This is the last of a five-part series on Minot at the end of 2018. It’s a snapshot of a community coming out of one of the most tumultuous periods in its history.
Despite the flood, despite the oil boom and bust, despite the population surge and surging property taxes — despite all its growing pains, Minot is on the brink of an economic resurgence.
A number of projects and strategies are coming to fruition. Within the next five years, Minot will blossom.
“We are seeing the rebirth of the city,” says Minot Mayor Shaun Sipma. “It’s an exciting time to be part of the Magic City. What’s coming down the road, I think, is going to open a lot of eyes in terms of the opportunities and evolution of the city.”
Many development efforts that have seemed to be without any immediate value and unrelated to each other are starting to interlock, like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle.
No single piece shows the complete picture. But all the pieces properly joined, present an overall view of what’s to come.
Here is how it is happening:
The city’s role as a regional hub for health care is growing.
Trinity is building a new hospital and medical campus in the southwest part of Minot.
When completed by the end of 2020, it will be the largest health care center in northwest North Dakota.
With a planned footprint of nearly one million square feet, the medical complex will feature a six-story building and connected facilities offering advanced cardiac, neurosurgical and orthopedic care, over 200 private rooms, state-of-the-art surgical suites, an emergency/Level II trauma center and more.
“We’ve got our new hospital going up, over $300 million that the board of directors and staff have committed to,” notes Minot Area Chamber of Commerce President John MacMartin. “Regional health care, not just for Minot, but northwest North Dakota. A trauma center — it’s fantastic what’s going on here.”
Downtown Minot’s growth begins with empty buildings.
Trinity’s new home means up to eight buildings become available in downtown Minot, in addition to a few other complexes already available.
Coupled with the completion of the updated downtown infrastructure, city leaders see opportunities to attract young people to the city’s heart through living spaces and lifestyle businesses.
“Trinity’s buildings downtown are wired for technology,” says MacMartin. “They’ve got elevators to go to multiple floors, so they’re handicapped accessible. These are some of the real attributes to those buildings that everybody doesn’t stop and think about it. They see it as a hospital building and they can’t imagine anything else in those properties. I think it’s going to take some entrepreneurial vision to see a different use for some of those structures.”
Minot Mayor Shaun Sipma says the goal is to turn the buildings into assets that will help expand the city’s tax base.
“Value not only economically in terms of business, but value in terms of property tax, future potential for property tax down there. You grow the base, you grow the value. There’s opportunity,” says Sipma.
District 40 State Senator Karen Krebsbach of Minot agrees. With a modern infrastructure in place, the lead time for repurposing downtown buildings is reduced, helping cut redevelopment costs.
“With the downtown structures left behind when Trinity leaves, there’s going to be more opportunity for others to utilize that space and do something with it,” she says. “We need some creative entrepreneurs in Minot right now.”
Krebsbach points to Minot State University as one source for those creative entrepreneurs. The university just added an entrepreneurship degree program to train people in the skills, strategies and opportunities in business development, management and administration.
“It’s that private entrepreneur that really is a job creator in this community and in this country,” says Krebsbach.
Revitalizing downtown is one part of a city ‘infill’ strategy.
By making downtown Minot an attractive option for living and working, it helps utilize existing resources, rather than having to build additional city infrastructure and services to the outskirts of town, which is where new development tends to normally go.
“Urban sprawl is not the answer to our growth within the city,” Sipma argues. “Whether it’s infill or whether it’s downtown reinvestment, if we don’t have to spend more on infrastructure, if we don’t have to spend more on services in extending ourselves farther and farther out, it makes cost of doing business as a city economical — more economical instead of continuing to add more costs for the cost of growth.”
Keeping city costs down by taking advantage of existing properties within Minot helps reduce the tax burden on residents.
Revitalized downtowns attract younger residents.
The city went through a lot of construction pain in the downtown area, rebuilding the infrastructure that serves the heart of the community.
“Why focus on downtown?” Sipma asks rhetorically. “It’s been proven time and time across the country that if a city has a strong downtown, the economics of the entire city are going to be stronger. What is it that separates any one town from another town? What is that identity that separates ourselves from any other community? It’s that downtown.”
