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THIEF RIVER FALLS, MN — Owner and manager of insurance agencies, Jim Dagg became mayor of Thief River Falls, MN in 2012. Born and raised in Thief River, the father of five runs this small municipality of under 9,000 that is looking to jump-start itself through enhancing its current businesses and partnering with the international Intelligent Community Forum using grant funds to expand the town’s technology facilities. For full disclosure, I grew up in Thief River Falls (TRF) where my dad headed up the district Highway Patrol and I went through grade school to Northland Community College. It’s a very wonderful bucolic piece of America that’s aiming hi-tech.
What is TRF’s main economic stimulus?
Originally the community was a farming and logging town, which also brought the railroad. Although farming continues to contribute to the city’s economy today, our economy has become more diverse. The city’s largest employer, Digi Key, is an electronic parts distributor and their customer-centered business philosophy continues to drive their rapid growth. We are also the home of Arctic Cat, Inc. which designs, engineers, manufactures, and markets snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and Side by Sides under the Arctic Cat brand name. The Arctic Cat brand name is the most widely recognized and respected in the industry. Sanford Health, another major employer, is in the process of constructing a $60 million medical center. The facility will consist of a 25-bed critical access hospital and a clinic with more than 30 specialties. The Seven Clans Casino & Water Park is located just south of the city and contains a casino, luxury hotel, and a 40,000 square foot indoor water park.
How did you get into politics, why and when did you become mayor?
I was a concerned citizen and the guy running for mayor would not in my opinion have been a good choice for the community. Friends encouraged me to run and so I did. I became mayor in January 2013 and have a term of two years. When my term is up, I believe that I will run again. I worked hard campaigning and was fortunate to gain the support of the community.
How is the economic situation there?
Digi Key, Arctic Cat and a number of other businesses are doing very well. Digi Key would hire 150 workers today if they had people to fill the positions. This is true with Arctic Cat and others too. Our biggest challenge is having enough housing to accommodate new employees. There are a lot of high paying jobs, but there are also jobs which challenge people’s ability to afford new housing. The unemployment rate in Thief River Falls is 4.8% in comparison to the State and National averages of 5.2% and 7.8%, respectively. Most people that want to work can find a job quite easily. Again, housing is the community’s biggest challenge.
How did you become involved with the Intelligent Community Forum?
We became involved through our Community Development Director and his application for grant funds for the C.K. Blandin Foundation which received federal funds to facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas. The city has used these grant funds to implement three specific projects:
A) Creation of a Business/Technology Center at our local Chamber of Commerce building. The center is used by the local area business community for various computer classes.
B) Technology Fairs for the Novice and Advanced Users were held in 2011 and 2012 which offered various training and workshops that focused on computers and high-speed internet. The technology fairs were open to the general public and were very well received.
C) Computers for the Community project allows for disadvantaged families that complete the mandatory computer classes to receive a refurbished computer along with one year of high speed internet service at a reduced rate.
What do you think of their organization?
It’s a great thing for rural Minnesota
And have they helped Thief River Falls?
Yes, I believe they have
Are you retaining Lincoln High School graduates or are they moving out of town?
Yes, many do stay. The trend in outstate Minnesota is the graduates have to leave to find a job and rural Minnesota towns are getting smaller. Thief River Falls is bucking that trend. Although TRF’s population has not grown significantly, I believe we are now. We are also making it possible for many of the nearby communities to maintain and grow their populations. Cities across Minnesota are wondering what is going in TRF.
How can technology improve the quality of life in TRF? And has it?
Yes, Digi key is a prime example of this. The Company is the fifth largest electronic distributor in the world. They have many web-sites in multiple languages all headquartered out of TRF. Just think you can work here and sell something to someone in China, India or Europe and within 48 to 72 hours it is on their door steps. That is just one example of making a living selling to the world while enjoying living in TRF. The Thief River Falls School District is implementing a new program during the 2013-2014 school year to provide every student from kindergarten to Grade 12 with a computer.
What do you think the biggest problem/hurdle facing TRF?
Right now it is lack of affordable housing. Our major employers need workers to grow and the workers need housing. We would hate to see some of the potential work go elsewhere.
What do you like best about your town?
Everyone is friendly and willing to help each other. For example, we had a terrible wind storm a few weeks ago. Following the storm, you saw neighbor helping neighbor and strangers helping too. TRF is a safe place to live with low crime. We have great schools and in general it’s a good place to live.
Conversely, what do you like least about it?
Nothing really? I love TRF!
Do you ice fish? Snowmobile?
I enjoy both winter and summer fishing. Just last week a local crew of about 35 of us spent a long weekend camping out, catching fish and creating memories. I often enjoy snowmobile excursions with family and friends. Being the snowmobile capital of the world, that is expected. We have theater, sports and a host of other good things to do. TRF is home of the Ralph Engelstad Arena, one of the premier hockey rinks in the state. Residents don’t ever lack fun things to do.
When does your term expire and are you going to run again?
My term is for two years. Things are going well and I’m learning lots of new things. I believe I have caught the “bug” and would indeed run again.
And don’t you just get tired of the cold or has global warming finally arrived?
No not really, we dress for the occasion or turn the heat up. I would miss the four seasons if I lived down south or in the desert.