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Our view: Boosters of research plan deserve credit

Herald editorial board

A proposal to dedicate dollars specifically for research at the state's two largest universities has hit a serious snag.

During his budget speech Wednesday, Gov. Doug Burgum didn't mention the much-publicized idea, which seeks $100 million for UND and NDSU to enhance research that the presidents of those universities believe would benefit the entire state.

The money would be split between the universities, and it could result in heretofore unimaginable benefits. As UND President Mark Kennedy says, a single percentage point increase in the extraction of oil conceivably could result in billions of dollars more in oil production in the state. Research at UND could help.

Kennedy and NDSU President Dean Bresciani spent months explaining the idea.

We know many who support the plan. The Valley Prosperity Partnership not only was involved from the beginning, but its leaders joined the presidents in drumming up support. It was supported by leadership of the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp. It was supported by Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Chamber of Commerce CEO Barry Wilfahrt. The Bank of North Dakota promised oversight of the dollars. Our sister publication, Prairie Business, recently held a business roundtable in Fargo and heard support there.

Supporters, including the Herald, were loud. But it's what wasn't said that worries us; Burgum's silence Wednesday was palpable, and we believe there were more silent detractors than we previously imagined.

"It's been terrific that we have had statewide engagement about the importance of research. I think a lot of people were refreshed to see UND and NDSU collaborating and working together," Burgum told the Herald's editorial board after his speech. "When you've got a budget of $14.3 billion and you're trying to pick the words that go into a 5,200-word address, it's hard. We ended up with one paragraph that had a lot in it. That one paragraph said we have over $200 million in research in this budget, when you throw in ag research, lignite, oil and gas, energy and all the research that's going on. On top of that, we put in significant expansion of Research ND — $20 million which can be matched one to one, which gets you to $40 million."

The Research ND expansion is a good idea; it's a substantial increase from the $2 million in the last budget. It's research-oriented, but it's not the $100 million proposed by the presidents, who have noted that other states are having success with this model.

Burgum said the proposal isn't dead, and Kennedy plans to continue the push. Good, because we still believe dedicating some large figure to UND and NDSU is a grand idea.

Perhaps it's just ahead of its time. If not this year, maybe in two years.

No matter what happens, the work of Kennedy, Bresciani, the VPP and others isn't necessarily for naught, since it lays the foundation upon which future success could be built. It also shows UND and NDSU can put aside traditional rivalries to concentrate on betterment for the entire state.

We remain hopeful. No matter how it turns out this coming legislative session, they deserve credit for their efforts and their vision.

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