Civic Center Expansion — The Right Long-Term Approach

I hope the Mayor does not mind…but I am going to “Borrow” his editorial.

Mayor John Warford, Editorial

On November 6, Bismarck voters will have a voice in determining the future of the Bismarck Civic Center.  The proposal to add meeting and conference facilities to the existing location will set our community on a path to becoming the Epi-Center of the upper Great Plains for meetings and conferences.

A recent Tribune Editorial indicated voters might need more information before moving forward.  I wanted to share a bit of history on Civic Center planning.  In 1989, the City Commission authorized the first Civic Center Master plan.  Since that time, updates were completed in 2000; 2003; 2007; 2009 and 2012.  In 2008, a marketing and feasibility study was completed and results of a revised study were just released.  As recently as this year, consultants called or met personally with stakeholders, hospitality industry representatives, the Convention and Visitors Bureau and Chamber. Open meetings were held for public input.  In the words, “We have studied it do death.  It is time to act.”

Ninety Million dollars is a lot of money.  The organizations and stakeholders supporting this project need to be accountable to the community. The coalition supporting the expansion expects nothing less.   The economic impact study for the expansion project shows a positive return on investment for taxpayers.  From increased tax revenues to job creation, the study projects a minimum of a $1.60 return for each dollar invested in the expansion.  So, for every ten dollars invested, tax payers will get back $16.10 on the expansion.  If the city can reach a deal with one of the two proposed hotel developers, that return on investment increases to $26.20 for each ten dollars invested.

Activity in the Event center is up 10% in the last five years while total attendance has increased by nearly 20% in this period. The Civic Center generates $17.7 million in economic impact and supports just under 300 jobs. The CSL feasibility study showed the proposed expansion will increase the overall economic impact to $26.1 million and add 143 new jobs with the expansion alone.  With the expansion and a full service hotel, the overall economic impact increases to $31.6 million and supports another 236 jobs in the community.

Some imply this expansion will only benefit downtown. Nothing is further from the truth.  In addition to the increased visitor spending, the expansion will create a destination point in our community that benefits local residents as well as visitors; increase the opportunity for concerts and events in the arena; facilitate economic development and serve as a focal point to our quality of life.

In closing, let me say the City Commission looked at various alternatives to finance this expansion.  To minimize the impact on our local residents, the proposal is to increase the hospitality tax.  The majority of this tax is collected from visitors on hotel rooms, alcohol and restaurant food.  Thus, it minimizes the impact on the local residents.  The City Commission is committed to not using property taxes or general sales tax dollars for this expansion.  I ask for you to vote YES for Bismarck City Measure 1 on November 6 and make our community the Epi-Center for meetings and conferences.


Published in: on November 5, 2012 at 8:34 pm  Leave a Comment  

Turning Point….Believing in our Future

Bismarck-Mandan stands at a historic turning point.  Over the next few years, our community is going to change dramatically.  No longer is North Dakota the unknown state in the lower 48.  Recently, at a US Chamber conference, there was considerable discussion about the success of our state.  One of my counterparts from California leaned forward and said, “When we grow up, we want to be North Dakota.”  It is hard to believe how the perception of our state has changed in the last 3-years.  As we look to the future, our state is positioned to play an even greater role in the future of our country. 

Everyone keeps asking, “What is going to Happen?  How fast will our community grow?”  The best answer to that comes from a projection and a reality.  The projection is from the recently completed city of Bismarck Strategic Plan.  The demographer estimated the Metropolitan Statistical Area (Burleigh and Morton County) will grow from its current 110,000 people to over 153,000 by the year 2020. The reality is that Bismarck Public Schools is already up 400 students this year and Mandan is up over 100 new enrollees.  And, the kids just keep coming.

In the Mid-West, we have a built in DNA skepticism gene.  “It might be good now, but it won’t last.”  This stems from our agrarian roots and I grew up with a family farm so I get it.  My dad always projects a 30 bushel wheat crop that somehow makes 50 every year. Too hot. Too cool. Too wet. Too dry. Not enough sun.  Too much sun. You get the idea.  Even now, with the current economy, many are waiting on “the other shoe” to drop in North Dakota.  “Just wait, one day this will all stop, just like last time.”  “It is good now but they are all going to head for Texas and Oklahoma and leave us high and dry.”

