Murphy’s Law 2020 #2 Rural groceries and Septic systems

January 18, 2020

Back in December, the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association board was briefed on efforts by the Interim Legislative committee known as Commerce in regards to the drastically shrinking numbers of rural North Dakota grocery stores. This week the Commerce committee met to further discuss and search for solutions. Testifiers spoke of reasons for the decline which includes lower prices in the larger cities, Amazon services to customer’s doors, the many new stores which did not traditionally compete for grocery sales such as Menards, pharmacies and Dollar stores. An explanation of how small stores suffer from upcharges from distributors because of small volumes as well as higher transportation costs was given. Also spoken of was how Dollar stores, as an example, can and do negotiate lower costs because they have nationwide buying power. Potential solutions were proposed by some such as the state helping with grocery building costs, repairs and even newer coolers that could reduce electric bills. One well explained idea about how to help came from the ND Rural Electric Co-ops Rural Development Director. She described a pilot project in northeast ND that is trying to see if a locker program (currently used widely in rural Australia) could be located in a rural city surrounded by smaller towns with or without small grocery stores. In brief, it is automated – a touch screen and codes for each customer, a truck would fill orders sent by the customer and deliver to the locker whereby the customer puts in a one-time code sent to them over a phone or tablet. The appropriate locker doors pop open with whatever their orders are and the customer takes the goods. It could be a private customer or a small store that uses this hub. Testifiers mentioned how the elderly and lower income folks are especially impacted by the higher prices that small rural grocers need to charge to stay open. Committee members are earnestly searching for solutions on this issue.
There is much more clarity when it comes to waste water/septic systems. Installers and regulators testified as well as counties. Everyone seems to want the state to set standards for how these systems are designed and installed and to license installers. Handling it would be the new split from the Health Dept. now titled Dept. of Environmental Quality. A technical board made up of installers and regulators would handle disputes. As one testifier put it; “All the parts of the car are in the room, but they are scattered all over the floor.” A can-do attitude was definitely the mood and a skeleton of a bill has been submitted. I think this one will fly by the coming session in 2021.