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Claim to fame proven correct; with community's population of 2,800, and more than 2,900 jobs

By Louis Hoglund

Anybody who's been around Perham for more than a few hours has probably heard it:

"Perham is so prosperous that it is one of the few towns that actually has more jobs than population."

Most of us have heard, and probably recited, that often-repeated bit of local trivia. But is it really true?

"The statement does hold water," confirmed Economic Development Director Chuck Johnson.

As he was preparing for the Jan. 31 Perham Economic Development Authority annual meeting, Johnson decided to research available data and this was his conclusion: Perham's population is 2,800; the number of jobs in the town is more than 2,900.

With growth of the big "brand name" Perham companies, like Arvig Communication Systems, Barrel O' Fun, Kenny's Candies, and Perham Memorial Hospital and Home; the "more jobs than townsfolk" claim will continue to be accurate.

But it is important to remember that the prosperity of the community is also derived from dozens of smaller, lower profile businesses that are expanding or starting up.

In reviewing the local economy for the annual meeting, which drew a packed house of about 100 to the Don Swenson meeting room at ACS, Johnson summarized the economic activity in Perham over the course of 2007.

New home construction down in '07

There was really only one downside to 2007: A decline of housing starts. But that is a trend that is virtually nationwide. Perham issued permits for six new homes in 2007, when the average had been about 23 a year from 2004-2006, said Johnson.

The average value of the homes built in 2007 was also lower, at $140,000--compared to $200,000 in the previous several years.

New commercial construction exceeded

$4 million last year

But commercial building activity was strong, with more than $4 million during the year. This included a $2 million expansion at Barrel O' Fun, $1.4 million at Tuffy's, and $575,000 at Kenny's Candies.

The new city-run liquor store permit was also written in 2007, at $775,000.

Loan, incentive programs help

keep Perham competitive

Fueling economic development in Perham is an array of loan and grant sources. Businesses that were awarded loans and other incentives through the city EDA in 2007 include:

---Perham Family Dentistry, opened in the Happel Addition by Tammy Sturdevant, D.D.S.

---SaStone Salon, which opened in the Dollar Store mall in the Happel Addition.

---Greenspire Graphics moved back downtown, to the former NAPA storefront, to get closer to the retail district. Meanwhile, Greenspire sold its building, near Pamida, to Productive Alternatives.

---Redline qualified for loans and the JOBZ program, and is now building "dune buggy-style" sports vehicles in Perham. Called the "Revolt," the 75 hp machine has been getting "tremendous reviews" in the sport vehicle industry, said Johnson. Sales have been ahead of projections, and Redline is planning to unveil a new two-seat model in 2008.

---Ghost Runner, a cleaning, handyman, taxi and courier service, qualified for incentives to buy the former Lakeland Veterinary building on Main Street.

Perham has been aggressive in deploying loan programs and incentives. For example, there are 22 loans totalling $2.3 million through the IRP loan pool. Eight loans, totalling $448,000, are outstanding through the Revolving Loan Fund. Under the State Department of Trade and Economic Development loan program, there are five loans to Perham businesses, totalling $1.6 million.

New loan program aims at keeping

downtown vacancies to a minimum

Newly created last year was a special loan fund targeted at the downtown retail district, intended to fill vacancies.

The "Downtown Incentive Loan Program" offers zero-interest loans of up to $35,000, and a grant of up to $5,000. Pat Honer, who is renovating the former Kelly's Tavern building into three separate commercial rental units, qualified for the program. United Community Insurance is expected to relocate from its present location to one of the Honer rentals, which are on Main Street.

Greenspire's relocation to downtown qualified for the downtown program, as did Ghost Runner--which received a partial loan to aid its relocation.