A Discussion with Ellen Huber
Since 2006, Mandan has been on a mission to change their business landscape through Ellen Huber, the Business Development & Communications Director of Mandan. I sat down with Huber and discussed what some of the most useful economic development programs and incentives are for business owners, what’s next for the city of Mandan’s business landscape and the most crucial resources for business owners in the Bis-Man area.
Mandan has a long history of cooperation and collaboration with Bismarck. When their Chamber of Commerce merged into one, they found there were still things that needed to be focused on specifically within Mandan, including the revitalization of the downtown area. The City Commission decided to create a business development position as a department within the city to focus on some of those economic challenges and needs—Ellen Huber started that position in February 2006.
“At the time, we had a tremendous amount of retail leakage and there were some areas that needed extra attention within the community. There’s a philosophy that if you grow your primary sector, the businesses within it will grow and create wealth,” Huber said.
Old 10 Bar & Grill
This renovation of a former shop for a heating and air business was renovated in 2019 to become the home of Old 10 Bar & Grill, a casual dining, full-service restaurant. The building project costs were offset in part by Renaissance Zone and Storefront Improvement programs. The restaurant business is receiving a five-year sales tax rebate through the Restaurant Rewards program
“When we finished the Restaurant Rewards Program, there were more successful restaurants in the city. We’re kind of getting frustrated with losing those deals constantly to Bismarck as our larger sister city. Some businesses gravitate toward the larger population center even when they look at the population and surrounding areas within the county that are of significance and have gone underserved. That was happening in our community, but the Restaurant Rewards Program allowed us to focus on something that was a specific need for our community that could result in improvement for Mandan.”
As many businesses across the country could relate to during the pandemic’s peak, Mandan in general didn’t get the supply and demand they were hoping for because of market-driven forces. During the pandemic, the city of Mandan assisted businesses with a wide range of tools and resources. This included giving assistance to and teaching business owners how to have a better online presence for E-commerce and other online solutions. “In general, our business community has done quite well. Still today, the aftereffects of global supply chain issues and the workforce are having a much bigger impact on businesses across the nation, impacting us right here in Mandan,” Huber said.
As they face issues from external events across the globe, the city of Mandan is currently focused on highlighting an incentive program with immense benefits that can be completed locally. City leaders noticed that some of the more dated buildings weren’t being purchased and updated, so they considered different ways to incentivize purchasing those buildings.
Hyundai Dealership and Bismarck
Mandan Motor Co. Auto Detail Center—an approximate $3 million investment in the renovation of these properties at 905 E Main St. and 805 E Main St. is being assisted in part with Mandan’s Storefront Improvement and Renaissance Zone programs. The project was completed in August 2022.
The Storefront & Landscape Improvement Program
The City of Mandan offers a Downtown Storefront Improvement Program, with the source of support for the program being the Mandan Growth Fund. The City launched the program to add momentum to the central business district revitalization process by offering matching funds to downtown businesses and commercial property owners for improvements to the exterior of buildings on street-facing sides. Over 40 commercial projects have been completed with nearly $500,000 awarded as matching funds for more than $1.9 million in improvement projects.
Storefront funds are provided in the form of a maximum $30,000 forgivable loan for up to 50 percent of the investment in rehabilitating a building façade. Up to $60,000 may be considered for a corner building depending upon the extent of the project and the amount of surface wall to be renovated. The interest-free loans are pro-rated and forgiven over the course of five years contingent on project completion and the building’s improvements!
The new, infill office building at 222 E Main St.
This building, owned by Dan Anderson, was constructed on a long-vacant corner lot but now provides professional office space for two expanding businesses: Legacy Law Firm & ICON Architectural Group. The project received Renaissance Zone five-year property and state income tax exemptions. The building was completed in 2021.
One common reason that some buildings weren’t being purchased was the rehab that they would require to get up and running as it would require heavy overhead costs from the start, particularly when a fire suppression system wasn’t installed and required to be up to code. Through the Fire Sprinkler Assistance Program, the city of Mandan aims to lower those costs for fresh or expanding business owners.
The Mandan City Commission approved a recommendation by the Mandan Growth Fund Committee to establish a fire sprinkler assistance program for those that can’t afford such a critical, life-saving tool at a moderate cost. Interested commercial property owners may apply for a forgivable loan, not to exceed $10,000, for up to 50% of their investment in the installation, upgrade or retrofit of fire sprinkler systems. The program is available citywide for buildings constructed before 2004. “Some restaurants and indoor gathering entertainment concepts in particular trigger those requirements and can become expensive. If buildings go through a change in ownership or use change, reopening under new ownership can require codes and standards that are ensured to have proper safety. We strongly encourage new adaptive uses for buildings that are already available so that those can be fixed in the process with some assistance in doing so along the way,” Huber said.
