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Gov. Doug Burgum, back left, leads a round table discussion on his Main Street Initiative economic development policy at Harvest Catering and Events in downtown Mandan on Wednesday. 

Gov. Doug Burgum says the city of Mandan has some of the best bones he’s seen.

“Some communities have lost some of (those) historic structure(s) because they’ve been torn down or there’s not enough left and they're kind of starting over, but Mandan's got a chance to do some really interesting infill projects, which they’ve already done, as well as doing historic renovation in combination of those two things,” the governor said after a roundtable discussion Wednesday with Mandan government and business leaders.

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Gov. Doug Burgum gives his opening remarks to a gathering of Mandan business owners, local and state public officials and residents at a round table discussion related to his Main Street Initiative economic development policy on Wednesday in Mandan. 

Meeting for his Main Street Initiative, Burgum evoked infrastructure, workforce and amenities in the 90-minute discussion. Talking points largely revolved around workforce development and recruiting labor.

TJ Russell, chairman of Cloverdale Foods, described his company’s experience with recruiting from Puerto Rico and Guam. Some fields, such as meatpacking or housekeeping, are "lower on the totem pole of where people want to be in life," he said.

“No one woke up in the morning and said, ‘Gee, I want to clean hotel rooms for a living,’” he said. “It’s not on the list.”

Others in Mandan’s business community described barriers and strategies in hiring and retaining employees.

Aaron Vetter, CEO of Farm Credit Services in Mandan, said baby boomer retirements have led to about a 50 percent turnover in the last three or four years--positions filled by millennials, who he commended for their work ethic.

Luke Richter, of TrueNorth Steel, said federal mandates make it difficult for him to recruit high schoolers.

Mandan restaurateur Edgar Oliveira emphasized having "dignity where you work," as well as the need to hire from outside for positions that can't be filled locally. 

State Rep. Todd Porter, R-Mandan, of Metro Area Ambulance, said early introduction for kids to cultivate interest in certain fields is important for “getting kids interested in subjects while they’re young” and “to get them addicted to the jobs we have.”

Mandan City Commissioner Shauna Laber told the Tribune she’s glad Burgum came to see Mandan and pointed to the Mandan Depot Bier Hall as a good example of revitalization and a public-private partnership.

“When you’re redeveloping in a downtown, you’re dealing with old infrastructure, you’re dealing with unknowns … the space design (is) very limited,” she said. “If somebody’s willing to take that on and make it work for them and put the money in, I think that’s where we need to try to keep our downtowns vital because otherwise they just turn into slums and eyesores and nobody wants to go there.”

Burgum told the Tribune he was impressed by the “real sense of community pride” from across entities in Mandan — from local governments and boards to business leaders and schools: “This is a community that wants to reach its full potential.”

He said the Main Street Initiative has found more than 70 existing state programs or tools for communities’ economic development, while continuing to visit North Dakota towns to learn about what works locally.

“There's nothing stopping Mandan from having its best and brightest days in the future with the assets that they have in place today and with the strong economy we have," the governor said. 

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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Crime and Courts Reporter