Research shows young people are looking for smaller areas in which to work, live and play. The convenience of having what they want within walking distance.
It’s sometimes called “experiential living,” where people seek the social experience of something unique, different. It’s one reason why small restaurants, coffee shops and boutique stores have found favor with younger generations.
“That generation of 32 years and younger, they’re going to find a place where they want to live and then they’re going to find a job,” says Sipma. “That’s the separator — we need more people to move to our region to fill the jobs — and we’ve got a lot of them. So we need to take a very serious look at what it is that we’re doing to bring those people here. Younger generations have that idea of work, live and play in a smaller area. Not necessarily having a big house with a white picket fence. They want to live in an area that has the restaurants, that has the coffee shops, that has the entertainment.”
Which is one reason why the city is proceeding with plans for the much-debated, often-derided Gathering Space downtown. It fits in with the environment the city is creating in its efforts to attract younger residents downtown.
“We want those younger people to stay here and the only way you’re going to get that is to make sure the quality of life and the things that are here or what they want,” says Minot Area Development Corporation President Stephanie Hoffart.
Minot is growing young in age and larger in families.
According to U.S. Census Bureau data, Minot’s overall median age is 32 years (30 for males, 33 for females). That’s three years younger than the state as a whole and six years younger than the nation as a whole.
In 2000, Minot’s median age was 35.
“We’ve become a young community, with young families. The senior class at the Minot Public Schools is 440. The last five years, kindergartens have been over 750 students,” says Hoffart.
MacMartin says young people are moving to Minot and staying in Minot.
“You know, people talk about the 2011 flood and they say, ‘You must have had a downturn.’ Let’s compare the 1969 flood to the 2011 flood in just one area,” MacMartin likes to point out. “The 1969 flood resulted in a subsequent 10 or 11 percent drop in attendance at schools. In 2011, it was less than a one half of one percent drop in enrollment after the flood. So, people stayed in the area, people found places to live, they stayed with family, they stayed around. Minot was their home and they kept it their home.”
Intermodal is coming and will enrich Minot’s economy.
Minot is poised to become a key intermodal center — essentially, a strategic BNSF railroad shipping point for freight delivered in intermodal containers.
These are containers that can be transported by train, truck or ship without having to change or modify the units. This helps reduce shipping costs by allowing an easy to use mix of transportation methods.
Many companies tend to locate their main offices or regional centers near such transportation hubs, which would provide additional economic growth for the community.
Hoffart has been working on the intermodal project for several years.
Located in the city’s industrial park on the northeast side of town, Minot’s intermodal center has passed a key point in its development.
“We’re one of 13 communities in the nation to be BNSF site certified,” says Hoffart. “We are the midpoint between Chicago and Seattle along the railroad. And we have received certification on almost 400 acres in the industrial park.”
“Site certified” means Minot has met criteria set by BNSF for providing a “shovel-ready” location for companies on which to build. This includes services and infrastructure already in place, easy access to rail lines and more.
Having property ready for construction can shave six to nine months off the time a company needs to build from the ground up.
As a result, Minot’s “site certified” property is one of a handful of communities being marketed by BNSF to companies nationwide.
“We have 12,000 linear feet of track laid, we’re going to lay a lot more,” Hoffart points out. “We’re at the U.S. Department of Transportation looking for federal grants, were going to push this thing and we’re going to get unit trains moving in Minot. This is what we need and what we’ve needed in the state for a long time.”
AGT Foods USA highlights industrial park’s global opportunities
Hoffart says says one Minot success story that quietly operates in the northeast industrial park is AGT Foods USA.
“Our real pride and joy out there is AGT Foods,” Hoffart says. “They are a worldwide company that takes peas and lentils and processes them into starches and flours they sell to 44 countries. They have locations in over 14 countries. They have two locations in Canada and their headquarters are in Regina. Yet they choose to keep continuing to invest in the Minot operation because that is where they see the best bang for their buck.”
