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UND student Ben Olson enters Grand Forks City Council race

Ben Olson

A UND student and local business owner has announced his campaign to become a Grand Forks City Council member.

Ben Olson, 20, is running for the Ward 1 seat on a pro-business platform under which he promises no support for increases to property or sales taxes. Growing business is a top priority, he said, and growing the tax base and making the city budget more efficient are two primary ways to finance any large upcoming projects.

“I may be a college student and business owner, I may be young, but I was born and raised in North Dakota, and I have North Dakota values,” he said. “I’m here because I love it here and because I love Grand Forks. I want to make things better for current and future generations”  

Olson graduated from Davies High School in Fargo in 2014, and is a sophomore at UND, where he is pursuing two degrees, -- one in public administration and another in communications -- as well as a certificate in entrepreneurship studies.

He is a co-founder of 3C Innovators, a 3-D printing business formed in 2015, and was named a Stanford University Innovation Fellow the same year. A former intern with the Grand Forks Mayor’s Office, Olson said he spent much of his time there studying the local business climate.

In 2015, Olson also prepared a grant application on behalf of Grand Forks for a program that streamlines the application processes, permits and licensing many businesses face when forming. Though Grand Forks wasn’t awarded the grant, Olson said making life easier for small startups is something he plans to prioritize as a council member.

Olson’s remarks on taxes place him in opposition to a proposed 0.75 percent sales tax increase city officials have discussed since at least the fall -- one that could potentially provide tens of millions of dollars in revenue for projects ranging from a new public library to a 42nd Street underpass to the new water treatment plant.

Asked what he would do if faced with a push for construction projects and the need for a revenue source, Olson said affording projects might be a matter of budget prioritization and seeking out any of the city’s fiscal inefficiencies.

“We need to take a good, hard look at everything we’re doing and prioritize what needs to be done,” he said, adding a clear plan for doing so would only materialize after close conversations with constituents.

Ward 1 covers a northwestern portion of Grand Forks between Gateway Drive and DeMers Avenue, including a western swath of UND and nearby residential neighborhoods. Terry Bjerke, who has represented the area since 2008, decided to not run for re-election to his seat in his bid for mayor.

UND police Sgt. Danny Weigel has also announced his intention to seek the seat.

“I look forward to meeting him in the future,” Olson said of Weigel. “I look forward to hearing what he has to say about policies in Grand Forks.”

Meet Ben Olson

Age: 20

Address:5000 block of West Plum Drive

Professional experience: Founder and co-owner of 3C Innovators since June 2015; Intern with Grand Forks Mayor’s Office,  January 2015 - June 2015

Political Experience: N/A

Community Involvement:  Prior coach, current judge for speech and debate with Grand Forks Public Schools; treasurer, UND College of Business Student Advisory Council

Education: Davies High School, Fargo, 2014; currently a sophomore at UND, seeking B.S. in Public Administration, B.A. in Communications and a certificate in Entrepreneurship Studies.

Why voters should choose you? “Voters should choose me because of my prior experience with the city, my ability to work with others and my business experience here in Grand Forks.”

Sam Easter

Sam Easter is a City Government reporter for the Grand Forks Herald. You can reach him with story tips, comments and ideas at 701-330-3441.

(701) 780-1108