Plain Talk: North Dakota Commerce Commissioner defends hiring ‘Mr. Wonderful’


MINOT, N.D. — Drawing capital to North Dakota has been a problem for our state since, well, statehood. Our economy is heavily dependent on commodity-driven industries — energy and agriculture. Generations of political leaders have tried to find a way to diversify, but not much has changed.

Which would argue, I think, for some outside-the-box thinking. And that’s what Commerce Commissioner Josh Teigen was doing when he invited Kevin O’Leary, the “Shark Tank” television star also known as “Mr. Wonderful,” to bid on managing a $45 million investment fund for the state of North Dakota.

On this episode of Plain Talk, Teigen talked about how that relationship came to be, and responded to criticism of the bidding process around it, as well as recent comments O’Leary made comparing Moorhead, Minnesota, to Cuba.

“I think the comments are less about Fargo and Moorhead and more about North Dakota and Minnesota,” Teigen said, also describing it as “more of a Bismarck versus St. Paul conversation.”

“We know the people in Moorhead aren’t necessarily driving the policy in Minnesota. That’s happening in St. Paul,” he added.

Asked if he felt O’Leary’s comments were helpful to the cause of bringing capital to North Dakota, Teigen didn’t defend them, but he wasn’t critical either. “We don’t get to control every bit of the narrative,” he said, adding that having someone like O’Leary, with a national platform, “tell North Dakota’s story” has “a lot of upside.”

Also on this episode, co-host Ben Hanson and I discuss Gov. Doug Burgum’s apparent interest in running for president, as well as the Legislature falling just one vote short of passing a bill to expand the state’s school lunch program.