The Legacy Fund Was Created to Benefit All of North Dakota, Not Just Fargo and Grand Forks

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

Tammy Miller and Steve Burian had a letter to the editor recently, on behalf of the Fargo and Grand Forks based Valley Prosperity Partnership, backing a proposal which would take $100 million out of the state’s Legacy Fund to fund research projects at North Dakota State in Fargo and the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.

It’s not surprising that an eastern North Dakota business group is doing the heavy lifting on this proposal. If successful, this would be a significant influx of cash for Fargo and Grand Forks, and that’s good for the businesses based there.

What’s less clear is how this funding would benefit the rest of the state outside of the Red River Valley.

Miller and Burian and others who support these proposals have made vague assurances that the research funded will benefit the whole state. When I attended a meeting on this proposal headed by Dean Bresciani and Mark Kennedy – the presidents of NDSU and UND, respectively – they spoke at length about advancements in crop technology and energy techniques which might accrue from this funding.

…the overarching goal laid out for this funding proposal is diversifying North Dakota’s economy. That would imply a focus outside of agriculture and industry, the two industries which dominate western North Dakota’s economy.

Those aren’t things to dismiss.

Yet the overarching goal laid out for this funding proposal is diversifying North Dakota’s economy. That would imply a focus outside of agriculture and industry, the two industries which dominate western North Dakota’s economy.

The Legacy Fund is made up of revenues produced by oil activity in western North Dakota, yet there are no guarantees in this proposal that the resulting research at NDSU and UND would benefit western North Dakota in a direct, demonstrable way.

The direct impact on local commerce from the expenditure of these research dollars – the hiring and buying, etc. – would take place primarily in Grand Forks and Fargo where the two research universities are located. The focus of the research would be on diversifying our state’s economy away from the primary industries of western North Dakota.

Again, it’s understandable that a Red River Valley group would be all for this.

What’s less clear is why western North Dakota voters should support it.

Maybe this is a problem that can be fixed. Maybe this program can be shaped in some way so that it’s not yet another drain of resources from western North Dakota to eastern North Dakota. We already seen generations of students leaving western North Dakota to attend school in eastern North Dakota, and most of them never come back.

Do we need to do the same with our Legacy Fund dollars too?

I’m open to ideas, but as presently formulated this is an inappropriate use of Legacy Fund dollars.

The Legacy Fund was created as a legacy for the whole state, not just Fargo and Grand Forks.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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