East Grand Forks, Minnesota
Where agricultural roots fuse with progressive solutions
Offering dynamic amenities, East Grand Forks preserves its charm with a modern focus for its residents
Small-town friendliness and community events characterize East Grand Forks, Minnesota. Balancing the two against the backdrop of modern growth is a focus that the city takes pride in offering residents and visitors an array of restaurants, a 15-plex movie theater, and convenient shopping in the downtown mall to name just a few of its dynamic amenities.
Cabela’s is in East Grand Forks and has several displays of live fish indigent to Minnesota and a static display of a variety of wildlife. Within walking distance is The Red River State Recreation Area, which provides facilities for camping, fishing, and RV parking.
Composed of 9,000 residents with a median age of 39, the city offers a robust public education system and a burgeoning recreational setting.
East Grand Forks lies within the Red River Valley, a flat and fertile region formed by the ancient glacial Lake Agassiz. The valley’s soil is remarkably productive, making it ideal for farming.
Agriculture and Education
The city’s agricultural roots date back to its founding in1887 and stayed a significant contributor to the economy. Local farmers grow soybeans, wheat, sugar beets, and potatoes and crop sales, processing facilities, and related businesses generate revenue and support livelihoods. The industry drives production and employment.
East Grand Forks’ agricultural legacy persists, intertwining with modern progress and contributing to the vitality of this vibrant community.
The public school system includes a high school, a middle school, and two elementary schools. Two private schools add to the educational landscape.
Reid Huttunen, the city administrator, emphasizes the dedication to youth development and notes the comprehensive nature of the community’s investment: “We invest a lot in our public infrastructure. We have a Technical College as part of the Minnesota State System at Northland.” This multi-faceted approach reflects a commitment not only to educational resources but to vocational and technical training.
The Benefits of the 1997 Flood
In 1997, a pivotal moment shaped East Grand Forks’ identity. A devastating flood submerged low-lying homes, leaving a profound impact on the community.
Mayor Steve Gander recounts the severity of the flood: “Any homes inside the floodplain had water up to the second floor. That’s how bad the flood was and how low some of those homes were along the river.” The flood forced the removal of century-old homes and those built over the past several decades for the protective levee construction.
The aftermath led to a city-wide evacuation lasting three weeks and caused adversity among residents. Gander recalls the negative predictions from skeptics, “Some naysayers were out there saying things like this town is dead. It is highly vulnerable to flooding. It’ll be a ghost town before you know it.”
Undeterred by the challenges, the residents and businesses rallied together. “We didn’t hesitate. We rebuilt our washed-out clinic quickly to get it reopened to see patients,” the mayor continues. The district embarked on the journey of reconstruction. “One by one, people did that same thing,” states Gander.
The resilience of East Grand Forks was further solidified by implementing a flood protection system. This process, funded by federal and state resources, represented hundreds of millions of dollars in investments.
Certified by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the system elevated the entire city out of the floodplain. Gander has a high level of confidence in the infrastructure, saying, “Reinvest your money here. It’s going to be safe, probably safer from flooding than almost any community in the country.”
The repositioning of levees allowed the spacious Greater Grand Forks Greenway to be developed. While acknowledging the sadness and tragedy associated with the loss of neighborhoods, the mayor adds, “The levee creates a buffer where once you are down there, you are secluded.” Extensive trails stretch 40 miles between East Grand Forks and Grand Forks. This infrastructure provides residents with a scenic and accessible outdoor space.
The reconfigured landscape facilitated a campground along the river that boasts 113 campsites, many equipped with full hookups and utilities. East Grand Forks Greenway features a boat launch with planned expansion, contributing to the overall recreational appeal of the region.
Unintended positive consequences of the flood mitigation efforts in 1997 underscore East Grand Forks’ ability to adapt and leverage challenges for long-term benefits.
Supply Chain Disruptions and Project Management
The impact of supply chain issues emphasizes the need to be pre-emptive. “We have felt the impact of supply chain issues, and we have had to learn to be much more forward-thinking in how we plan for projects,” notes Huttunen.
