Despite chronic worries about the state of the area’s economy, construction in Grand Rapids set a few records last year.
The city issued nearly $40 million worth of building permits last year and issued 19 percent more permits than the year before, according to statistics from the city’s Community Development Department.
Rob Mattei, the department’s director, said this year’s total permit values eclipsed the previous record set in 2002 — when the Robert J. Elkington Middle School was built — by more than $3 million.
Several large projects in the city buoyed this year’s total, Mattei said, including the $12 million Super Wal-Mart project and the multi-million dollar Timberlake Lodge project. The 2007 total easily surpassed the three previous years, which averaged approximately $20 million in permitted construction.
While the permit numbers cannot predict how the 2008 construction season will pan out, it is a sign for some that the area is somewhat immune to national trends and a generally negative outlook on the country’s economy.
“We are an economy within ourselves in Northern Minnesota — it’s got everything and it’s all self-contained,” said Peter McDermott, president of Itasca Economic Development Corp. “We are sort of a micro-economy up here.”
While McDermott did not discredit all of the effects of national trends — the slumping housing market played a major role in the closure of the Ainsworth oriented strand board plant — the opposite effect can also increase the region’s prosperity.
“We also get hit on the positive side when China has an increased demand for iron ore,” he said.
For people like McDermott and Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce President Bud Stone, whose job it is to help grow the area’s economy and create jobs, a slowing national economy can change their focus.
“The media has a lot to do with the economic downturn,” Stone said. “The media can blow these things up and cause these things to happen. You have to be realistic as to what the real challenges and who the real enemies are.”
Continued growth in the other business sectors in Grand Rapids has also helped the region, McDermott said.
“We’ve had a significant amount of retail growth, which contributes to a positive mindset toward business in the community,” he said. “As long as the national economy doesn’t affect projects like Minnesota Steel, we should be fine.”
And, as Stone alluded to, experience can be the best teacher.
“We’re kind of used to the boom-bust cycles around here, people don’t panic,” he said. “As long as you go to work everyday with a positive attitude, a recession is just a little bump in the road.”
And, like the economic events before it, Stone said, “This too shall pass.”