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As the community of Minnewaukan plans their economic future, it is important that attention be paid to the recent past and current economy of the community.

This economic understanding will enable local leaders and business people to better anticipate future economic problems, and it will place the needs of the local economy in a clearer perspective.


Minnewaukan lies in the North Central part of Benson County , along the shore of Devils Lake . Many early settlers came here to raise cattle and crops.  Agriculture is still a major part of the towns’ economic structure but other industries, such as, tourism and computer processing hold promise. Population of the town has declined from 450 in the late seventies to 318 counted in the year 2000 census. Several reasons have contributed to the decline in population like older citizens moving to towns with healthcare and senior housing, lack of jobs for younger persons, and changes in the agriculture sector. Generally the population losses primarily occurred as a result of deteriorating economic conditions in agriculture. This is clearly borne out by the lower numbers of people, particularly those of working age in the town. This out-migration is not likely to stop unless new employment opportunities come to town.

Benson County has a much higher percentage of families in the income levels below $30,000 annual income than the state income levels; and a significantly lower percentage of families in the income range above $50,000 annually than the state average. Minnewaukan is slightly above the annual income average of Benson County . A survey was taken in the late nineties to obtain a matching financial grant for a new lagoon. The grant was denied because the towns’ average income level was deemed too high for the grant requirements.

Fewer people in a town can adversely affect a businesses decision to locate in Minnewaukan.  Easy access on highways 281 and 19 from towns, such as, Devils Lake , Maddock, Leeds , Ft. Totten , and Carrington increase our labor force capacity. Commuting in North Dakota is common as most citizens have access to their own transportation.  A business that provides good paying jobs with benefits will have no problem attracting a quality work force in Minnewaukan.  Good pay will also attract potential employees by allowing them the chance to purchase nice homes at prices well below that of major cities in North Dakota .  


The largest employer in Minnewaukan is that of government entities. As the Benson County Seat Minnewaukan enjoys the luxury of being home to the County Social Services , Courthouse, Sheriffs Department, County Highway Department, and several other Benson County Departments.  The School system employs a large number of persons, as does the USDA Service Center . Our high rate of government employees is a major reason why Minnewaukans average income level is higher than that of the Counties.  

Agriculture continues to be the largest private industry sector. Farms have grown larger due to economics of scale; farms must become larger to survive. This has resulted in a loss of small farms and families which has been a key factor in the population loss. The trend continues to be larger farms but of real concern is the advancing age of farmers in general. High costs and risks are preventing younger farmers from taking over the family farm or starting a farm on their own.  Government financed credit programs are available to help younger farmers but lack of individual credit still prevents many from participating in them. Niche and specialty crops may provide small farmers high-income potential and are starting to prove successful. Markets need to be found for these niche and specialty crops, so many younger farmers can enjoy a life in agriculture.

Tourism, retail, and service businesses have for the most part held their own in Minnewaukan.  A grocery store, new convenience store, lounge, cafe, and motel thrive in town due to an huge increase in tourism.  Devils Lake once several miles from the town is now on the edge of the city limits. Fishing persons and hunters come here from across the state and nation, drawn by our lengthy seasons and abundant populations of waterfowl and fish.  The tourists dollars add to our retail businesses.  Minnewaukan contains two insurance businesses, several carpenters, several hunting/fishing guides a construction company, bank, flora/gift shop, and other small enterprises.  Businesses have remained stable since the early 1980's and provide their owners with a nice income level.  Employment is limited to owners but a few employment opportunities do exist. Tourism has the potential to enhance the towns economic conditions.  

Minnewaukan labor pool, as discussed earlier, consists of residents, both young and old, and the residents of surrounding communities. Within a thirty mile radios lie's Maddock, Leeds , Sheyenne , Cando, Ft. Totten , and Devils Lake . All the communities have the same situation Minnewaukan has in that a large part of those towns residents would like a job that pays well.  In many cases people will commute twenty to thirty miles for a good paying job. Several Minnewaukan residents commute to Devils Lake every day for work.  When looking at the current labor pool for a business in Minnewaukan, one will have to also look at the labor pool in the surrounding communities. Benson Counties Long Range Strategic Plan lists unemployment in 1999 at 357 people.  Many of those unemployed are from the Spirit Lake Nation Reservation but over 40 percent come from the rest of Benson County .  Many Benson County residents who are unemployed would commute to Minnewaukan as would a large number of persons looking for better pay or other work that suites their ability.  


