Port: 'Mr. Wonderful' should apologize to Minnesotans

"Kevin O'Leary had a point when he compared North Dakota's economic policies to Minnesota's, but in making it he made our state seem small and petty."

"Shark Tank" star Kevin O'Leary is directing a $45 million investment from the state into businesses opening up shop in North Dakota.

MINOT, N.D. — There is no question that North Dakota's economic policies — including taxes and regulations — create a competitive advantage over our neighbors in Minnesota.

One need only look at the population differentials along our border communities to see it. Fargo is almost three times larger than Moorhead. Grand Forks is more than six times larger than East Grand Forks. Wahpeton is more than double the size of Breckenridge.

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Gov. Doug Burgum is running for president as an alternative to the culture war candidates, but his party is on the cusp of being taken over by that faction.

That's the point Kevin O'Leary, television's "Mr. Wonderful," whose asset management firm was recently hired by the state of North Dakota to handle a $45 million investment fund, was trying to make during an interview in which he compared Moorhead to Cuba.

Cuba, if you're not up to speed on international politics, is an impoverished country living with its neck under the cruel boot of communist dictators. Since 1959, when Fidel Castro and his cronies seized power, more than 1.1 million Cubans have fled to America, and the exodus continues. Just weeks ago, a catcher for the Cuban team competing in the World Baseball Classic in Miami defected, seeking sanctuary here in the United States .

That's what O'Leary compared Moorhead to, and it was grossly unfair. He should apologize. Both for himself and because he now works for the North Dakota taxpayers.


I understand the point he was trying to make about the relative differences between North Dakota and Minnesota when it comes to business policy. Minnesota is a relatively high-tax, high-regulation state. North Dakota is not. That gives us some advantages, though Minnesotans seem fine with their policies. After all, they elected the people enacting them.

And anyone dunking on Minnesota, on North Dakota's behalf, should recognize that the state is home to 18 Fortune 500 companies .

North Dakota has just one .

Not all of that has to do with modern economic policy. North Dakota's commerce is, and historically always has been, rooted in the production of commodities, much of which, historically, has been shipped to states such as Minnesota for manufacture and refinement.

That's something North Dakota would like to emulate. In fact, per my recent podcast conversation with Josh Teigen , North Dakota's commerce commissioner, that's one of the driving purposes behind creating the investment fund O'Leary's firm is now managing. We want to catch up to Minnesota when it comes to growing and diversifying our state's economy.

Which is why O'Leary's comments were so unhelpful. He had a point, but in making it, he insulted a state that's been beating North Dakota at the economic game for a long time, and that makes our state look small and petty.

Teigen told me that one of the upsides to bringing in someone like O'Leary, who has some celebrity stature, and a national platform, is that he can help tell North Dakota's story. We've long been "a large, rectangular blank spot in the nation’s mind," as North Dakota-born author and journalist Eric Sevareid once put it.

O'Leary wants to help us change that, and that's good, but we aren't going to get there by insulting our neighbors.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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