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State commerce officials may have fresh ideas for Kenmare's future

A Kenmare-area native saw his idea come to fruition Feb. 12 during an economic development meeting in Kenmare. David Lehman, who works for the North Dakota Department of Commerce, suggested to Kenmare Community Development Corp., Executive Director Jennifer Nelson and treasurer Jamie Livingston during a leadership conference that both entities should get together and discuss potential opportunities in Kenmare.

2/19/14 (Wed)

Dean Ihla, the tourism development director for the North Dakota Department of Commerce, chats with Kenmare Community Development Corp., Executive Director Jennifer Nelson Feb. 12 following a fact-finding meeting in Kenmare. Ihla is showing Nelson the Commerce Department’s 2014 tourism plan.

By Marvin Baker

A Kenmare-area native saw his idea come to fruition Feb. 12  during an economic development meeting in Kenmare.

David Lehman, who works for the North Dakota Department of Commerce, suggested to Kenmare Community Development Corp., Executive Director Jennifer Nelson and treasurer Jamie Livingston during a leadership conference that both entities should get together and discuss potential opportunities in Kenmare.

They came together last Wednesday for a luncheon meeting at Dave’s Place in Kenmare following a tour of businesses and a driving tour of the community Wednesday morning.

“A lot of communities that need help don’t ask for it,” said Paul Govig, the director of community services for the Commerce Department. “You’ve already done a lot and I give you credit for it.”

Govig said some things Kenmare developers have done are obvious, but others were easy to identify.

“There are a number of vacant properties and identifying them is a good first step,” Govig said. “You guys are proactive and that’s good. It’s always hard to take that first step.”

Kenmare Mayor Roger Ness  brought up a tear-down grant that is available to local property owners to assist in a type of urban renewal.

KCDC President Jerry Essler mentioned Kenmare’s Comprehensive Growth Plan as another incentive in the community’s makeover.

Govig suggested the best way to bolster commercial activity is to make use of present vacant properties.

It’s a good idea in theory, but a number of hurdles can and often do come up when acquiring vacant properties.

But that may be easier than expanding the perimeter of the community.

Livingston said Kenmare is nearly surrounded by federal refuge land and the only way to expand is to move east.

But with a major U.S. highway running through town, that too can become a burden with traffic situations.

Economic Development and Finance Director Paul Lucy said his group would like to take suggestions and site visit analysis back to Bismarck and come up with some bona fide ideas that Kenmare can pursue in the future.

“If you are willing to allow us to go back and knock around some ideas, it could be beneficial,” Lucy said. “If you’re interested in what other communities have done, we can certainly put you in touch with them.”

Several other items were discussed in this informal setting including Scenic Byway designation, accomplishments to date, assets, quality of life, tourism, ideas on how to market Kenmare and the KCDC’s upcoming annual meeting.

Govig told the Kenmare group  that on a general statewide basis, young couples are settling into a number of communities and as they start families, their children will begin to increase the population of the local schools.

Most rural communities in North Dakota over the years have shifted to catering to the elderly as the general population has aged, but that may have to get a second look, according to Lucy.

As the demographics change, according to Lucy, the local community will have to begin to gear itself toward amenities for young families with young children to entice them to remain in the rural setting.

His analogy referred to North Dakota in the late 1950s and early ‘60s when virtually the entire state was geared toward large farm families and accommodating them in schools, in commerce, in a social life, That was the norm for more than 30 years.

“You’ll have to start bringing back those emenities or, in time, you will begin to lose young people,” Lucy said.

The groups also talked about the lack of camping spots for tourists and how Canadian traffic from Saskatchewan and Alberta has increased in recent months because of a stable Canadian dollar.

At the end of the discussion, the Bismarck group agreed to return to Kenmare on April 9 and make a presentation about the Feb. 12 visit at the KCDC annual meeting.

Nelson said she is grateful the Bismarck entourage spent the day in Kenmare and agreed to come back.

“I think it’s great to have someone give a fresh perspective of what our community has to offer,” Nelson said. “They pointed out a few areas where they could see some potential growth and opportunity, on both the development and tourism side of things.”

Livingston ageed, saying it’s important for someone new to take a look and offer feedback.

“These guys (from the state) are the first set of eyes on the community,” he said. “They can expand upon what we’ve already accomplished.”...” Read EVERY WORD on EVERY PAGE of The Kenmare News by subscribing--online or in print!