From plowshares to computers and tourism.  As farms have grown larger over the years North Dakota 's rural communities have seen a decline in population due to the loss of farm families and main street businesses.  Replacing the loss of small farms and businesses due to less people are the challenges Minnewaukan and rural towns across the state have to overcome. Capitalizing on computer generated services and outdoor tourism features shall help towns grow and have a prosperous future.  

A major key to Minnewaukans future is the development of an computer information processing facility.  An information service center could provide up to 50 jobs.  A spot in Minnewaukans Business Park could be used to house a ten thousand square foot facility. The business park has access to telephone, high speed internet, electricity, water/sewer, available parking spaces, and located on main street.   


  • Located on Main Street .
  • Empty buildings in town can be used to house the center.
  • Business Park exits for a new building that will be equipped with high speed internet.
  • Job Service can help with training programs.
  • Employee's can be found from several communities.
  • Minnewaukan needs to maintain and build relationships with area economic development groups.
  • State Bank of North Dakota could help with financing options
  • Professional job seekers could be attracted by outdoor activities, small town atmosphere, and good school system.
  • Develop an economic incentive plan to promote towards new businesses and target computer service businesses.
  • Outdoor product catalogue businesses could be attracted to our outdoor town atmosphere.
  • Outdoor travel services are another option of interest.
  • Study possibilities of local investments for smaller local businesses.  

Computer and data processing services is projected to be the fastest growing industry n the economy, with employment expected to increase 80 percent between 2002 and 2010.  Job opportunities will be excellent for most workers; professional and related workers enjoy the best prospects; reflecting continuing demand for higher level skills needed to keep up with changes in technology. Computer specialists will account for almost half of all employees in the industry.  

Information services include data preparation and processing services, as well as information retrieval services.  Establishments may provide payroll processing, credit reporting, data entry services, and optical scanning services, as well as the leasing of computer time.  Usually information is collected from the clients databases, processed, and passed to other online subscribers, to contract users, or back to the client.  With the internet and electronic business creating tremendous volumes of data, there is growing need to be able to store, manage, and extract data effectively.  

While the industry has both large and small firms, the average establishment in computer and data processing services is relatively small: approximately 80 percent of establishments employed fewer than 10 workers. The majority of jobs, however, are found in businesses that employ 50 or more workers. Many small establishments in the industry are startup firms that hope to capitalize on a market niche. The computer related industries workforce remains younger than most, with large proportions of college grads receiving well paying jobs out of college. Minnewaukan could benefit immensely from a computer service firm hiring young workers and paying them well.  

North Dakota has one of the highest penetration rates for telephone service in the nation, with 98.9% of our people using wire line and wireless service providers as well as several resellers.  There are 20 North Dakota-based telephone cooperatives and small commercial companies in the state.  Internet, access is available to over 90% of our state's schools.  North Dakota has points of presence (POPS) strategically located throughout the state. The list of available telecommunications services includes ISDN, ATM, xDSL, T1, T3, Frame Relay, SONFT, satellite and cable.  

Minnewaukan has many advantages to offer to an information service firm, such as, a reliable workforce, quality educational system, a low property tax, low utilities, high-speed telecommunications and excellent highways.  In fact, we've discovered that the most compelling encouragement for businesses new to our town often comes from those who have enjoyed success here in the past and look forward to a bright future, thanks to the many resources Minnewaukan has to offer.  

High-speed telephone access and a reliable workforce can help both small and large companies effectively manage their databases and information services.

Both high-speed internet telephone and a computer reliable workforce exist in Minnewaukan and the towns city leaders are willing to work with any business wishing to use these tremendous assets.  


The rising waters of Devils Lake have provided an fresh economic opportunity to Minnewaukan.  Devils Lake attracts hundreds of fishing families to our small town every year. These fishing people come to catch plentiful Walleye, Perch, Northern Pike, and Muskee out of the giant fresh water lake.  Area businesses benefit from the dollars that are spent by the tourists. Houses have been purchased by fishermen for a place to stay at when they visit Minnewaukan.  Key resources are in place to attract more tourists to the town.  

