Posted 12/29/15 (Tue)
By Cecile Krimm
A program aimed at helping towns in the oil patch assess goals for business and community development kicked off Monday last week with a round table discussion open to the public.
A dozen people participated in the session led by Matthew Perdue, an intern with the Strom Center at Dickinson State University. Perdue, who grew up on a farm near Ray, said he is familiar with the area, but every town has unique challenges.
The purpose of the session was to help residents identify aspects of their community they can’t live without as well as those they would like to change.
Based on earlier surveys conducted in conjunction with the Vision West regional planning group, Perdue said people in Divide County identified downtown development, infrastructure development and the attraction of government funding to help pay for needed projects as among the community’s top priorities.
Top wants included downtown development, business recruitment and business retention and expansion. While those are fairly typical desires in small towns, said Perdue, Crosby’s results stand out because respondents also made a strong statement of belief these goals can be achieved.
Perdue also delved into the notion that jobs follow people, citing a recent study that shows this is not necessarily true -- an important piece of information as the oil industry slows down.
“We have this idea in economic development that people just run from town to town following jobs,” he said, but the truth is quality of life in a particular town has a big impact on whether someone takes a job in a particular area.
That’s why, “If you have a more diverse economy and a thriving downtown, more businesses are going to move there, more people are going to come,” in what becomes a cycle of activity that can be very positive for communities.
This concept led Perdue into his first question for those gathered around the table in the Torgeson Family Learning Center at St. Luke’s Medical Center.
He asked participants to use sticky notes to write down aspects of the community they feel are absolutely vital, one to each note. Each participant then stuck their note on a board, with Perdue grouping like answers together.
Focus on medical services
“Three or four people mentioned the quality of the hospital,” Perdue said.
“I don’t think we’d get people back here if we didn’t have doctors and a hospital,” said Steve Joraanstad, a travel agent who has also worked in the past with the hospital foundation.
Burke Divide Electric General Manager Jerry King agreed medical services are a key for a viable town.
“It makes Crosby a hub for Divide County,” King said.
As well, offered senior citizen Nona Garbel, “I’ve heard people say they moved to Crosby because there’s a doctor here.”
Furniture store operator Kay Garbel noted the continuum of care -- not just a hospital, but assisted living and a nursing home facility -- as another key to keeping a good community.
She talked about how one of her children was able to come back to town because of a need for nurses, “So, in our family we see it . . . there’s quite a few who have returned to this community, because there was an opportunity for them.”
Alfred Sams, assistant administrator of the hospital, said he and hospital administrator Cody Barnhart are themselves examples of people who found opportunity in Crosby’s health care system.
Barnhart and Sams had a few other ties to the community, but Kay Garbel said there’s a more natural attraction for people who have lived here in the past.
“The people who grew up here, they know what to expect, they value the quality of life,” she said, whereas someone who travels to the area for a job may soon depart if it doesn’t meet all of their expectations.
Recreation and education
The theater and skating rink are two facilities mentioned by discussion participants as important to Crosby’s quality of life. But unlike some larger communities, much of what Crosby has to offer comes with the need for people to volunteer to support programming -- be it moving gymnastics equipment for a performance, cooking rink burgers at the hockey rink, or taking a shift behind the concession counter at the theater.
“Volunteer opportunities in Crosby are extensive,” said King, but people from other areas may be more used to being served than serving others.
A quality school system was another item written on many of the sheets.
“How big a piece of the community is the school? What sets the school system apart?” Perdue asked.
Community Developer KayCee Lindsey said she sees the smaller than typical class sizes as important. Superintendent Sherlock Hirning verified the average class size is around 15 students.
Joraanstad pointed out the opportunity to play sports is greater and Brock Harward shared an anecdote about how his own brother, now a senior, found many more opportunities to engage in school activities than he would have had in Utah, where they used to live.
“Probably the best thing that could happen to him is to be able to move to a smaller community,” said Harward.
While many community events revolve around the school, participants noted there are so many community organizations, the school is far from the only outlet for social activity.
“We were amazed when we moved here. There was something to do here almost every night,” said Sams.
But participants also agreed that it may be easier to engage families in community activities than young singles.
“There is so much to do in Crosby, but not necessarily for them,” said Garbel, other than playing pool or darts at the bar.
In general, participants indicated they are pretty happy with the amount of goods and services available in a town the size of Crosby.
“You don’t have to leave Crosby very often,” said Harward, who related how nice it is to have a grocery store with good meat. In the Utah area where he used to live, that wasn’t the case.
Lindsey shared that when the Vision West group recently held a meeting in Crosby, “They couldn’t get over how well developed our Main Street was, how busy it was and how full it was. So to me it’s really nice. It’s a very diverse, very good core of businesses.”
Kay Garbel said she understands that sometimes price or a lack of selection will cause people to shop elsewhere, but “I think the community as a whole is very supportive of the businesses we have.”
The trouble, however, is that once people leave town for one thing, they end up purchasing items they could also have gotten at home.
“People in Williston gotta go to Minot, people in Minot gotta go to Bismarck,” is how Nona Garbel puts it.
For the younger generation, the Internet may be the first place to look for an item. Participants talked about the need to educate new arrivals and younger residents about the importance of supporting local businesses to help keep the community viable long term.
Room for improvement
The next portion of the meeting was spent discussing things that could be improved. Several of the items written on the sticky notes revolved around better city services and more engagement by elected officials.
“Is the city staffed at appropriate levels when they come up with certain policies?” asked Perdue.
The lack of a building inspector and better enforcement of zoning rules and regulations are concerns in the group. Participants felt newer personnel is one factor in continuity of city functions.
Bev Fuhrman said when you get a building permit you sign that you will meet city standards “but they don’t give you a copy of the standards.”
The list of things participants think need changing, however, was much smaller than the list of things people find to their liking.
While participants talked about a feeling of less security and not knowing some of their neighbors, overall, the changes have been positive over the past five years, according to several speakers.
Prior to the boom, said Joraanstad, lots of houses were in poor repair and there were empty lots.
Now Crosby has a full time parks and rec director and lots of new sidewalks to walk on. A new motel and restaurant, a rejuvenated laundromat, a new community center, plus new blood helping to invigorate groups like the fair board and threshing show all were mentioned as important. Future improvements like a new splash pad and a new daycare center also come as a result of growth, participants noted.
Prior to the boom, said Kay Garbel, “People could see no reason to make certain improvements . . . and now, when they’ve seen the result of all of the things that have happened and what a nicer community we have. I think that’s changed attitudes a little bit.”
The discussion concluded with Perdue explaining that more surveying will now be done to try to hone areas where people want to see improvement or shore up what is already here.
Following that survey, another public meeting will be held, probably in March, to go over the results.