Remote Roseau County defies odds

Minnesota State Roundup

Published April 1, 1991  | April 1991 issue

While recent studies show many small towns on the decline, the Roseau county towns of Warroad and Roseau are booming.

Located in a remote corner of northwestern Minnesota, Roseau County is the fastest growing of the state's 87 counties, calculated in total personal income, and the county's per capita income is among the highest in the state when measured against other rural counties.

Corresponding to the increased income levels is the county's population growth. Roseau County grew by 19 percent during the 1980s, largely due to a 50 percent increase in Warroad—from 1,200 to 1,800 during the same time period.

Two thriving home-grown businesses account for these numbers: Marvin Windows in Warroad, established after World War II by a local family, and Polaris Industries in Roseau, whose predecessor business was begun in the 1940s by a pioneer in snowmobile manufacturing.

Both companies experienced huge expansions in the 1980s. Both companies' increased their workforces over the past decade—Polaris from 11 to 1,000 and Marvin from 1,000 to 3,000. And, according to Roseau Mayor Bernie Burggraf, both have diversified their products to avoid the effects of market fluctuations.

Despite some cutbacks at both companies due to the current recessionary climate, Burggraf is confident that both companies can be relied on for continued steady employment. "Even though Roseau County is battling offers to these companies from other communities with promises of low or no taxes, the skilled workforce and pride of workers here wins out," Burggraf says. "Workers here give $1.10 of effort for every $1.00 of labor."

But the strain on the county experienced by all this growth is visible in the need for added housing and schools. "We've got contractors, plumbers, electricians, landscape people ready to go," Burggraf says. "All this activity also helps retail business," he adds through first-hand knowledge as a men's clothier in Roseau.

However, the rosy picture may be clouded by Marvin Windows' recent announcement that it plans to build a new window factory in Tennessee, where it manufactures doors, instead of expanding in Warroad. The decision is in response to charges for violating state environmental laws. And there is some concern that the new plant will take away existing jobs.

Kathy Cobb