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Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald, Published May 08 2012

Grand Forks to spend $75,000 to woo oil companies

The Grand Forks City Council voted 6 to 1 to spend $75,000 in excess sales tax to promote the city’s potential among Oil Patch companies. In what it calls the Bakken Initiative, the city also is working to raise another $50,000 from private and other sources for the idea.

The lone dissenting vote was cast by councilman Terry Bjerke, who said he can’t see the need to spend public money when the private sector is gushing money in the Oil Patch.

“If you’re in business out west and can’t make money, probably you shouldn’t be in busi-ness,” he said. “I just think we are giving money away when in a booming economy, they can pay.”

Council President Hal Gershman said cities in western North Dakota have made it clear they don’t have the infrastructure, including housing for workers and commercial property, to handle the fast-growing petroleum economy. The opportunity is for Grand Forks to help the Oil Patch keep booming, he said.

Stepping up to the plate

North Dakota is poised to become the second-largest oil producing state; a record 212 rigs were drilling Monday, state officials reported.

South Dakota, Montana and Canadian provinces all are exploring ways to support and supply the oil-based economy of the Williston Basin, Gershman said. “Grand Forks needs to raise its profile,” he said. “It’s just like a business promoting itself.”

Councilmember Doug Christensen said there are big Oil-Patch-related manufacturing ex-pansions going up in Fargo. Grand Forks, meanwhile, has an industrial park to fill, he said.

Also Monday, the city’s Jobs Development Authority approved a $75,000 loan — part of a larger package based in the Bank of North Dakota’s PACE program — to Steffes Corp. of Dickinson, N.D., which plans to hire dozens to build oil field tanks in an empty plant just west of Grand Forks International Airport.

City leaders said 74 Grand Forks area firms are already doing business in the oil fields, and the potential is for much more.

Many experts expect this Williston Basin boom to last 15 to 20 years, Christensen said. “If you don’t step up the plate, you’re going to be left behind.”