With billions of barrels of recoverable oil, a strong agriculture economy, a great health care system, and great schools and infrastructure, we need to start believing…and investing…for a longer term community.  Will there be some ups and downs? No doubt.  However, to use the old farming phrase, “we need to make hay while the sun shines…and it is shining brighter than ever in North Dakota.

All this information brings me to the point of this post.  Bismarck-Mandan and North Dakota are at the pinnacle of the nation’s success.   It is time to believe in ourselves and ensure we guarantee the future of the community.  The question posed today is this—do we want to wait until the growth overwhelms us or do we plan, prepare and invest?  Our friends out west in Williston were overwhelmed in short order when the masses arrived.  While Bismarck-Mandan is experiencing a different type of growth, it could overwhelm us quickly.  One only has to look at the housing market to understand the implications. 

In the next few months, the citizens of our community will have decisions to make on several important projects.  In considering these projects, residents have many factors to consider.  How do we as a community lead the growth?  What is the appropriate amount of investment (Tax Dollars) in schools, infrastructure, roads, streets and civic infrastructure?  What is the implication if the community does not invest? 

It is up to each person to gauge the answer for themselves and vote accordingly.  However, as one community leader told me.  “It is up to each generation to stand on the shoulders of those that came before them and lay a solid foundation for those that come after them.”  Ultimately, the question is what type of community are we going to leave to our kids and grandkids?

Published in: on August 22, 2012 at 11:35 pm  Comments (2)  

Measure 2…Local Control Is Maintained…How?

 In the debate of Measure 2, the proponents of the measure say the Legislature will be required to “fully and properly fund legally imposed obligations”.  In the eyes of the supporters, it seems the state will be required to have an open checkbook to fulfill the wishes of local governments in North Dakota. 

However, in the recent Legislative hearing on Measure 2, there was a comment made by Representative David Drovdal that gives insight into how Measure 2 will actually work.  When discussion turned to funding local governments and new facilities, Drovdal said, “The Legislature will determine what proper funding is – including decisions on new buildings – not local governments.” 

Now, let’s create an example of this statement. The Bismarck School Board is bringing a proposal to the local voters to spend $81 million on two elementary schools and a high school.  If Measure 2 passes all school boards will be required to bring their facility requests to the legislature. Thus, this request would go into the House Appropriations process and start moving through a subcommittee, a committee, then a floor vote and then over to the Senate to repeat the process.  If there is a disagreement, it goes to a (or multiple) conference committee(s) and then gets passed, most likely, in the last days of the legislature.  Instead of the local voters making a decision in a local election, the legislature will debate how many schools are needed in our community.  And, make a determination about how much funding to provide.  Do Bismarck-Mandan or any parents across the state really want to cede this right and privilege to the legislature?  

Imagine if five communities ask for new schools in the same year. Imagine 5-$81 million dollar requests for over $400m dollars.  More than likely, the legislature designates a certain number of dollars for capitol construction and then it gets divided up.  One only has to look to the current process with the Higher Education budget to understand how this formula works. Suddenly, the number of legislators from a community or region makes a difference on funding allocations and “fairness” comes into play for what should be a local decision on building schools.  That is not bad…it is just the reality when one moves from the local to the state level for a decision.

 Measure 2 will force local voters to surrender control of spending decisions to the legislature. It turns our school board, city, county and park board members into lobbyists for funding. Is that really how we want our local elected officials to spend their time?  I’d say No.  Vote no on Measure 2.

Published in: on April 10, 2012 at 10:29 pm  Leave a Comment  

Meeting with Narayana Kocherlakota

Narayana Kocherlakota is the current President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.  He was in Bismarck-Mandan recently for a speaking engagement. As part of his trip, he took time to meet with a business roundtable to gather input and provide some insight into the economy.  If you follow the Federal Reserve action and discussion(I know…only us policy geeks do such stuff) you would note that he is a bit of a contrarian to Chairman Bernake’s policy positions as of late.  Here is a quick synoposis of his perspective. 

In the short term, since November of 2010, the Fed has bought $600b in Treasuries as part of “QE2”.  The good news is that the deflation risk seems to be off the table and the unemployment rate has fallen.  The bad news is that growth was still sluggish in the first half of the year.  He also expects the GDP will grow by 3% and inflation at 2% for some time to come.  And, unemployment will not drop below 8% until the end of 2012.  

