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Commitment to community: Brewing small-town success through economic partnership

story and photos by Krista Rausch


For many people, Valley City is known as the home of North Dakota’s homegrown pizza, Pizza Corner, and if you’re from North Dakota, you know the spicy pies are a thing of legend. But, this small North Dakota town with its Americana charm has so much to offer. The community’s walkable downtown is a treasure trove of mom-and-pop restaurants, antiques, local art, quilting shops and more. And, thanks to a partnership between Valley City-Barnes County Development Corporation (VCBCDC) and the Rural Development Finance Corporation (RDFC), more unique businesses are setting up shop in the City of Bridges.


 

Nicki and Scott Brockopp turned their homebrewing hobby into a hometown business earlier this year, opening Brockopp Brewing in January on Valley City’s Main Street, thanks in part to financial assistance received through a partnership of the Rural Development Finance Corporation and their local economic development corporation.

A partnership built on Concern for community

Since opening its doors on Jan. 22, Brockopp Brewing has struggled to keep its biggest seller – the Forgotten IPA – on tap. The only brewery in the Sheyenne River Valley, Brockopp Brewing has earned its rightful place on Valley City’s Main Street.

“We’ve had a tremendous amount of support from the community,” says owner Nicki Brockopp. “We’ve had a lot of people come in and say, ‘I don’t even like beer, what do you have?’ or ‘I’m not a beer drinker.’ And we’ve found they usually find something that they like.”

There truly is something for everyone at Brockopp Brewing. The brewery typically has eight items on tap – four permanent selections and another four on rotation – offering everything from a coffee-infused brown ale to a cucumber mint hard seltzer.

The comfortable, homey feel of the brewery is a nod to its roots. A few years ago, brewing beer was nothing more than a hobby for owners Nicki and Scott Brockopp.

“I’d been homebrewing for a number of years. And the last couple of years, there were more people wanting to try the beer, more people asking about craft beer in general. So, [Nicki and I] talked about opening a brewery, and she decided we were going to do it,” Scott says.

“I got up one morning and said, ‘Scott, I’m calling Jennifer,’” Nicki recalls with a laugh.

Jennifer Feist is the director of development for VCBCDC, the local economic development entity. Feist worked with the Brockopps to identify available properties and develop a business plan. She also introduced them to an interest buydown program that would help bring their dream to life.

Partners in Assisting Community Expansion (PACE) and Flex PACE programs utilize a partnership between a local financial institution and the Bank of North Dakota (BND) to reduce the interest rate on a qualifying business loan to as low as 1 percent. To access a BND PACE/Flex PACE loan, a community economic development entity, such as VCBCDC, is required to provide local matching funds. To increase the amount of funds available for programs like these, VCBCDC has partnered with RDFC.

Founded in 1994 by North Dakota’s rural electric and telecommunications cooperatives and guided by the cooperative principle of concern for community, RDFC helps rural communities thrive by offering low-interest financing. RDFC loan funds help VCBCDC meet the community participation that is required by the PACE/Flex PACE program. For approved projects, RDFC will loan up to 50 percent of the participation requirement. This allows businesses to take advantage of a reduced interest rate. And for the borrower, the process is seamless.

It works like this – a local entrepreneur works with his or her lead lender to pursue a loan and discuss available business incentives. If the business qualifies for the PACE/Flex PACE program, its lender will work with BND and the community economic development entity to secure the interest rate buydown. At this point, RDFC enters the mix, providing 50 percent of the participation requirement for approved projects. Funds provided by VCBCDC and RDFC are paid back within 10 years or less and are returned to each entity’s revolving loan fund, allowing future applicants to benefit from the program.

In rural communities, the wish list is long, and the funding is tight. By partnering with RDFC, VCBCDC has been able to double the amount of businesses it’s able to assist through the PACE/Flex PACE program.

“The Flex PACE program is one of the most significant initiatives in which we’ve engaged to help service and retail businesses,” Feist says. “The impact of this program and the partnership with RDFC is substantial in that not only are we reducing interest rates and helping with cash flow, but there are projects that would not have gone forward without this. It’s a way to help spread some of the risk, especially over the first 10 years. It’s about sharing risk and building the community.”

Brockopp Brewing is among several businesses to benefit from the unique partnership between VCBCDC and RDFC.

Just up the street, inside the delightfully mismatched interior of Wild Prairie Bakery, another entrepreneur, Erin Hannig, serves warm breads and fresh-baked donuts.

“I drink a lot of coffee at midnight,” Hannig says with a laugh. “I come in anytime between midnight and 2 a.m. and start making donuts. We also do special order cakes, cupcakes, cookies, bars, kuchen, pies, caramel rolls, cinnamon rolls and muffins. We do a little bit of everything. And a pot of coffee is always on.”
 

Erin Hannig realized her dream of opening a bakery, Wild Prairie Bakery, with help from the Valley City-Barnes County Development Corporation and the Rural Development Finance Corporation.

For Hannig, owning her own bakery is a dream come true, and the interest rate buydown was a crucial component in bringing her dream to life.

“It was a huge help to us. I’m super thankful the program was there. We needed that help,” Hannig says.

Since 2018, RDFC and VCBCDC have provided the local match for 14 businesses in Barnes County, and those businesses are making significant impacts on their rural communities. They provide jobs and affordable housing, and give people a place to come together. They help keep communities alive. If people are the heartbeat of a community, its businesses are the backbone.

North Dakota’s electric cooperatives have long recognized the importance of these unsung heroes and are committed to helping them succeed. RDFC’s partnership with VCBCDC is only one example of the corporation’s commitment to rural communities. Using its revolving loan fund, RDFC has provided more than $6.5 million in low-interest financing to North Dakota’s rural communities, helping ensure access to a variety of essential services, including food, child care and health care. Additionally, RDFC has provided more than $300,000 in grants that directly benefit those same communities.

For the last 14 years, Lori Capouch has provided administrative support to RDFC in her role as the rural development director of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives. She says it’s been inspiring to witness the entrepreneurship of rural people.

“RDFC represents a network of North Dakota cooperatives that are concerned for the communities they serve. Our ultimate goal is to enhance our members' quality of life," Capouch says. "It's been a great joy to help people move their dreams forward and improve the communities where our members live, work and play.”

To learn more about RDFC and the programs available, visit www.ndarec.com.

Krista Rausch is communications specialist for the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives.

 

Investing in Rural
Projects benefiting from the partnership between the Rural Development Finance Corporation (RDFC) and Valley City-Barnes County Development Corporation (VCBCDC):
• A&W Properties, Wimbledon (affordable housing)
• Ashtabula Crossing, Lake Ashtabula (recreation, convenience store)
• Brockopp Brewing, Valley City (brewery)
• Dakota Silver, LLC, Valley City (liquor store)
• Foell Chiropractic, Valley City (chiropractic and physical therapy services)
• Meridian Apartments II, Valley City (affordable housing)
• Ridgeview Apartments, Valley City (affordable housing)
• North Star Ag (TC Land Partnership), Tower City (shortline machinery dealership)
• Tri W-G, Valley City (medical equipment manufacturer)
• Valley Bluffs, LLC, Valley City (affordable housing)
• Valley West 2, Valley City (affordable housing)
• Wagon Wheel/EconoLodge, Valley City (lodging)
• Wild Prairie Bakery, Valley City (downtown eatery)