Main Street Initiative

“To create a 21st century economy, we need to build on three pillars of economic success: a skilled workforce; smart, efficient infrastructure; and healthy, vibrant communities. By reinventing education, we will create a skilled workforce that matches the high-paying jobs of today and tomorrow. Utilizing our current infrastructure to its fullest potential, we can reduce the cost of local government and create vibrant, healthy cities. With your help, the Main Street Initiative will revitalize communities across our state and help keep North Dakota exceptional.”

Three Pillars Of Economic Success:
A Skilled Workforce; Smart, Efficient Infrastructure; &
Healthy, Vibrant Communities

It is time for all of us to become active members of our communities and engage in  dialogue about how to create better cities for ourselves and our children, how to support innovation, entrepreneurship, and economic diversity, and how we can work together to ensure that North Dakota can compete and thrive in an ever-changing and increasingly competitive global economy.

The Main Street Initiative was built on a foundation of values: respect for the past, gratitude for the present, and inspiration for the future. By focusing our efforts on creating vibrant main streets with smart infrastructure, we will attract and retain a skilled workforce and realize our full potential as a state.

A Skilled Workforce

North Dakota’s economy is changing, and, now more than ever, a skilled workforce is vital to the success of any company – big or small. In industries like energy, agriculture, healthcare, UAS (unmanned aerial systems), biotech, cybersecurity, software, manufacturing and engineering, we’re seeing the emergence of new solutions built on innovative ideas. The changing economy presents us with tremendous opportunity in the form of new jobs, higher wages, and a diversified and value-added economy. In order to seize this opportunity, we must support entrepreneurs and innovators, and educate, prepare, and recruit individuals ready to tackle these challenges. A 21st century economy requires a 21st century workforce.

The people of North Dakota have the talent, potential, and drive to meet the needs of a new economy, head on. We know this because we lived it. At Great Plains/Microsoft, we built a world class company with thousands of people hailing from more than 220 North Dakota towns and cities.

With today’s technology, where just a single smartphone has the computing power that used to take up an entire room, the platform is emerging to change every job and every industry. We need to harness this technology and prepare every citizen for success in the high paying jobs of today and tomorrow.

Our first challenge is to ensure that we’re providing a 21st century education to our citizens from Pre-K to the moment they earn their college diploma and beyond. With an increased emphasis on STEAM – Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math – we will provide each student with an educational foundation for lifelong learning. By utilizing innovative new approaches, we will provide students from both large and small communities more learning opportunities that challenge them, align with their interests, and allow them to earn college credit while still in high school.

And by adapting project-based learning, we will increase student engagement and teach students the skills needed to succeed in the world where asking the right questions is often as important as knowing the memorized answers. Through public-private partnerships, we will connect students with career opportunities, align academic programs to the needs of a changing economy, and bridge the gap between the classroom and the workforce.

And given the rate of change, lifetime learning, and workforce training and enhancement is more important than ever. We need to build and match learning pathways for adults that translate into increased economic outcomes and expanded income potential.

Smart, Efficient Infrastructure

Let’s build our communities in the way that makes the most sense by examining the full costs, return on investment, and sustainability of our growth patterns. Instead of solely looking to expand our cities outward with new, expensive infrastructure, we can invest in restoring and rebuilding the neighborhoods, downtowns, and main street communities we already have. When we fully utilize our existing infrastructure, we reduce government spending and help create the environment needed for businesses to compete, grow and prosper.

A community’s horizontal, low density expansion often results in a geographic footprint that is increasingly expensive over time, even to the point of becoming economically unsustainable. Larger footprints require communities to invest more in virtually every category—from new water towers, sewer lines and sewage systems, to streetlights, sidewalks, snow plows, lawnmowers, garbage collection, and more. And these aren’t one-time costs—they’re ongoing expenses that require personnel and maintenance, year after year.

Ultimately, this leads to bigger government, higher property taxes, and unsustainable spending.

As one example, let’s look at three cities: Fargo, North Dakota; Ann Arbor, Michigan; and Boulder, Colorado. All of these cities have comparable populations, yet Fargo’s geographic footprint (about 49 sq. miles) is nearly twice as large as either Ann Arbor or Boulder. This means that in Fargo, there are more roads to plow and patrol, more pipes to fix, and an overall larger infrastructure to maintain, for a similar population. Fargo now has over 2,000 lane miles of roads to plow after each snow storm. That’s almost twice as long as the distance from Fargo to Frisco, Texas.

Simply put, one of the major determinants of cost for a city or community is linear feet. The more linear feet, the greater the cost of everything.

To attract and retain entrepreneurs, innovators, and 21st century jobs to our region, we need to provide smart power grids and high speed gigabit bandwidth in order for them to compete and grow. Just like railroads and highway systems enabled economic growth for North Dakota in our first 127 years, an upgraded infrastructure will enable new jobs, new solutions and new services across energy, agriculture, aviation, healthcare, education and more.

If we want small, efficient government, we need to have small, efficient footprints.

If we want to attract 21st century jobs, we need smart infrastructure.

Healthy Vibrant Communities

As we redevelop our downtowns and main streets, we gain both the benefits of using existing infrastructure and the opportunity to enhance our communities. In a 21st century economy, we need to create 21st century cities with vibrant cores that will help to attract and retain young talent. A vibrant, unique main street or downtown becomes the differentiator for our communities.

Nearly every community in North Dakota has at least one special, historic building on its main street that is at risk. We can honor our past and inspire our future with the renovation of these historic structures, which all create unique differentiation that is essential to creating a sense of place and meaning.

By pursuing the concept of mixed use on main street (e.g. retail on first floor, renovating the upper floor or floors for apartments or offices), we create more vibrancy and generate more economic activity and efficiency around existing infrastructure.

With the concept of infill, we build new mixed-use structures on the empty lots between existing buildings, or build on under-utilized surface parking lots, and further increase the efficient use of existing infrastructure.

Vibrant main streets will once again be a center point where the community can come together as a whole to engage, interact, shop, work, live, and enrich their quality of life.

And center points of interaction also spur the elements of culture that help attract and retain workforce, such as the visual and performing arts and creative community spaces both inside and outdoors.

Vibrant main streets and downtown neighborhoods enable more walking. Mixed uses and infill enable more walking. Retail and culture encourage more walking. And a walkable city is a healthy city. Two large demographic groups, millennials and retiring baby boomers, are seeking walkable neighborhoods where they can live, work, shop, learn, and play.

Walkable cities allow residents of any age to become more physically active and spend more time outdoors, thereby improving wellness and reducing health care costs. And across the country, the greater the walkability, the higher the real estate values.

We have nearly 15,000 jobs open across North Dakota today. Every unfilled job represents a missed economic opportunity, for the company, the community, and an employee. It is not just enough to create great jobs, we need to build vibrant, attractive, communities so we can attract the workforce and their families to live in North Dakota.

North Dakota’s Future

The Main Street Initiative is about creating attractive, healthy and economically sound communities that will attract and retain the entrepreneurs, innovators, and skilled workforce needed in a 21st century economy. By investing in smart, efficient infrastructure, and creating vibrant, walkable main streets, we will create communities in which our children and grandchildren will thrive.

To realize our full potential as a state, we must create the jobs, the workforce and the communities that are equipped to take advantage of the opportunities that a 21st century economy provides. The Main Street Initiative, along with entrepreneurs, innovators, and committed local leaders, will be a catalyst of inspiration and action to build these vibrant communities.


Paid for by Doug Burgum for North Dakota.