MAIN STREET North Dakota

Commerce Department's Holly Holt talks with panelists, which includes Loren Hovel, DeeAnn Bilben, Jeremy Post and Julie Falk after a question and answer period about what makes Hankinson tick. Commerce visited Hankinson Wednesday, Oct. 31, as part of the governor's Main Street Initiative.

The Commerce Department’s Holly Holt isn’t sure how to help Hankinson leaders.

Holt, who is taking the lead on the governor’s Main Street Initiative, said Hankinson is one of the harder communities she visited this year — but not for reasons you might anticipate.

This city is difficult because city leaders here already have detailed plans to spur future growth and development, she said. The city of about 1,000 has a diverse business sector, everything from industry to retail to service businesses, a strong school system and youth engagement. Plus there is room for in-fill with the city tearing down dilapidated properties, there are two developments with Dakota Drive and Prairie Pines, high-speed Internet, newer sewer and water lines, new water tower and ample events to keep residents and newcomers busy.

The list of what Hankinson is doing right is endless, she said.

“I don’t know where I can provide good guidance, other than to knock down any boulders, or to get you guys in touch with the right people. You guys are doing great stuff,” Holt said, who is the Commerce Department’s senior manager of strategic initiatives.

What makes Hankinson tick?

Members of the North Dakota Commerce Department came here Wednesday morning to declare Hankinson part of the Main Street Initiative. Commerce brought along a number of state agencies, such as the Small Business Administration, USDA and Lake Agassiz Regional Council.

In fact, Holt called Hankinson a poster child for Gov. Doug Burgum’s Main Street Initiative, which seeks to make vibrant communities stronger. Doing so increases the quality of life for residents, she said.

Part of the governor’s Main Street Initiative’s purpose is to provide resources or help communities develop long-term plans. Hankinson already has taken these initial steps, Holt said.

Holt went on a walking tour that had 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 wanted to know how difficult it is to attract workers for open jobs since the state has a worker shortage. Holt said there are about 14,000 jobs listed as open today. She estimated that number could actually be higher, around 30,000, since many companies list one position for 9 or 10 openings.

Workforce shortage

The healthcare industry is particularly hard hit, Holt said.

Jill Foertsch, administrator at St. Gerard’s Community of Care, today is looking for three licensed nurses, two that must be registered nurses. She has a contract nurse coming in three days a week, and a contract CNA. Up until a few years ago, she said it was unheard of for St. Gerard’s to be unable to staff the nursing home.

This workforce shortage is being felt at the school as well, where Hankinson Public School Superintendent Chad Benson said the pool of applicants is shrinking. Where he used to receive 30 applications for staff positions, today’s numbers are closer to 10 applications, he said.

So far, Benson said, the school has found staff for all teaching positions. That is not true in other schools across the state. lists 93 open teaching positions open in North Dakota today.

Holt asked questions about the city’s long-term strategic planning.

Bob Wurl, president and CEO of Lincoln State Bank as well as being the secretary/treasurer for the CDC, said Hankinson has undertaken four strategic planning and listening sessions. Through that, leaders pinpointed a top 10 list. He said when that list is near completion, then planners know it’s time to conduct another session.

Possible new attributes for Hankinson are being spurred by these sessions. The recent small group session especially developed ideas, such as an aquatic center, splash pad, pop-up park or permanent shelter to house functions not held at the Community Center, said Ryan Wallock, one of Wednesday’s panelists.

He facetiously asked for a million dollar check to make this wish list a reality, which made Holt smile.

She said afterward Wallock’s request wasn’t so far fetched. There are donors willing to make contributions to community’s like Hankinson, but it likely wouldn’t come from one pot. She said it comes down to matching the project with the right donor.

The pop-up park is a good example, she said. If the city could utilize it for some arts programs, then perhaps it’s an opportunity for a not-for-profit agency to fund it and further arts programs in rural communities, Holt said.

“Some will work, others won’t. But what you need is an opportunity to get as big of a list as possible and get started,” she said.


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