Burgum: Reinvigorated downtowns are the key to a successful future

The views shared in the May 28 editorial, "Fargo, Moorhead downtowns appear to be at a crossroads," presents an accurately positive view of the value that a vibrant, diverse downtown brings to our communities.But the 21st century economy and work...

Portrait of Governor Doug Burgum
Portrait of Governor Doug Burgum

The views shared in the May 28 editorial, "Fargo, Moorhead downtowns appear to be at a crossroads," presents an accurately positive view of the value that a vibrant, diverse downtown brings to our communities.

But the 21st century economy and workforce shortages, the financial health of our cities, and our national health challenges all move elements of urban design from "nice to have" to "must have."

Redeveloping and reinvigorating our downtowns to create healthy, vibrant communities is a tenet of our Main Street Initiative. This strategy begins with vital centers and gathering places that serve as competitive differentiators for recruiting talent, engines of civic financial strength, and a tool to help every citizen's health and pocketbook.

North Dakota today has over 15,000 job openings, including key roles in health care, education, technology, energy and advanced manufacturing. The talent to fill these 21st century jobs is highly mobile. North Dakota cities are competing every day for talent with other cities - including those with warmer weather and other amenities. Building vibrant downtowns is a fundamental element of the success of workforce development efforts.

The traditional pattern of automobile-focused (versus people-focused) outward growth is creating financial stress for many of our cities. We all desire lower property taxes. One of the drivers of property taxes is a city's footprint. The larger the footprint, the more linear feet of streets, roads, sewer, water and sidewalks there are to pay for and maintain, and the larger the financial burden on taxpayers. The high cost of sprawl is further amplified by the need for additional water towers, fire stations, police stations, longer garbage collection routes, and an increase in dedicated public employees to serve citizens.


Cities have accumulated substantial debt subsidizing growth on the edge, driven by an assumption that automobile traffic growth is never ending. But new technologies and new consumer offerings such as ridesharing are already changing transportation patterns.

The best return on investment for taxpayers is when private capital is invested where we have existing infrastructure, as opposed to constructing new buildings in "greenfield" areas that lack the tax base to fully pay for the public investments.

From large metro areas to small towns, creating mixed-use city centers and neighborhoods maximizes existing infrastructure, a clear economic benefit for taxpayers. This strategy of infilling existing spaces with diverse retail and housing opportunities reduces long-term costs for city government, benefits tourism and business and fosters the kinds of creative spaces, arts and culture that attract people of all ages.

It also promotes walkable, healthier communities, lessening the burden of health care costs on taxpayers. It is a sound and essential strategy for our communities and for the future economic success of our state.

North Dakota needs the talent to support a 21st century economy. Above all, community appeal will determine where the mobile workforce of the future chooses to live. We cannot be a great state without great cities. And we look forward to partnering with the private sector and civic leaders to reach our full potential.

Burgum was elected North Dakota’s 33rd governor in November.

Related Topics: DOUG BURGUM
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