Small ND town sees silver lining from flood

Tuesday, May 19th 2009, 11:41 am
By: News 9

LINTON, N.D. (AP) -- Other than their newly crowned boys high school basketball champs, residents of Linton have had little to cheer about this year.
   One of the town's largest employers closed. Shortly after that, the spring floods came. Two Missouri River tributaries jumped their banks, washing out bridges and roads and damaging more than 70 homes in the south central North Dakota town of about 1,300.
   But residents believe Linton, about 60 miles south of Bismarck near the South Dakota border, is rebounding. The sandbags are gone and most of the once-flooded prairie is lush green pasture or tilled for crops. Outlying businesses damaged by high water have moved back to Main Street, filling all downtown buildings for the first time in about three decades.
   Leah Burke, president of the chamber of commerce and co-publisher of the town's weekly newspaper, calls it "revitalization through devastation."
   Gov. John Hoeven announced last week that Mohall-based Midwest Teleservices International Inc. plans a new call center in Linton that will employ about 50 people. The state is providing about $250,000 in loans to MTI to get the business started.
   "Linton has taken some tough blows," Hoeven said. "This is a real shot in the arm for them."
   Linton lost its American Express Business Travel call center, with 46 jobs, in January. The company said economic conditions forced it to close.
   Philadelphia businessman Hal Rosenbluth established the call center about two decades ago, saying he wanted to help farm families during the drought of the late 1980s.
   American Express took over the center in Linton in 2004, and shared the building on the outskirts of town with tax-preparation company H&R Block Inc., which employs about 50 people.
   Sharon Jangula, the Linton-area development coordinator, said MTI had planned to open its call center in the building before it was wrecked by record spring flooding.
   "It would have been a turnkey, plug-and-play call center but the building was heavily damaged," Jangula said. Now, MTI will move to Main Street, in a newly refurbished building that had been home to a clothing store and a fitness center in recent years.
   H&R Block moved its operations to a vacant building that had housed a grocery store until last year.
   "Not much good comes from a flood, but one bright spot has been the revitalization of downtown," Jangula said.
   Burke, of the chamber of commerce, said the town has about 60 businesses, about half of which are on downtown's main drag, including a hardware store, a grain elevator, four bars and three churches.
   Burke said spring flooding that brought destruction to town also recharged an area lake, which will have its boat launch open for the first time in several years. She said businesses are expecting an increase in boaters and campers stocking up on supplies.
   "That's a silver lining," she said.
   Duane and Mary Tschosik, who own a bakery downtown, have noticed an uptick in sales with the relocated call centers.
   "It's good to see these buildings being filled up, especially in today's economy," Duane Tschosik said.
   Mary Tschosik said she comes from four generations of Main Street business owners. She said her great-grandfather operated a livery stable, her grandfather owned a creamery and her father ran a bar.
   She said she hasn't seen as much traffic downtown in decades.
   "It was depressing to look out there," Mary Tschosik said. "It's nice to see cars back on Main Street."
   Danielle Stoppler will be happy to park her vehicle downtown, once she starts work at the new MTI call center later this month.
   "I think it's going to be a great opportunity but we'll see," said Stoppler, who's been selling cars and substitute teaching in town. "In these little towns, you just don't know how long the job is going to stay."
   Stoppler, who's originally from Southern California, could do without traffic. But in Linton, it's welcome.
   "I saw four cars at the only four-way stop in town and it was like gridlock," she said. "It's kind of nice. It's like people live here again."