The more thought provocative discussion in the meeting delt with the long-term perspective.  What happens over the next 20 years.  From his perspective we will continue with the skill bias technological change that emphasizes education.  He is also concerned, as I think many are, that the education system in America is not preparing our kids to compete.  While the heartland bucks this trend, the overall system is in need of reform. 

Here in North Dakota, we continue to see a strong economy with a low unemployment rate.  Last check, unemployment was a about 3% here in Bismarck-Mandan.  Lowest in the nation.

Published in: on September 15, 2011 at 6:51 pm  Leave a Comment  

Celebrate Success

Some days, you attend an event and you walk away with a sense of renewal.  I hope that is how the attendees at today’s Celebrate Bismarck-Mandan event felt.  Today, we recognized our Small Businesses, Teachers, New Entrepreneurs and the Granite Award winner, The Tesoro Refinery. After a long summer of trials and tribulation, it was nice to sit back for a few minutes and reflect on the accomlishments of the business community.  While we selected winners, these folks are representative of the overall quality of the owners, managers and employees in Bismarck-Mandan. 

While we are having a rough summer, North Dakota is still the best place in the nation to do business with a  strong economy and low unemployment.  In North Dakota, you can still pursue the American dream…that seems to be fleeting reality in so many parts of our country.  We recognize this fact every day at our organization with the number of calls we take from those interested in moving here.  When I first came to Bismarck-Mandan, we maybe sent out 5 or 7 relocation packets a month.  Today, we are doing 17-20 a week. 

So, for a moment today, we paused.  We celebrated, clapped and gained some inspiration from those we recognized.  Almost all who started with very little and today run successful businesses contributing to our community. Thanks to all who shared the day with us.  Carry on.




Published in: on August 18, 2011 at 10:23 pm  Leave a Comment  

How is Your Businesses Security?

In North Dakota, and probably the Great Plains, we really do not think a lot about the physical security of our buildings. In business, our thought is for easy access for our customers, employees and vendors.  For most of us, security gets a passing thought now and again when something happens.  However, as our community and state evolve, it is an issue that we should give additional consideration.  While we hope everyone that moves here will engage our North Dakota values, that’s probably not realistic.

What got me thinking about this issue?  Two things.  One, our tenant, the Safety Council recently had the windows on two vans smashed out overnight while they sat in our parking lot.  Second, we had a presentation from Don Ronsberg, the state’s Homeland Protective Security Advisory. 

He shared with our staff some interesting data about the changing demographics of our state.  He also shared with us some examples of tools that he can provide to business to help you evaluate your current “security posture”.  While none of like to consider the worst case scenario, it is important that as business owners and leaders, we consider the safety of employees in the workplace. 

While it is not time to ring an alarm bell, I do encourage you to stop and look around your business a bit and think about your current security measures.  What are you doing right and where do you need improvement?  I can also suggest that you give Don a call at Homeland Security.  It might sound intimading but he is a smart guy that can give you and informal or formal assessment at no charge.  It is part of his job to help businesses understand how to improve the security of your building and offices. 

Don can be reached at 701 516 3940.  And, to answer your question….yes, everything is confidential.  Information you share with Don and his recommendations are confidential between you and him and will not be shared in any way with anyone, anywhere at any time. 




Published in: on August 12, 2011 at 3:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Pioneering Spirit Lives On

O.K.  So life got in the way of my blogging.  Now, I’m going to get back at it and I am sure my staff will make sure it gets done on a regular basis.  What a wild few months in our community.  I’m waiting for the frogs and locusts, they can’t be far behind? Can they?  It is amazing that even in the face of adversity that makes other places shudder, North Dakotan’s remain optimistic.  This point was driven home last week in a meeting with the editor of the Fedgazette, Ron Wirtz.   

In a room of 20 business people, some who had lost their home and all who saw a downturn in business in May and June, there was a sense of calm and optimism.  And, it is not just in Bismarck-Mandan.  Ron said he sees the same resilience across North Dakota. (He visited Minot for two days as well.)  In thinking about this discussion, our optimism can be attributed to many factors, leadership, close knit communities and our work ethic for example.   However, one attribute that stands out for me is the pioneering spirit that still resides deep down, somewhere in the soul of our state. 

Regardless of the rest of the nation’s troubles and now our flood, somehow, we will persevere  and make things better. That really is a core principal of our ancestors.  Now, in 2011, we are presented with a new set of challenges.  How will we adapt, make things better and ensure those that come after us have a strong foundation on which to continue building?

