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F-M mayors pitch cities as best place for families, highlighting need to grow workforce

FARGO - There were times during their speeches Thursday morning when the area's four mayors seemed like they weren't reporting the state of their cities as much as making a sales pitch for new homeowners.Dilworth Mayor Chad Olson and Moorhead May...

Mayors Chad Olson, from left, Dilworth, Del Rae Williams, Moorhead, Tim Mahoney, Fargo, and Rich Mattern, West Fargo, talk about their cities during the State of the Cities breakfast hosted by The Chamber on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016, at Ramada Plaza & Suites and Conference Center in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

FARGO - There were times during their speeches Thursday morning when the area's four mayors seemed like they weren't reporting the state of their cities as much as making a sales pitch for new homeowners.

Dilworth Mayor Chad Olson and Moorhead Mayor Del Rae Williams touted their cities' neighborhoods, family-friendly atmosphere and schools.

Showing a photo of grinning kids from the Southfield neighborhood, she Williams said there are 80 kids in just two blocks. "Can you imagine the vibrancy of those block parties? They're loaded with children."

"You're talking about which city you want to live in?" said Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney. "Well, I've got multiple neighborhood centers that you can move into in our community and you can get whatever you want."

He touted neighborhoods with amenities within walking distance, name checking north Fargo and the Osgood neighborhood.


"Our neighborhoods have grown at a rate that has far exceeded our expectations," West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern boasted. "We continue to have a wide variety of housing options for new and existing residents."

It's no surprise that the mayors seemed to be seeking new residents at the Chamber of Commerce's State of the Cities event at the Ramada Plaza Fargo hotel. An instant poll held at the event found nearly half the audience thought attracting enough workers for the area's booming economy is the top priority, far ahead of flood control and other priorities, continuing a trend from 2015.


The unemployment rate in the Fargo-Moorhead area was 1.9 percent as of November, the latest month where data is available from Job Service North Dakota. That's much lower than the already low rate of 2.5 percent in the same month a year ago and lower still than the 2.9 percent rate from two years ago.

This year's State of the Cities poll showed 48 percent of the audience believed shortage of workers is the top priority while only 23 percent believed finishing the flood control project is the top priority. The housing shortage had 17 percent of the vote, high taxes and lack of arts and entertainment options were tied with 6 percent.

In 2015, 40 percent thought the shortage of workers was the top priority and 36 percent thought flood control was. In 2014, 58 percent thought flood control was tops and 18 percent thought the shortage of workers was.

Flood control wasn't mentioned much Thursday other than Williams noting that the city has a lot of homes that don't require flood insurance and Mattern insisting the diversion channel move a mile west.

The mayors mostly talked about real estate and business growth, which remains robust despite the cooling of the state's oil-boom economy.


Mahoney said Fargo issued building permits last year for $500 million in construction, much higher than the average of $250 million to $350 million. In 2014, the city issued permits worth $1 billion, but that was the year Sanford Health's hospital started, he said.

Mattern highlighted the growing business scene in West Fargo that includes an expansion of the Bobcat Co.'s headquarters and new strip malls along Veterans Boulevard, Sheyenne Street and 13th Avenue.

Some of the mayors used the State of the Cities to highlight key projects.

Williams said Moorhead will push state lawmakers for funding this year to build a new underpass under the railroad tracks that divide downtown into three.

Mattern said West Fargo will push for help expanding Sheyenne Street, which is easily congested with the city growing in population.

Mahoney said the new City Hall building, which had ballooned in cost to $30.4 million, will likely be in the $22 million to $24 million range.

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