Rugby - Homegrown Tools

Rugby, ND

Updated: 2022

Recognizing the lack of computer skills among its workforce, Rugby partnered with a state-wide training program to enhance the job skills of its citizenry. Its investment in workforce development is attracting new businesses to Rugby.

Median Household Income2020$49,405
Poverty Rate 202014.7%
Proximity to Urban Center 152 miles to Bismark, N.D.
Proximity to Interstate Highway 110 miles
Case Study Time Frame 1999-2005
Municipal Budget 2019796,599
Data Source: US Census, American Community Survey
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Rugby is a small town that has survived the economic transition by investing in its workforce. Historically, Rugby’s economy was based on agriculture and retail trade. Until the last five years, the local labor force lacked basic computer skills, much less training in more sophisticated technology. Gary Satern, the local economic development director, came to recognize that this skill deficiency was limiting the ability of existing businesses to compete. It also became a barrier for recruiting new competitive industries into Rugby. In response, Satern facilitated a partnership between the town and the Center for Technology and Business in Bismarck to develop a technology training program for the local labor force. As a result, one-third of Rugby’s labor force has received training and new, technology-driven businesses have located in town.


What are the lessons learned from this story?


Workforce investment can be a catalyst for improving a town’s economic prospects. The recent attraction of new employers to Rugby can in large part be attributed to the successful workforce training program it implemented. By improving the technical skills of workers, Rugby has increased their value and pursued a strategy that can attract and retain better- paying businesses. The success of the training program became a sort of marketing device as businesses heard about this small town and its trained labor force. Town leaders should see workforce training as a starting point for a number of development strategies, including entrepreneurship and business recruiting.


Resources are available to create training programs. Rugby partnered with the Center for Technology and Business as well as a number of state and federal agencies to devise and implement the training program. One of the federal agencies Rugby partnered with was the U. S. Department of Agriculture, which provides funding to many rural communities for technology education. The message here is for economic developers in small towns to know that funding is available from a wide variety of agencies and that forming alliances with them can be key to a program’s success.