The Minot operation runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. They employ about 120 people in a highly computerized, robotic environment.
“Most of them are working computer monitoring jobs. It’s not carrying bags of pea flour from Point A to Point B — it’s robotics doing those things and somebody monitoring that,” says Hoffart. “They’re feeding the world with this. Peas and lentils grown right here in North Dakota and Montana and Canada coming all into Minot. We’ve got trucks that come in and out of Minot throughout the week that people don’t even know about because it’s all in the industrial park, which keeps them on the highways instead of in the city limits. We’ve got a great process going and this is just the very beginning.”
Growth in the industrial park means growth in the city’s population. That, in turn, helps expand Minot’s tax base.
Minot water projects are coming into focus.
Water is the biggest issue on Minot’s plate — and the one with the biggest question mark.
How it plays out over the next five months will bring clarity to how Minot proceeds with the two projects over the next five to 10 years.
As the contentious public hearings on Minot’s new budget showed, a lot of pushback on the rising property taxes for city residents is rooted in the Minot’s flood control efforts and the Northwest Area Water Supply (NAWS) project.
Both are funded through the city’s sales taxes, and financial obligations to the two massive enterprises meant the end to six years of property tax relief through diversion of some of the water project tax funds.
Minot has been involved in both water projects for several decades.
In that time, the projects have gone through numerous starts and pauses due to lawsuits, intergovernmental conflicts, political stumbling blocks and other issues.
But now, it appears progress will pick up – assuming the 2019 Legislative session buys into two proposals.
First, the city is looking to get a loan from money saved in the state’s Legacy Fund.
The Legacy Fund was established in 2010 by North Dakota voters. Every month, 30 percent of tax dollars collected on oil and gas production is deposited into the fund.
If Minot is able to secure some of the Legacy money for flood control and NAWS, it will give the city a little more “breathing room” in how much of its revenue resources would need to be committed to cover the increased costs of flood control development.
“The goal is to go down and get access to part of Legacy Fund to get a low-interest loan to pay for some of the flood control,” says Sipma. “If we can borrow versus selling bonds, we’re saving significant interest to the tune of almost $100 million over the life of flood control costs. That’s significant — that takes a tremendous burden out of those sales tax dollars that we are allocating.”
It would also help the city’s flood control efforts reach a key milestone earlier than expected by accelerating construction.
“Within a couple of years, we’ll have 60 percent of the community protected from flood,” says MacMartin. “And depending on what happens with this next legislative session, we could be done with all our flood protection much earlier than anybody ever thought.”
Also, the city is looking to the Legislature to increase the amount of money Minot is receiving through hub city funding, money given to communities to help offset the impact of oil development and related population growth on city resources and services.
By Minot’s calculations, cities like Williston and Dickinson have received hub city funding of roughly $11,000 per new resident, while Minot has received $2,000 per new resident.
“Our mechanism I think was a little bit flawed over the last two bienniums — four years — that really didn’t give us, I think, an equitable, fair share of the hub city dollars that were being allocated to the cities,” explains Sipma.
If a new plan is adopted by lawmakers, Minot would receive about $12 million in hub city funding during 2019 and 2020.
Both proposals would save the city money now and in the future. The longer the flood control and NAWS projects take to complete, the more expensive they become due to rising costs over time.
The obvious question is, what would Minot would do if the Legislature fails to adopt one or both of the proposals?
It’s not something city officials and Minot lawmakers obviously want to focus on at this point. But it is clear whatever backup options there are will cost the city millions more than if the proposals pass.
Looking at the larger picture, Sipma acknowledges a lot of elements have been in motion in recent years as the city emerges from the impact of water and oil on a rapidly evolving community.
“That is one of the hardest things for people to really kind of wrap their hands around is that we went from that quiet community with a little bit of economic growth to a third of our city being decimated by a flood on top of the oil boom that lasted for three years,” Sipma explains. “And all of that combined into a wheelhouse that left most people here having difficulty comprehending everything that happened in that short amount of time. But now we’re in a period where we’ve got things on track.”
The seeming chaos in winding down. Better days really are ahead.