State’s regional councils focusing on greater collaboration

Lewis & Clark Development Group recently hosted a gathering of the state’s regional council executive directors for a peer review conducted by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration’s (EDA) Denver Regional Office.

In accordance with federal regulations, EDA peer reviews are done every three years to evaluate management standards, financial accountability, and the program performance of each funded Economic Development District (EDD).

In it’s specific evaluation of the LCD Group, the EDA team noted it was impressed with the organization’s activities and procedures, complimenting it for its work in serving the needs of the counties in the Lewis & Clark development region. 

Coming together for the review is another in a series of small and significant steps the state’s eight regional councils have taken to collaboratively address North Dakota’s economic future.

Earlier this year, the councils – all part of the North Dakota Association of Regional Councils (NDARC) – completed a Strategic Plan. The plan’s overriding focus is on strengthening the association so it can have an even larger impact on economic development.

“Each of us are obviously focused on our region’s needs,” says LCD Group Executive Director Brent Ekstrom. “But there is a lot of overlap in our work and some regional councils operate programs and services that benefit other councils in their work. More collaboration will be beneficial in the delivery of our services and can only help to deepen our impact.”

Governor Doug Burgum’s ‘Main Street Initiative’ is focusing the attention of both decision makers and the public on what North Dakota must do to grow and diversify our state’s economy. It’s a discussion the regional councils welcome and one, as Ekstrom notes, they’ve been having for years.

“The regional councils were established by the Legislature in the late ’60s and early ’70s to manage and facilitate economic development,” said Ekstrom. “The conversation we’re having thanks to the Main Street Initiative is good and echoes a lot of what the regional councils have been doing for the last 50 years.”

Ekstrom notes that while there is always a desire to create a new entity or chase “shiny objects,” the regional councils provide an existing infrastructure that is delivering results for North Dakota’s Main Streets.

“The work of our regional councils has always been to grow Main Street and assist communities in meeting their needs. We’ve been doing that for 50 years,” notes Ekstrom. 

To their credit, the ‘Main Street Initiative’ is including regional councils in the discussion. Over the last few weeks, LCD Group has been attending community listening sessions throughout the region.

LCD Group Commercial Lending Director Matt Burthold has attended sessions in Turtle Lake, Underwood, Center, Washburn, and Regan and will attend the October 29th session in Robinson. He says the sessions have been beneficial for policymakers in highlighting needs and wants.

“I can tell you we’re (LCD Group) also benefiting from these sessions,” Burthold observes. “We are already connected to many business and civic leaders throughout our region, but these sessions are allowing us to also hear from residents we would not typically hear from. This gives us a new perspective.”

It’s a perspective that can benefit all regional councils.

One of the byproducts of the ‘Main Street Initiative’ has been the realization by regional councils to showcase their work.

“Our new Strategic Plan gives us much-needed direction in finding areas where we can create greater efficiencies,” says Ekstrom. “But most importantly it demands we speak with one voice to state and federal leaders and make it a priority to educate the public about the important work we do.”