(editors note: This blog was written by someone who expressed a desire to bring this subject up for discussion. It was not written by bemidjimike, but by someone who is close to the building and trades community. He wishes to remain anonymous.)
My dad always bought vehicles from our local car dealer.Â When it was time to upgrade the family vehicle, he would head down to the local dealership.Â If they didnâ€™t have it, we didnâ€™t need it.Â One year he was looking for a larger vehicle to easier transport two growing boys.Â All the dealer had on hand of any size was a 1985 Buick station wagon.Â Brown in color no less.Â We drove it home. A couple years later, he bought a conversion van that Frank Poncherello (C.H.I.P.S) would have been proud to own.Â Fur dice and all.Â Times were different.Â We seemed to take more pride in buying localâ€¦..no matter what it wasâ€¦â€¦or maybe it just seemed that way because there were less options.Â Â
With the retail big box stores coming to Bemidji over the past 10 years or so, we often hear people emphasize â€œbuying localâ€.Â We donâ€™t always include our construction trades .Â â€œBuild localâ€ has been a term we have heard more recently with the slowdown in new construction.Â I bet some of the older generations could look at an old building in Bemidji and still tell you which contractor built it.Â Maybe even which mill the lumber came from or where the bricks were made.Â A new building in town was a sign of progress.Â There was a lot of pride in building something with local materials and local tradesmen.Â Infastructure seemed to define and indentify communities back then.Â
We have been fortunate to have some large projects going on right now in Bemidji and some more on the way.Â The slowdown in the economy has hit the Metro areas hard, which has brought a lot of construction bidders up here to try and win some work.Â They seem to have won a lot of the larger projects going on around here.Â Some of those projects are funded with city or county tax dollars which brings up an interesting question.Â Should local projects funded with local tax dollars have restrictions in place to give our local contractors a bid advantage?Â Or maybe a percentage of the work force must be from Construction firms within a 100 miles of Bemidji?Â Or within Beltrami County?Â The city of Bemidji alone averages about $40MM in building permits each year.Â Imagine the economic impact to our city and area if all those dollars remained local?Â Local payroll.Â Local materials.Â Local tax revenue.Â How many jobs would that create?Â Or in todayâ€™s crazy economy, how many jobs would that retain?Â Think of the multiplier of those dollars when you consider that $40MM re-spent back into our community.Â Our local economic development folks say a conservative estimate would be 3 times or $120 Million.Â Wow!Â And thatâ€™s just the city of Bemidji.Â
One would argue that even though out of area contractors have won some of the jobs, they are still spending money locally.Â Local lodging, restaurants, gas stations and more do have significant revenue from these out of town contractors.Â Look at what the pipeline did for the Bemidji economy over the past 18 months.Â I would agree with that statement.Â However, unfortunately, that type of spending is temporary.Â As soon as the job is completed, they are back home.Â Our local contractors live here (real estate tax base) and spend here (sales tax revenue) 365 days a year.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
It would be great if we could award more construction contracts to local companies.Â I would imagine our local officials feel the same way.Â But State and Federal guidelines set the rules of bidding on government-financed projectsâ€¦â€¦.the lowest qualified bidder.Â Our city and county follow the same rules. In doing a little research at the MinnesotaÂ Office of the Revisor of Statues website, there are pages and pages of bidding procedures and statutes.Â Taking the lowest bid seems to be the least complicated.Â I would guess our local officials continually research all possible options to award more work locally when they can.Â There is a lot of red tape at the State and Federal levels.Â Â Â
We have a very talented work force in the area and the University and technical colleges continue to add to that skilled work force.Â We need to find ways to keep these people here.Â Building local is a good start.