Steve Burian: Research by UND and NDSU Critical to North Dakota’s Diversification

North Dakota State University President Dean Bresciani, left, and University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy meet with The Forum Editorial Board to make the case for more legislative funding for research Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

This guest post was submitted by Steve Burian, the Grand Forks-based CEO of AE2S and co-chairman of the Valley Prosperity Partnership.

In his budget address this week, Governor Burgum stated “our revenues remain largely dependent on commodity prices we cannot control.” The collapse of commodity prices forced our legislature to make difficult budget cuts during the last biennium. This market volatility should serve as motivation, not only to inform our state budgeting process, but to spur on economic diversity at every corner to aid as a stabilizing force for North Dakota’s future.

Research conducted by UND and NDSU across the state is critical to this diversification. North Dakota has already shown leadership and innovation in value-added agriculture and energy, autonomous systems, health care, and advanced computing/big data. Making sound, significant investments into these sectors will grow economic opportunity and boost our competitive advantage across the nation. This, simply stated, means more great jobs and bigger paychecks for North Dakotans.

To suggest that using Legacy Funds to support North Dakota’s two leading research universities would benefit only Grand Forks and Fargo is short sighted and frankly, a discourtesy to the students and graduates at both institutions.

During NDSU President Bresciani and UND President Kennedy’s tour with the Valley Prosperity Partnership (VPP) across Western North Dakota, we were met by several hundred community leaders and citizens in Minot, Bismarck, Dickinson, Watford City and Williston to discuss this funding proposal. The reception was overwhelmingly positive. These folks were eager to learn about how our proposal could impact their community’s future through increased job opportunities and economic diversity.

Clair Keene, an Extension Specialist in in cropping systems at NDSU-Extension in Williston suggested she’d be first in line to apply for funding from this type of program, eager to support her research. Reed Reyman, President/CEO at CHI. St. Alexius Health, noted that research partnerships with universities are accelerated when the university has access to financial resources that can be used for matching funds. These are just two of the many comments in the far west corners of North Dakota that indicate a high receptivity to expanded funding for university research.

We went further than a western tour and conducted a scientific, statewide poll in the spring of 2018. Our findings suggest that 79 percent of North Dakotans across the state agree the state of North Dakota should invest research dollars in new industries in addition to agriculture and energy in order to diversify the economy. Additionally, 77 percent of statewide respondents agreed that NDSU and UND can aid in the diversification of the economy through research of emerging technologies. 78 percent of respondents residing west of the Red River Valley agreed with both statements.

To suggest that using Legacy Funds to support North Dakota’s two leading research universities would benefit only Grand Forks and Fargo is short sighted and frankly, a discourtesy to the students and graduates at both institutions. North Dakotans from all corners of the state attend UND and NDSU, with hope for their futures and pride in their hearts. In 2018 over 60% of graduates from NDSU and UND combined will accept jobs in North Dakota.

The Legacy Fund was established with a commitment to using our oil and gas revenues for the benefit of future generations. Considering this, we should reject a mindset that pits east against west and refuse to be limited by geographical boundaries when discussing our state’s economic and intellectual potential. Supporting a Legacy Fund investment into critical research along each of our strongest economic sectors is a clear and appropriate use of the fund and we believe, our responsibility to the citizens of North Dakota.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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