Six years ago a small group of smart thinking town residents got together and set up a small dock, by the city lagoon, that stretched into the growing waters of the Minnewaukan Flats.  Those residents, such as, George Howard, Richard Peterson, Donny Thompson, Vern Thompson, Roger Huffman, and others set in motion the development of a permanent dock area that now serves thousands of fishing people every year. The Minnewaukan Community Club in conjunction with the State Game and Fish Department have constructed a dock which consists of a gravel parking area, steel rams for unloading/loading boats, one dock by the steel ramps, one off ramp dock, and rock rip rap protecting the beach.  A better ramp can be built using concrete flat slaps as rip rap to protect the beach and allow boats to ease closer to the shoreline. Also, two ramps can be placed into the water allowing better access into the busy dock.  Money is an issue towards improving the dock but by cooperating with state agencies and keeping expenses down future improvements can be made at the current dock.  

Another way to improve lake access is the development of a second dock location at the Minnewaukan dump ground.  Currently, the dump ground is used for limited trash dumping.  A new dump ground site will have to be found because the current site is an island surrounded by water on three sides.  The city council wants to develop the area for lake access along with the Community Club but both sides will have to come to an mutual agreement on certain issues. Once again money will be a sticking point and state agencies will have to help in the financing and development.  A large advantage to the new dock site will be more protection from the waves, which can make boat loading an adventure in the current docks location.  Less money will have to be spent on yearly maintenance as the shore area around the city dump ground does not need rip rap or dike protection. West end access to Devils Lake is important for Minnewaukans expanding tourism base and fishing persons want to fish the fresh waters that West Bay Devils Lake offers.  

Members of the Minnewaukan Community Club organized the development of an outdoor fish cleaning station.  Alan and Cathy Nord along with Richard Peterson, Randy Thompson, George Howard, Virgil Matthews, and others took the bull by the horns, devised a building plan, got financing, and put in many volunteer hours to build the project.  The fish cleaning station has added to the tourism services the town can offer to the tourists bound to visit Minnewaukan.  Plans to make the fish cleaning station a winter heated building have been developed but more project planning needs to take place.   

Other tourism services in place;            

            RV sites and motel rooms

            Creation of the Benson County Tourism Association

            New water lines and sealed streets

            Fishing tournaments

            Hike/Bike trails

            Historic sites and events

            Abundant game and fish

            Bird watching sites  

A Benson County wide hike and bike trail is being considered by several members of the Benson County Tourism Association.  The trail would connect all the cities of Benson County .  Minnewaukan, Maddock, Ft. Totten , Leeds , Esmond, and even smaller towns would be connected by a hike/bike trail that could be as large as a 125 miles making it one of the longest, continuous trails in North America . Hopefully, the hike/bike trail catches public support and several counties could form an alliance to develop the project.            

The state of North Dakota has designated tourism as a key too enhanced economic development.  Minnewaukan needs to forge ahead to develop relations with area development groups, State Commerce Department, local businesses, conservation agencies, and local residents to continue towards developing tourism opportunities for tourists to enjoy.  With the natural wonders of Devils Lake and surrounding scenic area's we are poised to carve out a tourism niche.  Thousands of potential tourists might soon be on their way to our community and Minnewaukan needs to be ready for them.  


Given Minnewaukans location on the edge of a rising Devils Lake , it is difficult to be precise regarding socio-economic impacts. However, it would appear that the community is experiencing an increase in its economic status.  

Despite the continued problems Devils Lake has caused Minnewaukan it has also increased economic tourism based activities.  Several individuals and businesses have taken advantage of the rising lake and Minnewaukan has an upward swing economically.  

It is important to note that between 20% and 25% of new jobs in the U.S. over the next ten years will be in computer service related businesses. The current growth of rural North Dakota towns will depend on the creation of computer related services. Certainly it is in Minnewaukans best interest to attract, create, and help develop computer/information services.  

Using the global internet highway and adopting to outdoor tourism will allow Minnewaukan a chance to secure it's future with growth and success.


The expansion of Devils Lakes water base has caused havoc with highway routes and local roads.  Highways 2, 281, 19, 57, and 20 have been raised several times during the last eight years. Over one hundred and fifty million dollars of road construction has taken place and more construction is on the way.  While, highways 2 and 19 have been raised to sufficient heights away from flooding danger, Highway 281 lies in several miles of danger.  Should the lake rise three feet 281 would cease to exist and many problems would impact travelers.  

281 runs through Minnewaukan splitting the town in half. Solutions have been studied by the North Dakota Department of Transportation and consist of changing the existing 281 Highway route to a couple of different area's or raising the current route by ten feet.  Many Minnewaukan residents want the current route to stay the same but that might not be the preferred route of the ND Transportation Department nor the Minnewaukan City Councils view.  

