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Dave Olson, Published January 03 2014

I-94 towns in midst of growth: Economic buzz in eastern ND not necessarily tied to energy

CASSELTON, N.D. - The oil boom in western North Dakota gets a lot of attention.

But follow Interstate 94 from Valley City to the cities of Mapleton and Casselton, and what you find might surprise you.

“For a community the size of Casselton and Mapleton, you could call it a boom,” said Mark Vaux, executive vice president for business development for the Greater Fargo Moorhead Economic Development Corp.

The story is similar in Valley City, said Jennifer Feist, director of the Valley City-Barnes County Development Corp.

Feist and Vaux say the economic buzz in the eastern part of the state isn’t necessarily tied to energy.

“It is value-added agriculture and technology and advanced manufacturing, those kinds of things,” said Feist.

She said some of the things happening in Valley City – population about 6,500 – include:

• A $20 million expansion of the John Deere seeding group facility in town.

The project resulted in the hiring of about 80 new employees over the past year, according to Feist.

• A thriving software company called Eagle Creek Software Services, which provides software support and development services to Forbes Global 2000 companies.

Jeff Brusseau, Eagle Creek’s vice president of U.S. Project Centers, said the Valley City center now has about 65 employees, and it’s anticipated the number will grow to 120 to 140 employees in the next three to five years.

• Plans by the North Dakota National Guard to build four structures in Valley City, with construction starting in early 2015.

The work, expected to total $31.6 million, will include a 35,000-square-foot field maintenance facility; a 30,000-square-foot cold storage building; a 14,000-square-foot administrative building; and a 54,000-square-foot regional readiness center.

“We’ll have 30-35 full-time National Guard people here,” Feist said.

Growing jobs

In Casselton, population about 2,400, Northern Plains Finishing recently turned a vacant building in town into a facility that provides powder-coat painting of things like steel products.

The facility brought with it about 20 jobs, and there is the potential for another 10 jobs if they add a night shift, said Steve Melicher, operations manager at the facility.

Melicher said Northern Plains Finishing does work for its parent company, Northern Plains Steel in Fargo, which along with Northern Plains Finishing is a subsidiary of Owen Industries.

Melicher said the Casselton plant also welcomes painting jobs for other manufacturers.

Also in Casselton, Abbiamo Pasta is getting close to completing construction on a 31,000-square-foot pasta plant that will generate 50 or so jobs over the next several years, according to Vaux, who said the past year was a big one for Mapleton, too.

He said during 2013, Horsch Anderson, a manufacturer of planting and other types of equipment, moved a large portion of its business from Andover, S.D., to a new plant in Mapleton, which has a population of about 806.

The facility opened in September and currently employs 40 people.

Horsch Anderson is now looking to fill another 50 positions, mostly in the Fargo area and in a few key sales locations, according to Kory Anderson, president of the company.

“We will definitely be on track with our goal of 80 jobs in the first two years (of the new plant) and have already created about 100 new jobs since 2011,” Anderson said.

He said the new factory in Mapleton is making the company’s Joker high-speed compact disc and there are plans to start production on other kinds of planting and seeding equipment at Mapleton.

Positive factors

Vaux said a number of factors figure into why Mapleton and Casselton are seeing strong business activity, including their proximity to the Fargo area’s labor force; strong infrastructure and excellent land prices.

Feist agreed, adding that the Valley City-Barnes County Development Corp. is spending about

$9 million on land acquisition and infrastructure improvements to accommodate expansion of existing operations like John Deere and to attract additional enterprises to the area known as the I-94 Regional Development Corridor.

“We would like to take advantage of opportunities in the oil play, maybe a manufacturing company that would locate here and ship product up to the oil play,” Feist said, adding that the Oil Patch is already having some indirect effects on Valley City businesses.

“What we are seeing is some of our neighboring communities have contractors going to Williston,” Feist said.

“As the Jamestown contractors move west, Valley City contractors are running to Jamestown three days a week.

“I know that’s happened with plumbers and heating and cooling people,” Feist said. “We already need more contractors in those areas, so we’ve had some new businesses get started, but at the same time we could always use more.”

Future plans

Vaux said 2014 holds the potential for even more job growth in Casselton and Mapleton.

He said he wasn’t at liberty to say much yet, but he anticipates that between Casselton and Mapleton there could possibly be 70-90 additional jobs created with companies expanding, “or new opportunities we’re in the final stages of working on.”

Current business activity already has been enough to convince some residents that staying close to home beats a long drive to work.

“What we’re seeing is, particularly with Casselton, they’re capturing people who live there,” Vaux said.

“People that have been driving into Fargo-Moorhead to go to work now have opportunities for good paying jobs closer to home and they don’t have to make the commute,” he said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555