East Grand Forks works to discuss supply chain challenges. Huttunen explains, “Because of the long lead time on supply chain issues, we’ve had to rethink how we invest in that and how we plan for it.” A key strategy involves adjusting order timing and moving away from the conventional approach. “We are going to be placing an order for new electric wire for a planned development that will not occur until 2026,” adds Huttunen.
This shows a commitment to planning, purchasing materials at today’s prices, and managing the changing dynamics of supply chain disruptions. The ability to pivot in response to changing dynamics reflects the city’s adaptability in the face of supply chain uncertainties.
Project management and efficient resource use is an East Grand Forks initiative, so they collaborate with WIDSETH, a contracted engineering company. Gander explains the advantages of this partnership. “We do not have a city engineer, but we contract with a company called WIDSETH, and they then serve as our city engineer.” This contractual arrangement allows flexibility in staffing and for the municipality to bring in specialized expertise during intensive project phases.
Gander underscores the benefits of this approach: “You can bring in their complete team when you do a big push like these big street repair projects that we’ve done – the drafting and surveying people and the engineer, along with clerical staff for the big push.”
This collaborative and flexible approach ensures the efficient execution of major projects. “We have some long-term savings that come from contracting with WIDSETH,” concludes Gander.
The Economic Development Authority (EDA) helped with a Main Street grant initiative that paid 30% of the cost of renovating and improving existing facilities. Gander says, “We have seen a bit of a post-COVID bump in the cost of doing business regarding building materials and labor shortages. But I know several local businesses have been able to utilize that Main Street grant initiative to renovate.”
A year has passed since the approval, and the region is now undergoing improvements. “We thank the EDA for the opportunity to help offset some of the unusual costs of renovating businesses. It is huge.” Gander adds.
A Focus on the Future
East Grand Forks’ vision for the coming decade is the industrial park and commercial districts expansion. Emphasizing the potential of the industrial park, Gander says, “We have tremendous room for growth. We are going to focus on that infrastructure and, through EDA, we are going to build it out.” This investment sets the stage for increased economic activity and job opportunities.
“We have plans to convert our commercial district along Hwy. 2 to the east,” he adds. The city intends to shift focus from agriculture to commercial development.
Envisioning the impact of these initiatives on the city’s demographic landscape, East Grand Forks expects a population exceeding 10,000 people in the next decade. “We grew by about 7% in the last decade, and I’d like to see that continue,” Gander states.
The collaborative efforts between East Grand Forks and Grand Forks, North Dakota, to secure funding for a southern inner-city bridge is an initiative with far-reaching effects. Huttunen says, “We currently have three bridges that connect Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, and our traffic studies have shown that there’s going to be a future need, if it’s not there already, for a new southern bridge location.” This shows a forward-thinking approach to planning cities and developing infrastructure.
The proposed southern bridge location has transformation potential. Huttunen explains, “As that bridge sits in East Grand Forks’ geography, it will create an entirely new opportunity for economic development and residential growth as you look south of the current existing East Grand Forks.”
This foresight places the potential bridge as a vital transportation link and a catalyst for economic and residential expansion, aligning with the mayor’s goals for population growth. “That potential new bridge crossing is going to spur that development. We may see those numbers even exceed what the mayor talked about as far as population growth,” says Huttunen. This dual focus on infrastructure development and population growth shows a comprehensive approach to shaping the city’s future.
East Grand Forks emerges as a dynamic region, where agricultural roots harmonize with innovative solutions, educational excellence, and foresight. As the city charges boldly into the next decade, its narrative becomes one of resilience, adaptability, and a vision that extends beyond infrastructure, encompassing a thriving and interconnected community.
AT A GLANCE
East Grand Forks, Minnesota
WHAT: A dynamic community, where agricultural roots harmonize with innovative solutions.
WHERE: Red River Valley, Northwestern Minnesota, bordering Grand Forks, North Dakota