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ND Forum: How Coal Communities Can Build for the Future

Miners in Beulah, N.D., have seen layoffs as the coal industry declines across the country. (Andrew Filer/Flickr)
Miners in Beulah, N.D., have seen layoffs as the coal industry declines across the country. (Andrew Filer/Flickr)
September 26, 2019

BEULAH, N.D. – Towns in coal country are considering what happens next as companies and the fuel hit hard times.

Next week, the North Dakota mining town of Beulah hosts the Building Resilience in Coal Country Community Forum, featuring speakers with knowledge on economic diversification, revitalization and rural planning.

Jack Morgan is the community and economic development program manager for the National Association of Counties, which is studying how communities can work through economic stresses.

He says it's important for communities to invest in their place, including natural landscapes and the recreation economy, as well as infrastructure such as broadband Internet, and also in the workforce and related sectors for dislocated workers.

"Coal reliant communities really have a sense of self-reliance and grit, and they're equipped with that grit to bounce back from anything," he states.

Morgan adds that communities planning for the future should have a diverse group of stakeholders at the table, consider how to keep young people in communities and study non-traditional economic development.

The forum starts at 7 p.m. Oct. 3 at the Beulah Civic Center. It will include an open discussion with community members.

Kelli Roemer is a doctoral student at Montana State University who has researched transitioning coal communities in the West. She says they need to address tax revenue replacement, link reclamation activities to workforce opportunities and be open and willing to address change.

Roemer says there also should be an onus on the society at large – including local, state and federal governments – to offer help, considering how these communities have supported the nation.

"Many of these communities supplied energy that supported the growth of our urban centers and our country for the last 40, 50 years," Roemer adds.

Morgan notes it isn't realistic to think a wholesale transition will happen overnight. As industries such as coal decline and dislocate workers, he says it's important to have many opportunities open.

"We also encourage to not think about getting all the jobs back at once if there's been big job loss and to think about small victories and hit for singles, not home runs," he states.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND