I've begun reading “The Language of Cottonwoods: Essays on the Future of North Dakota” by Clay Jenkinson, a recent victim of this column, but that's typical North Dakota behavior. We tease you if we like you. If I sat behind him, I'd put his ponytail in an ink well.

The book's doing what it was written to do, eloquently provoke thought and remind us why we live here. A review will follow in the near future, but so far so good. I suppose it's possible it could go south like a snowbird in winter, creating the opportunity for more evisceration, but I doubt it.

We're No. 1 in many areas, mostly agricultural, but bringing up the rear is tourism, and while there's much to appreciate, we often romanticize the hard realities of South Canada — three months of summer and three months of self-righteous buffoonery every other year when the Legislature gathers to undermine the image the tourism department has tried to convey. Legendary? Mmmkay.

Clay suggested signs saying, “North Dakota: Yeah, We Know.”

It got me thinking about other possibilities:

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  • “North Dakota: Keeping the riff-raff out since 1889.”
  • “North Dakota: We're not provincial bumpkins. That's just our government.”
  • “North Dakota: The Brass Brassiere State.”
  • “North Dakota: What? Are you lost or something?”
  • Or on signs pointing south: “Meth: They're on it.”

I've spent more than half of my life here — interrupted by stays in Colorado, Alaska, a brief incarceration in South Carolina (Hurricane Hugo was the best part), and 12 years in Noem Dakota. I returned because I realized I'm a Child of the Prairie. The place speaks to me. Sometimes yells.

Setting aside romance, how could we improve things, beyond nifty slogans? Start with workforce. America's bedrock is immigration and we won't thrive if we can't expand our workforce. Instead of political posturing to appease bigots in “the base,” we should be recruiting and facilitating the arrival of immigrants.

Let us pause for the knee-jerk outcry about “welfare.”

Nonsense. Let's not pretend that we've cornered the market on work ethic, as strong as it is. Past figures on Fargo immigration indicated clear economic gain. Immigrants help expand businesses. They build their own.

Sure, an initial financial investment might be necessary. Or we could just give them a quarter of land. Note the word “investment.” It's a business opportunity, and an opportunity to expand cultural diversity beyond the choice between lefse and dumplings. We're white bread and 2% milk, paler than a cave-dwelling redhead. Sign me up for some pad thai or chocolate milk and pumpernickel.

Furthermore, If Washington doesn't deliver substantial child care incentives to free up parents for the workforce, we should. The average hourly cost of daycare in North Dakota is $12.50. You want people working? One way or another, the math has to make sense.

Regrettably, our best export is our youth. We groom and educate them to enviable standards and then wave goodbye. We can afford to offer rebates on a college education to those who return. Instead, we “invest” tax dollars to cap abandoned oil wells because we've been pimped out to polluting oil barons. They can smell the unnecessary desperation in Oklahoma.

Our youth are our best bet to build families and businesses.

Invest in them.

Our best recruits are already here.

Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of this publication, nor Forum Communications ownership.