Thief River Falls Mayor Brian Holmer elected president of Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities board

·3 min read

Aug. 5—THIEF RIVER FALLS — It's been an eventful last few years for Thief River Falls Mayor Brian Holmer.

The coronavirus pandemic hindered business throughout the region in 2020, but the local effect was mitigated somewhat by the arrival of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline, which produced an economic windfall as workers converged on the region.

Business continues to move forward in the northwest Minnesota community — massive Digi-Key will host the grand opening of its expanded facility on Aug. 17 and a

new brewpub recently opened — and Holmer recently told the Grand Forks Herald he plans to seek re-election.

Now, Holmer has been elected president of the board of directors of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, a nonprofit organization that advocates for more than 100 communities outside of the metropolitan Twin Cities area.

"I guess all of the support of other mayors and council members throughout the state put me into this position (to be elected the coalition's president)," he told the Grand Forks Herald. "I have a gift of gab and the power to persuade when it comes to advocating for rural Minnesota and the state's smaller communities."

According to its website, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities traces its roots back to the 1970s, when mayors from a handful of outstate Minnesota — the term "outstate" defines Minnesota's geography outside the immediate Twin Cities metro area — communities felt they were not receiving enough consideration during sessions of the state Legislature. What began as a 13-city group now includes more than 100 member cities.

Holmer takes over for outgoing President Pat Baustian, of Luverne, a community of 4,500 in the extreme southwest corner of the state.

Holmer expects to use his one-year term advocating for local government aid (also known as LGA) issues, as well as trying to solve workforce, housing and child care shortages, he said. LGA is a regular concern for communities across the state, since it helps cities cover costs for needs that cannot necessarily be paid by property tax collections. The Minnesota Department of Revenue defines it as "a general purpose aid that can be used for any lawful expenditure" and notes that "it is also intended to be used for property tax relief." Every city in the state receives the funds.

More than $500 million went to communities in 2022. Thief River Falls received a little more than $3.2 million.

Not that it hasn't been a good past couple of years for the Pennington County community of 8,700, Holmer said. The workers associated with the Enbridge project helped immensely, for example.

"It was huge for our area. They started up in December (2019), just before the pandemic. And then the pandemic began and we went through the shutdown here in Minnesota," Holmer said. "A lot of our businesses adapted. Our restaurants had take-out meals for the pipeliners, which kept them afloat. When the doors finally opened up, our (businesses) were ready. The flow of pipeliners really boosted our economy. From local hardware stores to convenience stores, to my meat market, to grocery stores, we all saw the benefits of the pipeline coming through."

Now, he said, Thief River Falls' business district is stable, but seeing the effects of issues that tend to be present throughout the region, including shortages in workforce, housing and child care.

"That's kind of the three-legged stool that I'm trying to stand up here. It's tough," said Holmer, who has served eight years as mayor. "But all in all, we're a booming community that's trying to grow, along with the pains that come with growth."