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Tracy Frank, Published October 08 2009

North Dakota legislators discuss economic development

WAHPETON, N.D. – Lawmakers are laying the groundwork for legislation a year from now that would strengthen North Dakota’s position in technology-based economic development.

The state’s Legislative Management Workforce Committee, made up of 19 legislators, met Wednesday at the State College of Science here.

The interim committee is conducting meetings throughout the state. Committee members plan to use the information it gathers to form legislation to spur economic development.

One of the committee’s assignments is to evaluate the Centers of Excellence program, a partnership between North Dakota’s campuses and the private sector, said Sen. Tony Grindberg, R-Fargo, executive director of the North Dakota State University Research and Technology Park and Workforce Committee chairman.

“It’s taxpayer dollars at stake, and we want to make sure we’re putting those dollars to wise investment and contributing to North Dakota’s economic growth,” Grindberg said.

Commerce Commissioner Shane Goettle discussed the results of a performance audit of the Department of Commerce and the Centers of Excellence.

He said the report was not an audit of whether the program has been successful but whether the application process and monitoring provide adequate accountability.

The audit listed 50 suggestions to improve how the agency evaluates whether the program is working. The agency is already working on 30 of the suggestions.

“The program has evolved over time, and some of the things that are highlighted as concerns are addressed with the evolution,” Goettle said.

Grindberg said Centers of Excellence is not a corporate subsidy program – funding goes through universities not businesses.

Goettle also talked about technology-based economic development, stressing that the key to competing internationally is ensuring the state has a business climate where companies stay ahead of the technology curve.

“Innovation enables companies to compete in a highly competitive global market,” Goettle said. “The result is higher-paying jobs.”

Phillip Boudjouk, vice president for research, creative activities and technology transfer at NDSU, and Phyllis Johnson, vice president for research and economic development at University of North Dakota, discussed the impact of the North Dakota Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research, also known as EPSCoR.

EPSCoR, a joint program of the National Science Foundation and several states to strengthen research and education in science and engineering, has helped North Dakota become “highly respected in the scientific community,” Boudjouk said.

The EPSCoR funding combined with state funding and support has led to increased research opportunities and hands-on experience for students as well as job creation through private-sector partnerships with the state’s universities, he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526