“I believe that one of the biggest business resources is simply having that line of customer service from the city, whether it’s getting people through approval and permitting processes, changes in zoning or submitting plans needed. We enjoy facilitating as a matchmaker and bringing the necessary people to the table that need to hear about a proposal and provide feedback on what’s required to say yes and get things going.”– Ellen Huber
“Through this program, we aim to assist with community development, support business retention and expansion, encourage private sector capital investment in fire safety improvements and upgrades to existing commercial structures and reduce commercial property vacancies and otherwise optimize the use of existing buildings, thus improving community vibrancy.”
As city leaders continue to come up with ways to incentivize business owners across Mandan, they also look toward the future of Mandan’s business landscape. It’s evident that they’re aiming to revive the different business areas or districts in Mandan, as the Main Street area just received an 8,000-square-foot addition, as well as enhancements to the public gathering space and parks that are adjacent to our communities to host many festivals and events. This expansion gives business owners more reasons to want to be located in that area as there’s more traffic now.
In another sector, one of the most important factors in the city’s maintenance and improvement is the confidence of Mandan’s citizens and their willingness to invest in quality projects, such as the new elementary, middle and high schools in development around the area.
“These schools and the future of the youth’s education is so important to the community and I’m glad that the majority of the community is backing decisions on putting money into those projects,” Huber said. “Lastly, the Memorial Highway, known as ‘The Strip’, is another important area that we’re always looking to progress. Businesses located in that area are able to serve households with some of the highest per capita incomes in the state. There are a handful of business opportunities to be pursued that are located near the Missouri River and its surrounding areas. Furthermore, agribusinesses are on the rise in that area, which Mandan looks to assist in their growth in the coming years.”
“You see a number of agribusinesses located in that area because of our customers, producers and friends supporting local businesses. There’s also anything with big wheels in that area, whether it be dealerships for cars, motorcycles, ATVs, trailers and more. In Mandan, there’s a location for any type of business. It just depends on what their plan is and who they aim to serve,” Huber said.
504 W Main (Before and After)
Elaborating on the various locations being inspected for involvement in forthcoming plans, Huber continued to discuss plans involving the integral state highway in the area and its highly-anticipated plans for the next few years.
“We’re going to see the state highway reconstructed soon in 2023 or 2024. Engineers are making a plan with what to do regarding the ditches near the highway, as we’ve run into issues during rainstorms in the past. It’s going to be reconstructed in a fashion that lowers the roadway and puts in curbing to assist in stormwater drainage. I think it’s going to really bring about additional development. The plan will make it last for years to come and will greatly improve the attractiveness of those surrounding areas too,” Huber said.
While these incentives shouldn’t be seen as the means to profitability or success, they can most certainly help minimize risk, particularly for those businesses in their ramp-up years. When asked about what advice could be given to local business owners, or business hopefuls, regarding minimizing that risk, Huber had words of experience to share.
218 W Main St (Before and After)
City of Mandan’s Other Business Assistance and Incentive Programs
- Brownfields Phase I & II Assessment Grants
- Fire Sprinkler Assistance Program
- Low-Interest Loans • Interest Rate Buydown
- Renaissance Zone Program
- Commercial Remodeling Exemption
- Storefront Improvement Program
- Retail Incentive Program
- Property Tax Incentives
- Tax Increment Financing (TIF) For more information, visit cityofmandan.com/incentives
420 W Main (Before and After)
“I would encourage business owners to take a look at the value that [the incentive program] provides. We aim to make sure that there’s transparency between the city and business owner, and let them know if there’s going to be a change in zoning required or modifications needed to meet today’s building or fire code requirements,” Huber said. “The opportunities or perks that can be provided to the workforce are there. We’re just trying to make them more transparent and beneficial for the business owners of Mandan as we keep trying to improve this city. The needs and current situations with every business within the community are always changing, so we’re just trying to stay one step ahead and always explore what would help them the most.”
The city of Mandan is working with business owners and employees for any services they may need. Whether their goal is to start up, expand or launch childcare services, they’re always exploring and making different programs available to take the proper course of action for their local businesses
Contact Ellen Huber at The City of Mandan
Phone: (701) 667-3485
Email: [email protected]
Address: Mandan City Hall
205 Second Avenue NW Mandan, ND 58554