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Grand Forks leaders point out possibilities, regional importance of Air Force base

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Grand Forks leaders are back from a trip to Washington, D.C., where they met with top Department of Defense officials to show what Grand Forks Air Force Base has to offer.

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- Grand Forks leaders are back from a trip to Washington, D.C., where they met with top Department of Defense officials to show what Grand Forks Air Force Base has to offer.

Though the trip didn't result in any agreements for more missions or aircraft at the base, Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown said that was never the point.

The mission of local leaders, so to speak, was to provide defense officials the courtesy of an in-person meeting and show them exactly how well the base and the area fits the Air Force's operations.

"We're far off from cementing a deal, but our capabilities are well in place for what the Air Force needs," Brown--one of nearly 10 local city, county and economic officials on the trip--told the Herald.

Brown said officials touched on a bevy of opportunities for the Grand Forks region, including bringing the KC-46 Aerial Refueling Tanker to the base, more arctic missions and the Grand Sky UAS tech park.

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The Air Force base is one of the most important economic engines for the region, with a $254 million economic impact on the area in 2014, and according to city officials the Air Force is in the midst of reviewing its investments as budgets in the armed forces shrink. City Administrator Todd Feland, who also went on the trip, said it's hard to overstate the base's value to the area.

"It's important to the economy, but it's also very important to the national defense structure," he said.

During the trip, delegates from Grand Forks had the opportunity to meet with Miranda Ballentine, assistant secretary of the Air Force for Installations, Environment and Energy, and James Brooks, executive director of the Air National Guard, among other ranking officials.

U.S. Sens.  John Hoeven and Heidi Heitkamp attended meetings between top defense officials and the Grand Forks delegates and met privately with the group as well. Delegates were also able to meet privately with staff from U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer's office, Brown said.

Feland said attendees received feedback throughout their trip, much of it positive. He said officials in Washington encouraged Grand Forks leaders to keep developing the public-private relationships around the base, like shared law enforcement and fire training as well as the Grand Sky UAS park.

"We got a good report card from everybody that we spoke to," he said.

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