Published in: on July 18, 2011 at 6:24 pm  Leave a Comment  

It is Time To Vote

Around election time, you always hear, “This is the most important election of our time”.  Every election is important.  And, while tomorrow may or may not be the “most important” the polls show it could certainly be historic.  Regardless of your political leanings, we all have a duty to vote.  It is how “our will”…the will of the people is expressed in our representative democracy. 

As you head to the polling places tomorrow, I hope you have already reviewed the candidates and their positions carefully.  If you need more information on candidates, please visit the Chamber’s election page at

Also, our Chamber is supporting passage of Measure 1.  This initiative will put 30 percent of the state’s oil and gas revenues into a newly established “Legacy Fund”.  It also imposes some limitations on how the money can be accessed.  This measure has broad support from the business community, Education Association, Farm Bureau and members of the Legislature.  I would also note that even with 30 percent of the revenues being saved, there is still plenty of money to get things done. Oil revenues are projected to be $1 billion a year for the next few years. 

For more information, visit these sites.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Published in: on November 1, 2010 at 2:45 pm  Leave a Comment  

Economic Forecast for 2011

 Each year, the U.S. Chamber invites 100 chamber executives to be part of the Committee of 100.  This group meets with the senior staff of the U.S. Chamber including Tom Donahue in the spring and the fall.  I was invited to be part of the COC100 this year and just got back from the fall meeting.  The next few blog posts will be a snapshot of the discussion topics. 

On the economic discussion, I am just going to highlight a few things because Marty Regalia, Chief Economist for the U.S. Chamber will be in Bismarck-Mandan on Thursday, October 28 for a luncheon speech as part of our national hot topic roundtable. (Tickets available through the Chamber.)  

It appears we are out of the recession by definition.  However, business and consumers are being cautious about the future.  To date, business has almost $2 trillion in cash on the sidelines, banks are sitting on $1.4 trillion and consumers are not spending. 

The cause of the concern you ask?  Businesses are asking…what is the cost of healthcare reform? What will happen with the tax cut extension?  Will the EPA continue down the path of regulating carbon via the clean air act?  Will EPA try to regulate oil and gas production via the clean water act? What is the true impact of the financial reform law?  (You get the picture.)  Until spending resumes, we will be hard pressed to get the growth rate up from around 2% to the 4% that is required to generate jobs and get America back to work.  More to come on October 28.

Published in: on October 4, 2010 at 1:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

What Was That Buried In The Health Care Law?

As you know, Congress passed the new healthcare law earlier this year and President Obama signed it into law. In addition to healthcare, buried in this new law is a section that greatly expands the requirements for businesses to file information returns to the IRS.   

Starting in 2012, companies of all sizes will have to file a Form 1099-MISC with the IRS for all payments made to businesses in the 2011 calendar year.  In short, if you spend $600 or more for the purchase of property (goods) and services from a vendor, you will have to file a report for that vendor.   The new law lifted the exemption for purchases from corporations and expanded the requirement to include property (goods).  As we all know, it does not take long to get to $600. 

Unless this section is repealed, businesses will need to report virtually every business to business transaction they conduct.  For example, if you buy a new copier for $1,000, file a 1099.  Purchase paper from another vendor over $600, file a 1099.  Have your lawn care and snow removal done by one vendor costing over $600, file a 1099.  Just go down the line in your companies ledger and you will quickly see what an issue this will become. 

Another concern is that large businesses will begin to consolidate their outside purchases to just a few vendors to minimze paperwork.  That will impact existing small businesses.  It will also have a chilling effect on those that want to go into business for themselves.  This, at a time when the United States is depending on the small business community to generate jobs and grow the economy.  About the last thing needed is more paperwork. 

In the end, the ultimate question is what will the IRS do with all that information.  The answer is probably not much.  The volume will be so great it will be almost impossible to decipher.  Unless, of course, we hire more IRS agents. 

So, what do we do?  The U.S. Chamber has worked to have H.R. 5141, the “Small Business Paperwork Mandate Elimination Act,” introduced to repeal this section.  We urge you to call Congressman Pomeroy and Senators Dorgan and Conrad and urge them to support this bill and repeal this untimely provision.

Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 3:43 pm  Leave a Comment