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CoBank Supports Rural Grocer Development Project in North Dakota

MANDAN, N.D. — An economic development project targeting rural grocery and retail food distribution in northeast North Dakota is receiving significant support from CoBank, a national cooperative bank serving vital industries across rural America. CoBank is committing $190,000 to the North Dakota Rural Electric & Telecommunications Development Center, operated by the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives (NDAREC).

Over the last four years, the center has been working with rural grocers in North Dakota on ways to strengthen rural grocery enterprise. The center and rural grocers are assessing the challenging economics of operating grocery stores in communities of 2,100 or less. These challenges include high costs of transporting grocery inventory to retail outlets, capital improvements needed at rural grocery facilities and the lure of rural shoppers to low cost metro area grocery retailers.

The pilot project will cover the counties of Cavalier, Pembina, Walsh and Ramsey in northeastern North Dakota and the Spirit Lake Reservation. This is a 5,618-square mile area with a population of 37,881, roughly 6.7 people per square mile. Researchers will work to identify strategies to improve prices, access, variety and quality of grocery products for stakeholders such as rural grocery stores, restaurants, convenience stores, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, local food producers and suppliers. Comprehensive data will be used to engage stakeholders in the development of these strategies. Once viable opportunities are identified, the project will provide stakeholders with assistance to capitalize on them. Ultimately, the project hopes to change the way food is purchased and/or distributed in rural areas.

“We are excited to be part of a project that will make a significant difference in the lives of rural North Dakotans,” said CoBank President and CEO Tom Halverson. “People in rural America face challenges every day that are unique, and access to fresh and healthy food at a reasonable price should not be one of those challenges.”

Members of the North Dakota Congressional delegation are expressing appreciation for the rural grocer support work that the center is conducting and gratitude to CoBank for its support of this effort.

“We appreciate the efforts of NDAREC to support a higher quality of life in our rural and tribal communities, and we continue working to support them in this important mission,” said Sen. John Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee and the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. “This pilot program holds the promise of ensuring rural residents have greater access to affordable, high-quality food options across our state. Thanks to CoBank and everyone involved in moving this project forward.”

“Every day, I fight to help rural America overcome our challenges, and convenient access to food options is one of them,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said. “CoBank’s support will help this initiative identify innovative solutions to break down the barriers communities face in accessing fresh, healthy and affordable food options. I look forward to the results of this project and continuing to work with NDAREC and other partners to improve lives in rural North Dakota.”   

“New strategies in rural food distribution have the potential to significantly enhance the quality of life for those living in rural North Dakota,” said Rep. Kevin Cramer. “This pilot project is a direct result of the commitment by many North Dakotans to network, collaborate and innovate. I commend everyone whose involvement made this pilot project possible and I look forward to continue working with you to develop long-term solutions.”

NDAREC and its rural development center added its strong expression of appreciation to CoBank for supporting this rural grocer initiative.

“We are very grateful to CoBank for this strong showing of financial support for our work in the critical area of food access in rural North Dakota,” said Rural Development Director Lori Capouch, NDAREC. Capouch added the North Dakota Rural Electric & Telecommunications Development Center has devoted considerable research, consultation and organizational efforts to rural grocery and rural food distribution stakeholders in North Dakota. The CoBank contribution will help extend this work.  

“North Dakota’s cooperatives are committed to helping rural communities thrive,” says Josh Kramer, NDAREC executive vice president and general manager. “In order to solve some of the most pressing challenges, it takes a team of committed folks willing to cooperate by dedicating, time, talent and resources. The work of our rural development team exemplifies teamwork and commitment in every way.”

CoBank is a member of the Farm Credit System, a nationwide network of banks and retail lending associations chartered to support the borrowing needs of U.S. agriculture and the nation's rural economy. In addition to serving its direct retail borrowers, the bank also provides wholesale loans and other financial services to affiliated Farm Credit associations serving approximately 70,000 farmers, ranchers and other rural borrowers in 23 states around the country. Headquartered outside Denver, Colorado, CoBank serves customers from regional banking centers across the U.S.

NDAREC is the statewide trade association for 16 electric distribution cooperatives and five generation and transmission cooperatives operating in North Dakota. The distribution cooperatives provide electricity to more than 250,000 North Dakotans along more than 200,000 meters. NDAREC services include legislative advocacy, line worker safety training and professional development services, cooperative business development, and communication services including publication of the North Dakota Living magazine.


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