Proposal would make tribes investors in off-reservation development

David Fettig | Editor

Published July 1, 1992  | July 1992 issue

After likely construction later this year, an airplane maintenance facility in Grand Forks is expected to eventually create 650 jobs at $12 to $15 per hour, and may create as many as 1,000 more jobs indirectly. And, if an associate professor of geography at the University of North Dakota has his way, North Dakota's Indian reservations will be landlords to the project.

Lowell Goodman's financing plan, unique in the state, would use $30 million to $40 million of combined tribal funds to finance the project, which has been approved by the Grand Forks Airport Commission. The commission's approval is contingent on the agreement by one major airplane manufacturer to use the facility; that agreement is forthcoming, according to Goodman.

The maintenance facility is in response to new regulations that require all planes, domestic or international, to meet certain new specifications, especially for 727s and DC9s, Goodman says. The site will consist of two hangars, one 102,000 square feet and the other 74,800 square feet. Grand Forks is an ideal site because of its central location within the states and because of the relatively short trip to Europe over the North Pole (about 4,000 miles). Also, new regulations require that all such work now be done inside a hangar, Goodman says, meaning cold-weather sites like Grand Forks can now compete with southern cities.

Goodman's idea to use tribal financing is purely an attempt to incorporate the reservations in an economic development opportunity that—because of its location—normally would not involve them. Not many major development projects occur on the reservations, says Goodman, who was hired as a consultant by the Commission, and he says the maintenance facility would be a good opportunity for tribal entrepreneurship off the reservation. "I think it would be a good marriage," Goodman says, adding that other lenders are ready if the tribes decide to pass.

In May, Goodman was unsure of the tribes' response to his proposal, but one tribe that may not accept the deal is the Devils Lake Sioux Tribe, according to Doug Sevigny, head of planning for the tribe. While tribal officials view the facility as a likely good investment, they were unsure of the wisdom of such a large investment outside the reservation, Sevigny says. Perhaps other leadership, at another time, would be more forthcoming to such a proposal.

Goodman hopes to press his case to the tribes into the summer months; foundations for the proposed facility are set to be poured later this fall.