Excerpt from the Benson County Farmers Press, Richard Peterson Editor:

"A US 281 built up through Minnewaukan to a level of 1460 would be a disaster.  People living along the highway would lose most of their front yards. The stone church museum would likely have to be torn down.  Drainage would be totally disrupted.  It would be awful!

            If the highway is protected by a permanent dike, the cost of running the pumping stations in Minnewaukan to get rid of rainfall would be horrible. I guarantee that you wouldn't want to pay the taxes or fees that would have to be levied to cover such an expense.

            The subsoil in the lakebed is unstable.  If 281 were built on its present location, the road would be like a roller coaster, requiring excessive maintenance costs, as well as increased danger, there will be 25-foot ditches on both sides of the road.

            There are simply too many negatives.  Common sense dictates that the highway has to be moved to the west. But it's not going to be moved to the west because of the "wisdom"  expressed in this column. It will be moved to the west because the Federal Highway Administration simply cannot justify spending $30 million more than it has to in keeping the road in its present location."  

US 281 will be built but as of now we do not know where. The present location of the highway as was stated in the above article has many drawbacks and the most likely route of US 281 will be west of Minnewaukan.  This will mean less traffic through Minnewaukan and potentially less business customers for our service and tourism businesses. Where some people see doom and gloom many Minnewaukan residents and the city council see hope for a growing future.  

A business park could be built along the new route of US 281.Current businesses could move to the business parks location.  New businesses could be attracted to the business park with newly constructed lots near a major highway.  An engineering firm has given the city council pre-engineered quotes on expenses, such as, roads, water, and sewer lines.  Landowners would be willing to sell land towards a new business park. Once the location of US 281 is determined Minnewaukan should jump into action with the process of developing the business park along the determined highway location.

Costs are the major drawback of the project but preliminary costs do not seem out of line for the resources Minnewaukan has to offer. Preliminary costs are estimated at $250,000 - $400.000 for an access road, new sewer/water lines, and land purchases.  Recently, several large grants have been made to a pasta plant in Leeds , ND and for a hike/bike trail on the Spirit Lake Nation.  Those grants totaled around $1,100,000 and as of yet no significant gains in employment have been made in those towns because of the money. Minnewaukan could show a significant gain in employment with a new business park being able to attract new manufacturing businesses to our area.  Boat and boat motor manufacturers could set up in the park and use Minnewaukans tremendous lake access for test rides, commercials, and as a key selling point to customers.  Minnewaukan has no current location for a major manufacturing plant that would require 40,000 or more of square foot space.  The time is now to develop a business park along the route of the new projected US 281 Highway.  

Residential space exists South of Minnewaukans city limits. No commercial or residential development can occur on land below 1455 elevation and land above 1455 to 1459'11 can only be developed if fill is brought in to a height of 1460.

South of Minnewaukan the elevation sits at 1460 and above over most of the land running to Round Lake .  Round Lake and West Bay shores of Devils Lake could offer potential residents with beautiful lots for residential development.  As is with the business park project new streets, water/sewer lines, and zoning surveys would be expensive.  Bonds could be floated to meet the costs and developers might be required to sell lots to potential residents before utility projects will be developed.  

New residents area's and a business park should be part of Minnewaukans long range strategic plan.  Committee's need to be formed to look into expansion efforts with state and federal agencies being contacted for technical advice and financial support. Do not look at the new highway location as being a detriment but as an asset to future growth and plan to build new businesses along the highway, while allowing lakefront areas to grow with residential sites.  

First process in such ventures will be to re-create the Minnewaukan Enterprises Corporation.  Many of the members of the organization have served well and continue to do so. Other members are on the organization as just names and bring nothing to the enterprise corporation. Settle on a new board and bring enthusiasm back to the members.  Minnewaukan Enterprises and the city council could work hand in hand in the development of the new business park and attraction of businesses. The city council needs such an organization to help with financial options as the city works on zoning and permit processes.  Together both boards can bring about future expansion of Minnewaukan.  

The future looks bright for Minnewaukan but much work lies ahead. Look at the success of others and emulate that success while also being creative with your own ideas!

Members of the Minnewaukan
Economic Development Corporation:

  • Tom Lang-President
  • Richard Peterson-Sec/Tres.
  • P.A. Feist
  • Robert Eback
  • David Sears
  • Curtis Hvinden
  • Kay Griffin.