'It's the culture' — Perham continues to see growth in 2022 economic development report

The 2022 Perham EDA report confirms what many have already suspected: the town just continues to grow.

Construction workers build the entrance to the new addition to St. Henry's in summer 2022, one of the multiple economic developments throughout the year.
Perham Focus file photo
Perham EDA Director Nick Murdock
Perham Focus file photo

PERHAM — Another year has passed since Perham's last economic development report, but the town continues to see growth. It has so much economic growth, in fact, that it continues to amaze surrounding Minnesota communities.

"It's funny, because being from Perham and just knowing how it works here, you usually take it for granted until you go out and start talking to people," said Economic Development Authority (EDA) Director Nick Murdock. "When I first started here, I was like, 'This is normal.' And then I get into meetings with other people that do what I do from other communities, and they're just like, 'How do you do it? What do you do that's different?' I get calls from the chamber of commerce or EDA from like Staples and Crookston, and they're specifically calling Perham because they see what's happening here."

Though Murdock is still working on finalizing the 2022 Perham EDA report, he took some time to share some particularly relevant findings from the rough draft. The population within city limits is currently 3,512, following the projected population growth of 1.41% or 48 people per year.

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This graph from the 2022 Perham EDA report depicts Perham's gradual population growth.
Contributed / Nick Murdock

Fifty-one residential building permits with a value of about $3.2 million were issued in 2022. Though this is lower than 2020's 87 permits with a $5.5 million value, and 2021's 65 permits with a $4.4 million value, Murdock said 2020-21 were huge growth years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Residential growth is leveling out again, similar to how it was in 2019 prior to the pandemic: 71 permits with a $1 million value.


"(Population growth and housing development) is the chicken and the egg," Murdock said. "Basically, you need the housing to get people to move here, and our vacancy rates are still really low. It just seems like as much housing can get built here — it just gets eaten up. The Grow Perham 24-unit complex that they just built over at Marks Home and More? It's full."

Commercial building saw a similar trend as housing development: a boom in 2020-21, which leveled out in 2022. In 2022, 28 permits with a value of $11 million were issued, which is similar to 2019's 32 permits worth about $11.2 million. 2020 had 36 permits worth $22.7 million, and 2021 had 28 permits worth $29.1 million.

These are the types of projects that amaze people who visit the Perham area. A couple years ago, a few representatives from the League of Minnesota Cities even came to tour Perham, Murdock shared. One representative from a district in St. Paul said she would kill to have developments like St. Henry's new school, the new Arvig headquarters, the Bongards project and more.

"That says a lot when you think," Murdock continued. "She's representing 250,000 people. So we're blessed to have the progress in building that we have here."

Though building developments are something the Perham EDA report studies each year, the 2022 report also included a new analysis of traffic. An outside company helped Perham report on location tracking via mobile devices with their location services activated. This data shows how many visitors come to Perham, when they visit, where they come from and what they do in town.

This data estimated that about 642,900 visited downtown Perham in 2022. The software also found that this was an increase of 2.6% in visitors from 2022 and a 31.4% increase from 2020. Large spikes in visitors also occurred during community events in 2022, such as Turtle Fest, Crazy Days and Black Friday. When turtle races begin in the summer, the number of visitors also begins to increase.

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This graph depicts the spike in Perham visitors during events like Turtle Fest and Crazy Days.
Contributed / Nick Murdock

"(This traffic analysis) is something that, before mobile devices and location technologies, we weren't able to do," Murdock explained. "We could count people, but that's subjective. This (study) is not subjective.

The 2022 EDA report also noted all the new businesses — such as Schiller's House and Back on the Rack — and new business owners in the Perham area. Something interesting that stood out to Murdock while looking through previous years' reports is that many of the new businesses throughout the community are either owned or run by women. The entrepreneurial spirit is alive in Perham, he said, and women are taking the lead.


All these different developments are what contribute to a town that people from outside the community admire. When people call and ask Murdock what Perham does to create so many success stories, this is what he tells them:

"It's the culture," he said. "It starts with our businesses, really. They set an example for investing in the community, and that's what drives everyone else to want to be better. It's not exactly feasible in every community if they don't have the industry or businesses that are willing to invest in their community. We've had some big ones set the standard, and it works."

Elizabeth (she/her), 24, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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