer of economic activity in the city. According to figures provided by city staff, total 2013 collections were actually lower in September than they were at the same time last year by about $13,000.

In fact, 2012 was a much better year in terms of sales tax collections growth over the previous year than 2013 has been. Here’s a rundown of sales tax collections since 2011: Sales Tax receipts city of grand forks

With $16.3 million in sales tax collected so far this year, the city is within striking distance of the symbolic $20 million benchmark. It would be the first time collections were that high.

If history is any indication, however, Grand Forks will miss the mark this year. When taking into account average tax collections in November and December of the past two years, the city should collect about $19.7 million in sales tax revenue this year.

Still, $20 million is a symbolic number. As long as revenue surpasses the $19.3 million that was collected in 2012, that can be taken as a sign of more economic activity in Grand Forks and more money for the city.