“It’s practically impossible to look at a penguin and feel angry.”

– Joe Moore

North Dakota’s economy is doing exceptionally well due to energy and agriculture. Minot native and actor Josh Duhamel was recently paid nearly half a million dollars to boost the state’s tourism sector, so it is reasonable to assume that diversification in this sector is a priority.

I’ve been fortunate to work in several places where tourism has been done particularly well; Dubai immediately comes to mind. Despite competition from world-class public beaches, the tallest building on Earth, some of the best waterparks on the planet, the first seven star hotel, and reputation as the global mecca for shopping, the most famous attraction in the Emirate of Dubai is arguably the colony of penguins at Ski Dubai.

Obviously, this makes no sense. Dubai has an average temperature of something like 80 degrees Fahrenheit in a cold cycle and the whole thing is housed in a mega-mall that features an indoor downhill ski slope less than 100 ft from a Christian Louboutin. Kafka-esque setting aside, however, Ski Dubai offers the only facility in the world where general members of the public can pet, feed, and generally play with penguins without a barrier with the direction of a trainer.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]We clearly have a comparative advantage related to cold. Unlike the Dubai penguins, Nodak penguins could actually go outside so long as they are protected from predators. [/mks_pullquote]

Winter in North Dakota is kind of brutal. I’m proposing a feasibility study to build a winter recreation park that includes a colony of King or Gentoo penguins to be procured from Sea World or another such facility (species I know that can be easily trained to interact with people), a cross country skiing/biathlon course, ski jumping, and maybe some workshops on actual igloo building and winter camping instruction. Who knows, if priority is there, we be could be sending a larger delegation of North Dakotans to the Winter Olympics eventually with regard to biathlon and ski jumping. (I love Cool Runnings, but I think a bobsled/luge track would be cost prohibitive at this point.) And, as an alum of a brutal winter camping class in Northern Alaska, I can say that in addition to building practical skills, holy hell does it build character and endurance.

We clearly have a comparative advantage related to cold. Unlike the Dubai penguins, Nodak penguins could actually go outside so long as they are protected from predators. Fish are also not in short supply, nor are pebbles for mating formalities. Add in an appropriately sized penguin swimming pool, and you have some pretty happy birds. Such a facility would provide interesting and unique internship experiences for biology majors at ND universities. Scientists with interest and background in Antarctic birds would jump at the chance to work at the facility because there are so few opportunities in the field available. Plus, there is the obvious trickle-down effect of hotel occupancy rates and sales of cold weather gear and souvenirs.

I know this sounds like a risky investment. But with the right kinds of promotional materials inserted into those that already exist from the ND Tourism department, the opportunity able to interact with real, fuzzy, semi-intelligent bowling pins with feet might just push families with young children (and those young at heart) into actually booking tickets to North Dakota. For summer tourists and local residents, a few hours in an enclosed 20 degree habitat would be exceptionally refreshing. Like I said, I’m asking for a feasibility study – I am not aware of a similar facility in the US, and it can’t be any riskier than the more than $8 million USD the state of ND has invested in Italian government bonds for the pension investment pool.

In closing, a joke (you may have heard it before):

Heaven Is where:

  • The French are the chefs
  • The Italians are the lovers
  • The British are the police
  • The Germans are the mechanics
  • And the Swiss make everything run on time

Hell is where:

  • The British are the chefs
  • The Swiss are the lovers
  • The French are the mechanics
  • The Italians make everything run on time (really curious how those bonds are going to play out…)
  • And the Germans are the police

But penguins make everything better.