UND made history last week when it added a doctorate program in indigenous health, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum said, noting it's just one of many accomplishments recently in Grand Forks.
Speaking on UND’s campus during his annual State of the State address, Burgum highlighted many of Grand Forks’ strengths, including its place in the UAS industry, promoting research at the EERC, and work underway to strengthen mental health in the state.
It was the first time the State of the State was held in Grand Forks, and just the second time it has been held outside of the state Capitol. Burgum started the tradition in 2018 at Minot State University.
It’s a tradition that Grand Forks Rep. Corey Mock hopes will continue.
“I think it’s a great way of connecting with the communities and bringing a signature event like this to other parts of the state that rarely get to see this kind of pomp and circumstance and hear a message so directly,” Mock, a Democrat, said.
During his speech, Burgum praised Grand Forks and its growing unmanned aircraft systems industry, calling the city – home of UND, Grand Sky and the Northern Plains UAS Test Site – the “epicenter” of the industry
“Dozens of private UAS-related businesses have either moved to or started in Grand Forks,” he said.
Throughout his speech Burgum highlighted the positives happening in the state, including an increased population and oil production. However, Mock said he believes it's not great everywhere in North Dakota.
“Not every part of the state is experiencing the vast growth that North Dakota statewide numbers would suggest,” Mock said, including in Grand Forks.
Mock said the city’s sales tax collection numbers from last year’s first quarter were the lowest they’ve been since 2010.
“It’s a trend that I hope we can turn around,” Mock said. “We've got some some great promise, but we're going to need to see those investments continue. The state is going to have to focus on, how do we support communities that are living in a modern tech-centered world where retail is not focused on bricks and mortar but the click of a button on a phone or computer?”
Grand Forks was built as a “destination city,” Mock noted, adding he’s confident the city’s best days are ahead. Still, Mock said it is important to talk to those cities that may not be measuring up with the rest of the state, and then determine their needs.
“I could probably rattle off half a dozen or more different ideas, but whether or not that would have an effect on a community is another question,” he said.
After his address Wednesday, Burgum met with leaders from around Grand Forks, including state legislators, business leaders and city officials.
“We appreciate you coming to town and letting us highlight what we have going on,” Grand Forks Mayor Mike Brown said during the roundtable discussion.
As a part of the discussion, leaders gave the governor updates about projects going on around the city, including the billion dollars in construction projects underway, internship opportunities between local entities and UND, and a number of other ventures. At the close of the meeting, Burgum challenged Grand Forks leaders to find ways to engage younger people in the community.
Earlier in the day, during his address, Burgum said work needs to be done to engage people between the ages of 17 and 21, who may not feel they can fully participate in their community. Burgum asked leaders to use data to find ways to engage with those students and retain young people in the state.
There are a number of “unstoppable forces” facing higher education, Burgum noted, including cultural, technological, demographic and economic factors that families face.
Mark Hagerott, chancellor of the North Dakota University System, said the state already has done much to address some of those challenges by investing money to stabilize the system’s funding. The state also invested dollars in a research network that’s used by schools like UND and North Dakota State.
The university system’s “dark days,” when hundreds of jobs were lost a few years ago, seem to be behind it, Hagerott said.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” he said.
Burgum highlighted the research work being done at universities across the state, including UND and the Energy and Environmental Research Center, which is located on UND’s campus.
“Research is essential,” Burgum said.
While speaking about opportunities to use Legacy Fund dollars to fund strategic investments in the state, Burgum did not mention UND and North Dakota State’s plans to ask the Legislature for money that would be used for research at the two schools. It’s a proposal the schools, alongside the Valley Prosperity Partnership, made last legislative session. The universities, and the system as a whole, are planning to make that push again.
Hagerott said he hopes the state can “thoughtfully consider” using Legacy Fund resources to prepare and transform the state through such a proposal.
Burgum also spoke about initiatives in the public schools in the state, including the newly formed K-12 Education Coordinating Council, which includes the governor, legislators, school teachers, administrators and representatives of education groups. Burgum said education stakeholders work together in North Dakota, which does not happen as easily in other states.
“Our stakeholders are able to put their individual differences aside and talk about what is at the heart of everything that we do, and that is the students,” Kirsten Baesler, state superintendent, said after Burgum's speech.
During the speech, Burgum announced a “first-of-its-kind, multi-industry” career expo aimed at addressing the state’s workforce shortage and highlighting the importance of 21st century skills such as computer science and cybersecurity in various career fields. The Dakota Strike career expo will take place April 8 at the Fargodome. The career expo will be an opportunity for students in grades 7 to 12 and college to explore dozens of careers and thousands of job openings available in North Dakota, with an emphasis on technology as a key element in virtually any career path.
“Dakota Strike is a unique opportunity to bring students and employers together to showcase myriad careers in sectors ranging from agriculture, energy and manufacturing to unmanned aerial systems, military, and health care, while highlighting the vibrant technology and entrepreneurial ecosystem that is so crucial to growing our economy,” Burgum said.