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Central North Dakota town braces for loss of Canadian Pacific jobs

NuLine Insurance Services Owner Chad Friese, left, and Mark Friedt, rural market president of First International Bank and Trust, stand in front of the Canadian Pacific Railway in Harvey, N.D., Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. CP is moving positions out of town, which could ripple through the local economy. John Hageman / Forum News Service1 / 2
Rail cars sit near the water tower Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, in Harvey, N.D. Canadian Pacific is moving positions out of town, which could ripple through the local economy. John Hageman / Forum News Service 2 / 2

HARVEY, N.D. — Civic leaders in this central North Dakota town expect Canadian Pacific's decision to pull dozens of jobs out of the area to have sweeping effects on a local economy that's become intertwined with the railroad since it sprung up along the tracks more than a century ago.

The company plans to decommission its Harvey terminal on or after March 15. About 12 of the 73 train and engine positions based in Harvey will remain after the change, but mechanical, engineering, signals and communications positions won't be affected, a company spokesman said.

The implications of that decision have government and business officials worried about the future of a town that can trace its founding to the construction of the Soo Line Railroad. They said it will affect every local business to some extent, and the housing market and school enrollment are expected to take a hit.

"These are the people who sit in the pew on Sunday," said Mark Friedt, rural market president of First International Bank and Trust. "These are community members. They are not here to collect a paycheck and just go to their job. This is their home."

Canadian Pacific, based in Calgary, said the move was prompted by investments in its track and signal infrastructure that made its rail corridor safer and boosted efficiency.

"With higher speeds and an efficient signaling system in place, most crews can make the trip from Enderlin to Portal, without stopping in Harvey for a recrew, within the federally mandated 12-hour work period," company spokesman Andy Cummings said in an email. "For trains that cannot make the full distance, our new crew base at Minot will be better positioned to handle the workload."

Friedt said local railroad workers declined to talk to a reporter, and a man inside the CP building in Harvey deferred to company officials elsewhere.

Cummings said workers will have a job at CP "if they want it." Relocation assistance is available, he said.

"We do not seek to erase or forget what came before, or the generations of dedicated Soo Line and CP workers that have called Harvey home," he said. "They will always be part of our company's rich history."

But Harvey officials were clearly frustrated by the move. Friedt said "this was ripped out from underneath of us on such short notice," and Mayor Ann Adams said it shows how large corporations "only care about the bottom line."

A railroad town

Harvey, a town of more than 1,700 people in Wells County, was founded in the 1890s when the Soo Line was built, according to a "community fact survey" on file at the State Library in Bismarck. A steam engine is on display in a local park named for Soo Line, which became a wholly owned subsidiary of Canadian Pacific in 1990.

The rail line runs from Portal at the Canadian border to North Dakota's southeastern corner, passing through Minot, Carrington and Valley City on its way to the Twin Cities.

Canadian Pacific recorded $6.2 billion in revenue in 2016. Nearly a fourth of its freight revenue that year came from grain, and it serves 84 grain elevators in North Dakota.

Harvey is hardly alone in crediting the railroads for its founding. The lines connected the wheat fields of the Dakota Territory to major markets elsewhere, and towns along the tracks acted as "commercial centers" where farmers sold their crops, according to the State Historical Society.

Today, business and government officials said the Harvey community is still closely connected to the railroad. Indeed, 40 percent of the few dozen businesses polled by local leaders employ someone whose spouse or partner is employed by Canadian Pacific.

Taxable sales are expected to decline by up to $2.95 million per year due to the loss of CP jobs, leading to a $53,000 drop in annual sales tax income for the city of Harvey, according to figures provided by Chad Friese, the owner of a local insurance business and a board member for the Harvey Job Development Authority, which gathered the economic impact figures.

"We have businesses that are 100 percent CP rail," Friedt said. "They will close when this happens."

Community leaders have reached out to members of the state's congressional delegation and state leaders, and Lt. Gov. Brent Sanford visited last month to hear about their concerns. Locals formed a new entity, dubbed Operation Community Partnership, to raise awareness of the move's economic impact and to lure new businesses to help fill the massive void Canadian Pacific will leave.

"We know we can't stop them, but we're looking to the future," Adams said.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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