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Abstract

Southwestern North Dakota has historically been economically dependent on agriculture and the energy industry. Since the early 1980s, the region has experienced substantial out-migration and population loss as both the agricultural and energy sectors have undergone substantial consolidation with subsequent declining employment. The patterns of economic restructuring, out-migration, and population decline throughout the region led to the designation of the eight southwestern counties of North Dakota (a.k.a., State Planning Region 8) as a Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) zone in 1995. The USDA program was established to help address critical economic and community development issues unique to rural areas by facilitating a collaborative and citizen-led effort to stimulate economic development and diversification in the region. Tourism, particularly nature-based tourism, has seen substantial expansion in recent years and has been identified as a primary sector with growth potential. The purpose of this study was to: 1) identify opportunities for expanding the tourism sector in southwestern North Dakota, 2) identify challenges and obstacles facing the area's tourism businesses, and 3) frame key issues and outline some of the various perspectives related to each issue in order to facilitate a discussion of potential options.

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