Hankinson howling up there with big dogs

The state Commerce Department’s James Leiman listens to Hankinson Mayor Loren Hovel talk about downtown. Leiman and two other Commerce Department staffers visited Hankinson Wednesday morning as part of Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative.

Ryan Wallock came home to Hankinson five years ago.

When asked where he was from, Wallock’s quick answer was he lived in Fergus Falls, Minnesota, but he was from Hankinson, he said.

When the opportunity came to move home five years ago, the Wallock family jumped at the opportunity, he told members of the state Commerce Department when they came to Hankinson on Wednesday, Oct. 31 as part of the Main Street Initiative.

Wallock came home because of the experiences he had when growing up here, he said. He wanted those same opportunities for his own children, Wallock told Holly Holt, who is the lead on Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative, which seeks to make vibrant communities stronger.

As Holt explained, the Main Street Initiative is based on three pillars — healthy and vibrant communities, 21st century workforce and smart, efficient infrastructure.

Hankinson is now part of the Main Street Initiative. Holt said time and again during her visit here this city could be a poster child for what Burgum is trying to accomplish. It already has a strong and healthy business sector, the city is not over taxed and leaders here have long-term strategic plans to continue moving forward with economic development.

That was a factor in Wallock returning home, he said. He pointed to Post Hardware, Hankinson Drug and other businesses that provide products and services to residents.

Small town life

Members of the North Dakota Commerce Department came here Oct. 31 to uncover Hankinson’s secrets. Commerce brought along a number of state agencies, such as the Small Business Administration, USDA and Lake Agassiz Regional Council.

Holt went on a walking tour that had two other teammates from the Commerce Department sticking their heads into downtown businesses like Doc’s Pub, Post Hardware, Hankinson Dental and Heartland Candies. She then led a 90-minute question and answer period to discover what makes Hankinson tick.

A panel of 13 Hankinson residents — everyone from high school seniors, business owners, Hankinson Commercial Club and Development Corporation members and administrator of the local nursing home — answered Holt’s questions at the Hankinson Community Center. About 40 people sat in the audience to listen to this session.

Holt was interested in where the three high school seniors planned to live after graduation. In order for communities like Hankinson to grow, it has to attract newcomers, she said. That isn’t easy since small towns do not have the same amenities as their larger brethren.

Panelists Libby Lingen and Braden Prochnow said they wanted to return to Hankinson, while Dylan Benson couldn’t make that promise. Benson did say his best option was to live in a small town. That Wednesday morning, he couldn’t commit to Hankinson being that small town in which he chooses to live.

Hankinson Public School Superintendent Chad Benson told Holt he grew up in a small town. As far as Chad Benson is concerned, he said anyone who doesn’t live in a small town is crazy. “They pile into places like West Fargo and live on top of one another. They sit in traffic every day, yell at each other at stop lights and stand in line in grocery stores. I don’t get it,” he said.

Bob Wurl, president and CEO of Lincoln State Bank and secretary/treasurer of the Hankinson Community Development Corporation, said that not only are the lines shorter here, but the person standing in front of you is probably someone you know so you can have a conversation with them. Besides that, he said you likely know the business owner, and they know you when living in a small town.

Many young people promise themselves to never return to small-town life, like Jeremy Post who grew up in nearby Lidgerwood. He told Holt he couldn’t wait to get out of there. A few years later when his children were close to school age, they moved to Hankinson in 2008 and bought the hardware store. They were looking for a family atmosphere and better contact time with their children’s teachers, he said.

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