North Dakota Tourism tells us there are a lot of visitors to our state during the summer months. And that’s true. Just take a drive through the Badlands or visit Medora and you’ll see all kinds of vehicles and license plates from out of state.
But tourism isn’t limited to those two areas. We have Lake Metigoshe, Fort Ransom, Garrison Dam, Devils Lake, the Pembina Gorge is now designated as a state park and others.
It doesn’t stop with tourism. People from out of state come here for business, some come to attend college, some are here for sporting events or concerts, while others might be here for other reasons, such as medical care.
For those of us who live around Minot or Grand Forks, when we see an out-of-state license plate, we almost assume it’s someone from either of the Air Force bases. That’s not always the case.
Yes, a good majority of them are military. Just the other day I saw a Puerto Rico license plate for the very first time in Minot and last year, we had a regular customer at our farmers’ market who had Hawaii license plates on her Volkswagen.
It’s also easy to assume that when you see Canadian license plates in Grand Forks, it’s because of shopping; people coming in from southern Manitoba to get better deals and avoid the GST (goods and services tax).
But this summer, there seems to be an explosion of Canadians in Minot. During the oil boom, Enbridge, a Calgary based company, set up an administrative building in Minot and employed roughly 50 people. When the oil boom tapered, the business closed.
Now, however, there are vehicles with Alberta license plates in Minot on a daily basis. You see them at Dakota Square shopping mall, you see them parked in downtown Minot and you see them at Roosevelt Zoo and even at Corbett Field.
Minot has always had a sliver of its economy based on the Canadian dollar. Unfortunately, it couldn’t hold a candle to Grand Forks or even Fargo for that matter.
It appears that might be changing and there are at least two reasons for it. No. 1, the Canadian dollar, on average, is about where it’s historically been for the past 50 years. No. 2, construction on Saskatchewan Provincial Highway 39 from the Trans Canada Highway to the U.S. border is now completed and traffic has increased dramatically.
That would explain an influx of Canadian visitors from Saskatchewan, but why Alberta. Why is Minot suddenly an attraction to Albertans?
If you look at southern Alberta alone, Calgary is a big city (652 miles away), and still closer to us than Calgary is Medicine Hat, a city in the southeast corner of the province which is much bigger than Minot. In addition, Great Falls and Glasgow, Mont., are closer than Minot to many Albertans, but they’re visiting Minot.
It would be a good guess that a number of Albertans were here for the North Dakota State Fair, but that’s now a month in the past and we’re still seeing Alberta vehicles every day, in addition to more Manitoba and Saskatchewan vehicles.
And, out on the highways, but not in Minot, there are numerous vehicles with Ontario license plates obviously passing through North Dakota on their way to somewhere in western Canada.
Whatever the reason, these people are staying in Minot, and most likely the surrounding communities.
Perhaps one thing to keep in mind is when a Canadian citizen uses a credit card at a restaurant for instance in North Dakota, they don’t have to deal with the exchange rate at that time. They’ll see it on their credit card bill, but there is now a convenience factor that makes it easier to spend loonies in a U.S. location such as Minot, Kenmare, Velva, Devils Lake or even Bismarck.
I’ve long been an advocate of creating incentives for Canadians to visit Minot and stay awhile. I was in college in Grand Forks when Manitobans “discovered” Grand Forks as a destination. Maybe that’s beginning to happen now in Minot.