Main Street Summit Q&A with Dept of Commerce Deputy Commissioner Shawn Kessel
GNDC sat down with North Dakota Department of Commerce's Deputy Commission Shawn Kessel. The Department of Commerce serves as the leading agency for the Main Street Initiative(MSI), which is one of Governor Burgum's five strategic initiatives.
GNDC: What is the Main Street Initiative?
Deputy Commissioner Kessel: It is an initiative with workforce, economic development and quality of life features, rolling them up for communities to recognize their unique qualities and attract residents. There are three pillars: twenty-first century workforce, smart, efficient infrastructure, and healthy, vibrant communities. It’s the marriage of the three working together to build communities effectively.
What does the initiative mean or do for business?
One hurdle to any business is workforce. There are more job openings than there are people nationally available to fill them. In North Dakota, there is 30,000-40,000 open jobs. One of our biggest challenges is trying to find people to fill those jobs. With the Main Street’s focus on finding uniqueness, it marries the recognition between workforce need and what the workforce is looking for by accentuating positives in the community. We promote applying MSI principles. Communities can marry the 21st century workforce pillar with the smart, efficient infrastructure pillar to ensure residents have access to quality, high-speed internet. This allows people to work from home and potentially attract new residents. There are over 1 million workers in the federal government that can work anywhere, as long as they have an adequate internet connection. That’s a million people, potentially, that can relocate to North Dakota, as long as they have that fundamental infrastructure.
Our members care about policy impacts, how does the Main Street Initiative impact policy to support communities and business?
We’ve identified issues impacting our communities and state. One area is succession planning. There are profitable businesses that may end up closing because there is nobody to sell or transfer those businesses to. We partner with NDSU Extension Service, which has a succession planning program. In the end, it may involve tax policy or transference. Another policy area is planning and zoning decisions to encourage infill lots. Why not take advantage of underutilized, vacant lots that already have water, sewer, roads? It makes sense and becomes less burden for taxpayers and cities. These are local policy efforts but from a statewide perspective, when it comes to extraterritorial zoning there’s a lot of opportunities to influence community growth. You don’t have to look very far to think about the impacts our businesses make on communities, for example, the recent announcement of the Sanford Heart Hospital in Downtown Bismarck. That will have a different effect than other hospitals that are being built. It’s understanding the cost of growth before a decision is made.
Tell us about the Main Street Summit.
It is October 29 - 31 at the Bismarck Event Center. You can buy a one, two, or three-day pass. The US Surgeon General will be there on the second day to talk about the intersection between health and vibrant communities. Our goals are for people to walk away with actionable items that they can implement in their community upon their return. Other goals are for people to be entertained and engaged. The environment will be one of learning but also positivity. We have planned some surprises. Emily Brown, MSI coordinator at the Department of Commerce, has done a tremendous job with the program and ensuring the conference offers value. Ally Carson, the Main Street Initiative Intern, has done a fabulous job engaging youth in this year’s event. We have over 200 youth signed up for this year’s conference. Regardless of your age or role in your community, you will walk away with a great deal of information that you can use and apply immediately back in your community.