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Mike Nowatzki, Published March 13 2009

Economy, flooding touched on in state of the Cities forum

The hobbling economy figured into updates from the four metro-area mayors Thursday during the fifth annual State of the Cities forum, but not all of it was gloom and doom.

“We can’t stick our head in the sand and say the economy hasn’t affected our cities,” West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said. “But I think we’re holding our own, and I think one thing we have to do is continue to look at opportunities to create jobs and move forward.”

West Fargo has applied for stimulus funding that would allow it to complete two phases of a Main Avenue rebuilding project this summer instead of just one phase of the three-part project, Mattern said.

The city also has received “a lot of inquiries” about building around the Ninth Street interchange at Interstate 94, expected to open in November, he said.

“Even with the economy the way it is, we feel that retail especially will begin forming quickly,” he said.

Dilworth issued 14 housing permits last year – less than half its 10-year average, Mayor Keith Coalwell said. But four new commercial developments and the new Wal-Mart Supercenter carried the city through the residential slowdown, he said.

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker noted that North Dakota’s unemployment rate rose to 5.1 percent in January and said cuts at Bobcat, Microsoft and Case New Holland show how the diversified local economy depends on foreign markets. He said the four cities will have to cooperate to weather the recession.

Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland said his city is exploring ways to provide services more efficiently after a tough budget year and proposed cuts to local government aid from the state.

The mayors also talked about flooding and flood protection during the forum, hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Fargo Moorhead at Ramada Plaza Suites in Fargo.

Walaker said the proposed Southside Flood Protection Project is “as good as it’s going to get” and needs to go forward. Voxland said Moorhead officials are closely following the project to ensure it doesn’t have negative impacts on the city.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528