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Struggling to grow local economies in rural Grand Forks

Community leaders in rural Grand Forks County are looking to the proposed Grand Sky UAS technology and business park at Grand Forks Air Force Base to help rejuvenate their local economies.


“Larimore, Northwood, Hatton, we’re really struggling to maintain,” said Deb Matheson, Larimore city auditor. “The smaller towns are hoping to capitalize on that, hoping that as it develops, people will buy into our community.”

They’ll discuss those hopes and dreams, along with obstacles that might stand in their way, when they gather in a town hall meeting from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Larimore City Hall.

The meeting is part of a two-day strategy session organized by the Red River Regional Council, in partnership with the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.

The goal is to develop an economic development plan for the county. Previous sessions have been held in Nelson, Pembina and Walsh counties.

“So far, I think we get a sense of optimism,” said Dawn Keeley, regional council executive director. The process also has revealed some common concerns, including infrastructure, housing and child care, she said.


The starting point for the discussion is a recent study by UND economist David Flynn that, among other things, indicated that rural Grand Forks County has a distinct economy that has more in common with the other three counties than it has with the city of Grand Forks.

For example, while the city has seen a population increase, rural Grand Forks County and the other three counties, which are predominantly rural, have seen their populations decrease. The city also has a younger population compared to rural areas.

“I think the group in Larimore will spend some time talking about that,” Matheson said. “One of the things we’re hoping will come out of it is an effort to strengthen the bridge between the city of Grand Forks and the rest of the county.”

The city is virtually landlocked by privately owned farmland, she said, with few options for residential or commercial development. 

“We as a city have to figure out want we can offer as an incentive,” she said. “We want to find out what is out there, maybe some grant money for infrastructure, so maybe we can entice some people to live here.”

Kevin Bonham

Kevin Bonham covers regional news, mostly from northeast North Dakota, for the Grand Forks Herald. A North Dakota native who grew up in Mandan and Dickinson, he has been a reporter or an editor with the Herald and Forum Communications for more than 30 years. Find his articles at: He welcomes story ideas via email,, or by phone, (701) 780-1110.